A Vietnamese scholar has underscored the necessity of observing international law to maintain peace and security in the East Sea, a strategically important area that poses latent risk of clashes over territorial sovereignty.

The appeal, cited in a commentary by Col. Vu Khanh, an expert on international studies, came as China continues illegally running its oil rig Haiyang Shiyou- 981 in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, raising regional and global alarm.

According to Khanh, sprawling nearly 3 million sq.km, the East Sea is of strategic importance to nations both in and outside the region, but also contains the risk of conflict due to territorial disputes among regional nations.

As for the nine littoral countries, namely China (including Taiwan) to the north, the Philippines to the east, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei to the south, and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to the west, the East Sea bears significant values in terms of economics, society and environment.

Stakeholder nations, regionally and globally, for the interests of the region and international community as well as their own, have formed policies which generally seek the utmost restraint and avoid any conflict.

Apart from bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms fully in place, ASEAN member states have strived to realise the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and finalise a legally-binding Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) as soon as possible.

However, challenges still lie ahead, with some pursuing immediate interests in the area irrespective of common interests of the region and the world as a whole. There remain different interpretations of international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which stipulates rights and responsibilities of parties concerned in the East Sea.

In regards to China’s illegal drilling activity in Vietnam’s waters, backed by vessels of various kinds, including warships, coast guard and fishing boats ready to use high-pressure water cannons to spray Vietnamese ships, Khanh criticised it as a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty rights and jurisdiction over the East Sea as well as the United Nations Charter.

As a UNCLOS member, China must take full responsibility observing its terms and show a gesture of willingness and concession in the settlement of disputes, he said, calling on the country to fully realise the DOC, the principles guiding the implementation of DOC, and finalise the COC with ASEAN soon.

According to him, the settlement of disputes by peaceful means is an inevitable and undeniable trend that wins the support of almost countries around the world, during which concerned parties should show perseverance and exercise restraint in the spirit of solidarity and cooperation, without the use of force or threat to use force.

He suggested that regional security mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defence Minister’s Meeting Plus (ADMM+) and the Shangri La Dialogue should be utilised to the full.

He also criticised China’s sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat in Vietnam’s waters on May 26 as inhumane, citing that many Vietnamese fishing ships have also been rammed by Chinese vessels and robbed of money, equipment and fuel, with some fishermen even being held captive.

China must withdraw its rig and vessels from Vietnam’s waters immediately and commit to stopping similar hindrances to economic and trade activities at sea while waiting for the COC to be adopted, Khanh urged.-VNA