Veteran Vietnamese diplomat Ton Nu Thi Ninh has called on the European Union to “speak with a clearer and louder voice” against China’s illegal placement of its oil rig in the East Sea since early May.

In a recent interview with Deutsch Welle, Germany's international broadcaster, Vietnamese diplomat and foreign affairs expert Ton Nu Thi Ninh said the world's major powers cannot remain indifferent to what is happening in the East Sea.

In response to question whether the European Union engage more in the ongoing East Sea crisis, Ninh affirmed “We live in a multi-polar world, which should better serve peace and security. The major powers, including the EU, should sometimes get involved directly or indirectly for the sake of peace and security in other parts of the world.”

For instance, the US has always declared itself a Pacific power and has come out with strong statements about China's provocative actions in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone, she said, adding that the EU, which shares very good relations with Vietnam, has not been as clear and loud.

According to the foreign affairs expert, the EU still looks at the issue in a limited fashion, as if it was only a Sino-Vietnamese dispute. The fact is that the scope of the issue is regional, and, in some ways, global level. China could have built the oil rig elsewhere in the nine-dash line area drawn by China in the East Sea but it deliberately chose to do it close to Vietnam, she emphasised.

“The danger of it is, as we say in Vietnamese - if the head gets through, the rest will also go through,” said Ninh. She went to say for China this is a "test project." If it works out, it will be a message to other countries in the region. It will also mean that the international community couldn't do anything about it. It is an attempt by China to assert its sovereignty in disputed waters, which is over 80 percent of the East Sea.

The EU is not quite living up to the expectations of Vietnam and some countries in Southeast Asia because its economic and cultural profile in the region is quite high in comparison to its geostrategic and geopolitical profile. “I think it is high time the EU enhances its profile there to help implement a multi-polar world order” Ninh said.

The veteran diplomat went on saying that “We need to find ways to make China understand that the only way it can become a major power which is recognised and respected by others in the world is if it obeys international laws and respects all countries". According to Ninh, China is trying to establish its own “pax sinica” in the region first. The hallmark of this should be disquieting for everybody, but it is more disturbing for countries like Vietnam as it has to bear the brunt of Beijing's provocative actions.

China is flexing its muscle and is giving itself a unilateral say over international navigation in this part of the world. “Its behaviour should be a cause of serious concern not just to Vietnam but also to countries outside the region,” Ninh affirmed. She also stressed that “the EU countries should speak with a clearer and louder voice.

The bloc should at least call the Chinese actions what they actually are: unilateral provocations that are dangerous for regional peace and security.” EU foreign ministers can take up the issue at the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum, the East Asia Summit, or other forums like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), she said.

“The attention span of our time is very short. Conflicts erupt every week. It would be very disappointing if the voices of major world powers are not heard in time. It would work in Beijing's favour,” she affirmed. Commenting a question on the countries in the region, especially China, would accept a bigger EU role in the conflict, the veteran diplomat affirmed China won't like it.

She cited Fu Ying, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of China's National People's Congress, who told the US at the Shangri-La Dialogue as saying that Washington had nothing to do with the issue between China and Vietnam. “I think major powers should tell Beijing that in today's world there is a greater need to uphold international law, and that it is everybody's business to make sure that it happens.”

The truth, she stressed, is that China's unilateral actions are a blatant violation of international law. Vietnam is a small country and cannot provoke a big power like China. “We have always handled our relationship with China with self-restraint,” she concluded. Ton Nu Thi Ninh was Vietnam's ambassador to the European Union, used to be a deputy head of Vietnam's National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee.

At the beginning of May 2014, China illegally deployed its oil rig in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continential shelf. Since then, China has sent hundred of vessels including military ships to protect its oil rig, continuing agressive acts to harass Vietnamese ships ./.