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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


South China Sea: Vietnam and
the International Community
Carlyle A. Thayer
July 22, 2019

We request your assessment about the current situation in South China Sea. Our
questions follow:
Q1. What is your assessment of China's recent actions in the Vanguard Bank area of
South China Sea? How about the seriousness of China’s violation of international law?
ANSWER: China’s deployment of the Haiyang Dizhi 8 vessel to Vietnam’s Exclusive
Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf was an illegal act under international law
and a direct challenge to Vietnam’s sovereign jurisdiction over the marine and seabed
resources in this area. The act was illegal because China did not seek prior permission
of the Vietnamese government to conduct operations in Vietnam’s EEZ and
continental shelf.
China’s actions are doubly serious because it indicates that three years after the ruling
by the Arbitral Tribunal in the case brought by the Philippines against China, Beijing
refuses to comply with the decision of the Tribunal and bring its behaviour into
conformity with international law. The Tribunal ruled that China’s claim to historic
rights was extinguished when China acceded to the United Nations Convention on the
Law of the Sea and that China’s nine-dash line (cow’s tongue) map was without legal
foundation.
Q2. What is the impact of China's actions on security, peace and stability in the South
China Sea?
ANSWER: China’s actions were a violation of the Agreement on the Basic Principles
Guiding the Settlement of Maritime Issues reached between China and Vietnam in
October 2011.
China’s actions also undermine trust and sets back the improvement in bilateral
relations this year following the Hai Yang Shi You 981 crisis in 2014 and disputes at
Vanguard Bank in July 2017 and March 2018.
China’s actions will continue to raise tensions in the region until China stops survey
work and withdraws the Haiyang Dizhi 8 from Vietnam’s waters.
China’s actions undermine its credibility as one of the parties to negotiations on a
South China Sea Code of Conduct. China’s input to the Single Draft Negotiation Text
2

sought to exclude “outside countries” from marine resource cooperation. China is


seeking to bind Southeast Asian states to joint ventures with China only.
China’s actions have extended to interference with oil exploration and production in
Malaysia’s EEZ.
China’s actions have prompted criticism from the international community. For
example, the U.S. Department of State criticized China’s interference with Vietnam’s
legitimate and long-standing exploration and production of oil and gas in the South
China Sea because China’s actions “threaten regional energy security and undermine
the free and open Indo-Pacific energy market.”
Q3. What is your assessmentg about the role of other countries (US, EU)? What should
they do in South China Sea?
ANSWER: All the major powers and all trading countries have a direct interest in
maintaining peace and security in the South China Sea and preventing any one country
from exercising hegemony over one of the world’s busiest waterways.
Major powers and trading nations should endorse Vietnam’s call for involvement by
the international community. These countries also promote a rules-based “free and
open” Indo-Pacific region. Major powers should assist Vietnam, Malaysia and the
Philippines in developing their coast guard, especially the capacity to protect
sovereign jurisdiction. These coast guards could conduct regular capacity-building and
training activities in the South China Sea.

Finally, members of the international community should consider legal and


commercial sanctions against Chinese state-owned enterprises that deliberately
violate international law in the South China Sea. The Haiyang. Dizhi 8 should be
banned from operating in Spratly islands and prohibited from making port calls. In
addition, travel bans and financial sanctions should be imposed on Chinese officials
who approve or take part in the deliberate violation of international law.

Media Identification: The University of New South Wales, Canberra or The University
of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “South China Sea: Vietnam and the International
Community,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, July 22, 2019. All background
briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.