Possessing a coastline of 3,260 kilometres and nearly 3,000 islands and islets, including the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos, Vietnam has to ensure maritime security, since it is extremely important to her social affairs, economics, defence, security and the environment.

China’s illegal placement of its drilling rig Haiyang Shiyou-981 deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and its aggressive actions targeting Vietnamese fishermen have been threatening peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea. This has prompted Colonel Vu Khanh, an expert in international relations, to make clear Vietnam’s maritime security policy.

According to Khanh, maritime security forms part of national, regional and global security and is associated closely with land security. With 70 percent of the world’s population living in coastal areas about 100 miles from the shore and the world’s most developed regions lying by the sea, maritime security has increasingly impacted on land security in particular and national security in general.

Now that an acknowledged term defining maritime security is still absent globally, the concept of “maritime security” can be comprehended as a state of stability and safety without threats coming from seas or mainland to the normal activities at sea of countries, organisations and individuals, or sea-borne threats to normal activities on the mainland of countries, organisations and individuals.

Like land security, maritime security encompasses traditional and non-traditional security, Khanh explained.

For Vietnam, the country faces the sea easterly, southerly and south-westerly with a coastline stretching up to 3,260 kilometres. Close to 3,000 islands and islets, including the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos, are scattered in the country’s territorial sea, contiguous zones, exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf.

In a resolution adopted at the 10th Party Central Committee’s 4 th session, the Party laid down general goals of the national sea strategy, defining that by 2020 the country would become sea-basedly powerful and prosperous and able to firmly defend the national sovereignty and sovereign rights in the sea, thus making important contributions to the national industrialisation and modernisation.

The Party underscored that during the national construction and defence, the development of the sea-borne economy has been regarded as a spearhead in the national economic development strategy, while waters and islands are viewed as the nation’s crucial defence line.

Regarding the settlement of sovereignty disputes in the East Sea, Khanh talked about the four major issues pertaining to Vietnam.

The first touched upon the dispute concerning sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago between Vietnam and China. Khanh confirmed that Vietnam’s feudal reigns had occupied and managed the archipelago peacefully and continuously since the 16 th century. In 1956, China used force to seize a cluster of islands east of the archipelago. In 1974, it continued using force to take hold of the islands west of Vietnam’s archipelago.

The second related to the area off the Tonkin Gulf. After signing an agreement on the delineation of the Tonkin Gulf and another on fisheries cooperation in 2001, both Vietnam and China were unanimous on pressing ahead with negotiations to demarcate the area off the Gulf. Through seven negotiation rounds, both sides have so far failed to agree on an end to the matter. During the negotiation course, China viewed the area as a “disputed” area and unilaterally launched surveying and exploration activities in the western part of the “assumed” median line (which is closer to Vietnam).

The third was the dispute in the Truong Sa archipelago, which has seen the involvement of Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan (China). In March 1988, China used force to occupy several islands in the archipelago.

The fourth focused on China’s “nine-dash” line claim, which is totally groundless and unrecognised internationally. The claim covers the continental shelves and interests of many coastal states as well as international security and navigation freedom, the expert added.

For the settlement of the sovereignty disputes in the East Sea, Vietnam holds that the parties concerned need to comply with international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (1982 UNCLOS), the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), ASEAN’s Six-Point Principle on the East Sea and work towards shaping a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).

These legal documents are important since they will serve as a legal foundation for the parties involved to exchange views when handling sea-related issues. In cases where the countries concerned pursue stances quite different from each other, the 1982 UNCLOS will be employed as a standard for these countries to cross-check and redefine their claims to make them right.

For the sea-related disputes between the two parties only, bilateral negotiations should be conducted. For those involving multiple parties, the sides concerned should sit down to work together to seek solutions. To encourage maritime freedom and rights and interests of all sides both in and outside the region, broader participation of the related parties is required.

Vietnam and China have been negotiating on how to delineate the overlapping area off the Tonkin Gulf. The two sides have also been discussing the less-sensitive areas and have reaped good results from their cooperation in the fields. These issues are only related to the two countries and the outcomes gained are productive.

In recent times, the sovereignty disputes in the East Sea have become complex, fuelled by clashes between the countries involved, including Vietnam and China. In particular, China’s illegal deployment of its oil rig deep inside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf brazenly violates Vietnam’s sovereign right and jurisdiction, as well as international law and Vietnamese law.

Vietnam is an independent nation, having sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity that cover its mainland, islands, waters and air space. Therefore, Vietnam resolutely does not allow any nation or any force to intrude into its sovereignty.

Vietnam will take every necessary and proper measure to safeguard its legitimate rights and benefits. The country always shows her goodwill and patience in settling disputes satisfactorily through negotiations, dialogues and other peaceful means in accordance with the common perception agreed by high-ranking leaders of the two countries, international norms and law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS and the DOC.

To deal with non-traditional security challenges at sea, Vietnam plans to maximise her internal strength along with expanding her international cooperation with all countries across the globe, upholding the principles of respect for independence, sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and non-intervention into each other’s internal affairs.

The country has worked hard to raise awareness of the harms stemming from non-traditional security challenges as well, and promote individual rights and responsibilities in preventing and overcoming these challenges to ensure the nation’s sustainable development.

Vietnam will look to handle harmoniously the inter-relation between traditional security and non-traditional security challenges in the context of globalisation.

Colonel Khanh referred to the need to step up research and analysis to promptly forecast the impact of non-traditional security challenges at sea, especially climate change, trans-national crimes, terrorism, and the trafficking of women and children.

Vietnam has participated in an active and responsible manner in regional and international cooperation designed to prevent and counter the non-traditional security challenges, prioritising multilateral affiliation.

In addition, the country has enthusiastically joined regional and international dialogue mechanisms to expand her cooperation within ASEAN, and between the grouping and its partners, in preventing and dealing with non-traditional security challenges at sea.

Such mechanisms as the ASEAN Summit, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, and Shangri La Dialogue, have served as strategic dialogue channels for ASEAN member states to exchange their viewpoints within the group and with their dialogue partners to reach a consensus in perception and cooperative methods and policies to fight off common non-traditional security challenges and those at sea.

Vietnam has highly praised and taken an active part in cooperation activities within the framework of the ADMM+6, which focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster aid relief, counter-terrorism, maritime security, military medicine, peace-keeping, and humanitarian mine action.

Maintaining and ensuring security in the East Sea at present and in the future will cope with an array of new difficulties and challenges, requiring collective efforts of all regional countries, Khanh said.

In doing so, the countries need to abide by international law; handling disputes and conflicts via peaceful negotiations and not using force or threatening to use force. This will build the East Sea into an area of peace, stability and cooperation, contributing to establishing an environment of peace and propensity in the Asia-Pacific.-VNA