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Chinese Restraint Has Its Limits, Vietnam Cautioned – Analysis

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Through articles in the Chinese Communist Party controlled media that appeared on June 20 and 21, 2011, the Chinese authorities have clearly warned of the likely consequences of what they see as the increasingly assertive policy of the Government of Vietnam in the South China Sea.

A confrontational mood has been developing in the wake of a live-ammunition exercise held by the Vietnamese Navy in the disputed area. The exercise took place on June 13, 2011, for six hours around the Hon Ong Island about 40 kilometres off Quang Nam province in central Vietnam. The island is about 250 kilometres away from the Xisha (Paracel) Islands and 1,000 kilometres away from the Nansha (Spratly) Islands. Vietnam announced the exercise after accusing China of hindering the operation of a Vietnamese oil and gas exploration boat for the second time in two weeks.

On June 14, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued a decree about a potential military call-up. The decree explained who would be exempt from military draft if a war broke out. The decree was signed by the Prime Minister at the request of the Ministry of Defence.

China's Claims in South China Sea
China's Claims in South China Sea

The same day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry clarified that China would not resort to the use of force in the South China Sea. Hong Lei, its spokesperson, said: “We will not resort to the use of force or the threat of force. We hope relevant countries will do more for peace and stability in the region.”

But, on June 15, China sent one of its largest maritime surveillance ships, the Haixun 31, to Singapore through the South China Sea. The Chinese media reported that Haixun-31 intended to monitor shipping and “protect maritime security” on its way to Singapore.

Haixun 31, from the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration, under the Ministry of Transport, sailed from Zhuhai in the Guangdong province. The 3,000-ton, helicopter-equipped ship will monitor shipping, carry out surveying duties, inspect oil wells and “protect maritime security”, Xinhua said. It also said that the ship will inspect foreign vessels anchored or operating in Chinese waters.

On June 17, the Government-controlled “China Daily” published details of the Chinese Government’s plans to strengthen its maritime surveillance capability. According to these details, by 2020, a total of 15,000 personnel, compared with 9,000 now, will serve in the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) Force under the State Oceanic Administration. The CMS air arm will be increased to 16 planes and the patrol fleet will have 350 vessels by 2015 and 520 by 2020. Currently, it has nine aircraft, more than 260 surveillance vessels and 280 law enforcement vehicles.

The same day, the “People’s Daily” said that maritime defense forces recently staged three days and nights of exercises in the South China Sea, without specifying exactly when or where. The drills involved a total of 14 patrol boats, landing craft and submarine hunting boats, along with two military aircraft. The aim was to refine antisubmarine, resupply and island defense capabilities.

On June 20, the “People’s Daily” carried the first warning to Vietnam in an article titled “Vietnam should wake up to Danger!” by its columnist Li Hongmei. It said:“China proposes to settle disputes through peaceful negotiations, but never fears challenges from outside. Moreover, China will never move an inch on its core interest of sovereignty and territorial integrity and will always stand up for that at any cost. Therefore, it is highly advisable for Vietnam to rein in its overreaching ambition over the South China Sea, and dim its hope pinned on the U.S., for the simple reason that once the U.S. feels its own interests threatened, it will readily sacrifice the interests of the Asian countries on the periphery of South China Sea.”

On June 21, the Party-owned “Global Times” carried the second warning to Vietnam in the following words: “Depending on how the situation develops, China has to be ready for two plans: negotiate with Vietnam for a peaceful solution, or answer the provocation with political, economic or even military counterstrikes. We have to be clear about the possibility of the second option, so as to let Vietnam remain sober about the South China Sea issue….Vietnam has been trapped in an unrealistic belief that as long as the US balances out the South China Sea issue, it can openly challenge China’s sovereignty, and walk away with huge gains….Since a limited military conflict with China over the South China Sea in 1988, Vietnam has been increasingly aggressive in grabbing islands as its own, ignoring China’s traditional policy of “shelving disputes and developing jointly.” It is pushing the limits of China’s national interest and dignity. China has to send a clear message that it will take whatever measures necessary to protect its interests in the South China Sea. If Vietnam continues to provoke China in this region, China will first deal with it with maritime police forces, and if necessary, strike back with naval forces….If Vietnam wants to start a war, China has the confidence to destroy invading Vietnam battleships, despite possible objections from the international community. The US may add some uncertainty in the South China Sea. China will handle this carefully, and is not likely to engage in a direct confrontation with the US.”

Despite the escalating war of words, there is no evidence so far that the two countries are actually preparing themselves for a military confrontation. Further developments need to be closely monitored.

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B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

18 thoughts on “Chinese Restraint Has Its Limits, Vietnam Cautioned – Analysis

  • June 24, 2011 at 12:40 am
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    There were 2000 years that Vietnam and China have been at odd. If the war starts tomorrow, China will invade all South China Sea islands which are far from their mainland. All VN antiship missiles are within striking distance of China battleships. It will be an amusing thing to see history repeating ( Sino-Vietnam navy war ) ( 938 ) and (1288).

    Reply
  • June 24, 2011 at 12:48 am
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    The one party that tested not only Vietnam’s patience but also the Philippines’, is China. Chinese ships harassed and cut cables that belong to Vietnamese ships 80 miles off Vietnam’s coast and 370 miles off Hainan’s coast. No country on earth would do that because many respect international law. China is used to jungle law that it has no respect to anyone else’s. China needs to act like a world power instead of a giant bully to its neighbors!

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  • June 24, 2011 at 1:24 am
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    CHINA IS A CRYING WOLF, IT IS THE NEW SUPPER EVIL. They think the whole world is blind. It is very sad, the world future is so gloomy because of China’s hedgemony ambition. Sad for Vietnam a small,poor country has to deal with continuous wars after wars. MAY GOD BLESS VN AND THE WORLD

    Reply
  • June 24, 2011 at 2:58 am
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    Chinese South China Sea sovereignty is based on:

    1. China’s historical first discovery and claim in 618 A.D.

    2. Unchallenged Chinese dominion for over a thousand years.

    The South China Sea islands and territory were claimed by the Tang, Song, and countless other Chinese dynasties. Vietnamese and Filipinos lacked ocean-faring boats and were not even aware of the existence of the Paracel and Spratly Islands from the 7th century to the 17th century.

    3. Historical written Chinese imperial records.

    Tang, Song, and countless Chinese dynasties describe the Paracel and Spratly Islands as part of China.

    4. Physical proof of Chinese inhabitants (Chinese burials and artifacts)

    5. Vietnamese ceded any potential legal claim to the Paracel and Spratly Islands on September 14, 1958 in a signed diplomatic document by Vietnam Premier Pham Van.

    6. The entire Vietnamese government admitted to Chinese sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and territory.

    On June 15, 1956, Vice Foreign Minister of the DRV (North Vietnam) Ung Van Khiem admitted Chinese sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

    Another DRV official, Le Loc (Temporary Head of the Asian Mission), concurred in Chinese sovereignty over South China Sea islands.

    Reply
    • June 24, 2011 at 4:36 am
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      Mongolia once invaded China but it does not claim sovereignty over China. Why China claim over South China Sea islands?

      Reply
      • November 30, 2011 at 2:14 am
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        Germany, Japan and Italy invaded and once occupied many countries during WW2 included, Europe, Asia, Middle-east , Africa and etc. Do they have the right to claim those massive countries they were once occupied or invaded as you said? Use your brain, dude. Do not try to send misleading message or to confuse the public. Unfortunately, you have used the wrong metaphor.

        Reply
  • June 24, 2011 at 8:07 am
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    China must respect International Sea Laws – the UNCLOS 1982 which it signed along with Vietnam, The Philippines, and many other countries.

    China cannot fool the world with fake “facts”, fake documents, fake maps, and a host of lies such those things China Lee posted. Oh, by the way, there are hundred of thousands of “Chinese burials” all over Northern Vietnam resulted from so many failures of invading Vietnam from China; thousands of them as recent as the bloody war 1979.

    Be adviced that China should stop its nonsense and respect the civilised world as well as Vietnam’s dignity.

    Reply
  • June 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm
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    China is no different than Somali pirates, and we Vietnamese never back out with any invader. Has Chinese ever learn? in 1979 China invaded north Vietnam and we killed 50,000 PLA or (People’s liberation Army), want some more this time? send them in we will kills them all. Talk is cheap let’s take some action. China can scare Philippines but not Vietnam.

    And China sent warnings to America to stay out of the Philippines sea? …ha..ha..ha… what a joke. The United States has 11 Super carriers, 18 Ohio-class submarines: 14 nuclear-powered SSBNs (ballistic missile submarines), each armed with up to 24 Trident II SLBMs; what China has? an old aging secondhand aircraft purchased from Russia… come on chin, come back here in 100 yrs later to scare us.

    Reply
    • November 30, 2011 at 5:21 am
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      The Vietnamese have shamelessly accepted the Yankees have had done to them in the past, such as got slaughtered by the Yankees, raped and trampled by the Yankees. They have conveniently forgotten who are their enemy was and wash away their underworld lives of memories. Now the Vietnamese even worships the Yankees and served the Yankees as saviors/gods.

      Reply
  • June 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm
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    Reply for China Lee: Japan should claim all North East of China because this area belonged to Japan during WWII (World War 2). Surely, there are Japanese troop’s graves in China too

    Reply
  • July 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm
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    Many, like me, predicted these events some 40 years ago.

    Being a Viet Nam Veteran myself, I have always regretted my country’s abandonment of its allies and felt that the consequences of such action is far reaching and long lasting.

    Never the less, despite its flaws, the US is still a much better friend than an enemy. This is worth remembering.

    Reply
  • November 5, 2011 at 12:53 pm
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    First of all, Vietnam is back by the US to counter China military buildup, hopefully China could be surrounded by the US so-called Allies. Without the US support, the Vietnamese would not dare to go against China because based to Vietnamese military strength. It is like wishful thinking to confront mighty China today. IMHO, even Vietnam military joint hands with Philippines are vulnerable to China military power. However, China claimed territorial waters are unusual wider than expected.

    Reply
  • November 6, 2011 at 2:09 am
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    Let the disputes islands to be hand it over to the world court to decide which islands is belongs to. According to the law of the world court, they will measures the distance to which country is the nearest to those islands as well as history background connected to which country the most. Then the world court will decide and sentence which country is eligible enough to obtain those disputes islands. Let the disputes islands to be hand it over to the world court to decide which islands is belongs to. Do not think the Spratly/Nansha islands or other small islands are belongs to Vietnam. Vietnam is way too far to reach Spratly/Nansha islands compare to Malaysia, Brunei and Philippines. It will be dreaming to naively think that Vietnam has a chance to grab Spratly/Nansha islands. Not in a million years. Perhaps, Vietnam and China could contend against other for Paracel/xisha islands.

    Reply
  • November 6, 2011 at 2:30 am
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    @Saion Pearl
    To say China as Somalis pirates, I as a spectator feel that is too much. Vietnam is no better than China. Or even worse than China. At least China assisted/aided Vietnam during the Vietnam war supplied Vietnamese strategy, soldiers, weaponry, medications and etc. No gratefulness but stab from behind, you are truly an opportunist.

    Reply
  • November 11, 2011 at 11:53 am
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    I as a bystander could not understand, “How come there are many countries against China even though Japan was evil and has wild ambitious to conquer Asia”? Asians country should stand united to prevent further extreme thinking or known as narrow minded countries, such as Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Those are the mentioned countries have their notorious background and love to back-stab their friendly neighbor that aided them. Now they are going to grab as many lands or islands they possibly could. Whosoever involved aggressively in land/island disputes, do not think you have good background. Your countries too have bad impression to others. The difference is other countries are wise enough to remain silent not to point finger at you.

    Reply
  • November 14, 2011 at 5:34 am
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    I respect these two countries beside my beloved country Malaysia, will be China and India. These are the civilized as well as their great history background should join hand or better force an alliance because many country are afraid of these two to work together become stronger to strongest. The only thing I have been worrying is there were a little misunderstand between them, particularly border disputes. I wish they could set aside their differences and negotiate on the table peacefully. :)

    Reply

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