The East Sea dispute will continue in the near future and urgent solutions should be found to manage the conflict and resolve it without force or the threat to use force and protect the rights of fishermen in traditional fishing grounds, an international conference that opened in HCM City on July 25 agreed.

Speaking at the two-day "International Conference on East Sea Disputes" attended by 22 Vietnamese and foreign researchers and scholars, Dang Ngoc Tung, president of the Vietnam Labour Confederation and chairman of the conference organising committee warned about the threats it posed.

"In recent years, conflicts over maritime boundaries in the East Sea and attempts to unilaterally impose territorial claims have caused tensions, threatened regional peace, maritime security, and freedom of navigation, and affected the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen in their traditional fishing area.

"Failure to reduce tension and manage conflict may lead to skirmishes and wars.

"It is important to find ways to peacefully manage the conflict and resolve disputes based on international law and diplomacy."

Carlyle A. Thayer from the Australian Defence Force Academy , University of New South Wales , Australia , said: " China 's deployment of the giant state-owned drilling rig in Block 143 inside Viet Nam 's exclusive economic zone and accompanying armada of military, paramilitary, and civilian fishing boats has created the most severe crisis in bilateral relations between China and Vietnam .

"Not only has it undermined strategic trust between China and Vietnam , but is also a cause for regional and international concern."

He suggested that while ASEAN is drafting its Code of Conduct for Southeast Asia's Maritime Commons they should consider six other steps including fisheries management, a key issue affecting regional food security; organising an effective Heads of ASEAN Coast Guards Meeting and quickly developing practical multilateral co-operation to deal with challenges to maritime security; institutionalising and enhancing the role of the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum and developing an agenda that addresses the most pressing security issues such as maritime incidents between warships, maritime incidents between civilian enforcement ships, and freedom of navigation and overflight.

"ASEAN needs to create an effective ASEAN Political-Security Council by prioritising the objectives of the multiple institutions working on maritime security and streamline their reporting functions; and the ASEAN Defence Ministers need to become more proactive in setting the priorities for subordinate agencies."

Ramses Amer of the Institute for Security & Development Policy, Sweden , said: "As displayed by tensions between key claimant states in the East Sea — between China and the Philippines and between China and Vietnam — incidents and associated tensions negatively affect efforts aiming at promoting and implementing dispute management."

He called for greater efforts to minimise the risk of incidents occurring and to contain tension when incidents do occur.

S.D. Pradhan, a former deputy national security advisor to the Indian Government, worried about China 's growing military power that has coincided with a more aggressive tone and activities, threatening the stability of the region.

Its aggressive actions and continuing occupation of islands/shoals are a matter of serious concern for the stability and peace of the region, he said.

" China feels that it can violate international norms and laws without any penalty being imposed and therefore it has little incentive to behave as a responsible regional power.

"The lack of strong reactions from the international community actually sends the impression that the disputants as well as outside powers are not willing to do anything beyond making mild protests."

He warned that under the circumstances, while no early solution to the problem can be hoped for, effective and urgent measures need to be taken to avoid any clash between the disputants.

Vo Minh Tap of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University – HCM City, said to cope with the situation, ASEAN needs to strengthen dialogue and confidence building; make its viewpoints, policies, consensus, and goodwill clear; promote co-operation in the region and diplomatic activities and dialogues with major countries outside the block to create a favorable international environment for settlement of disputes and conflicts; and use pressure from the international community to force China to accept taking the East Sea disputes to global courts.

According to Le Trung Tinh and Le Vinh Truong, scholars at the Southeast Asia Sea Research Foundation, a lawsuit against China would be both an active form of foreign relations and an effective solution for preventing war.

Some immediate and short-term reprisals may cause difficulties to the Vietnamese people and economy for which the country would need to prepare, they said.

But in the medium and longer terms, protracted reprisals would be a valuable medicine for Viet Nam to thoroughly treat the problems and weaknesses related to its economic relations with China , they assured.

The East Sea is the world's second busiest sea lane through which more than half of the world's supertankers and $5.3 trillion worth of annual trade pass.

There are sovereignty disputes in the sea between China and several of its neighbouring nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines.-VNA