Here is the footage making the rounds of a recent run-in between 25 civilian and naval Vietnamese boats and up to 80 Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.
What’s interesting is the decision by the Vietnamese to release the footage so soon after the event – five days.
I think typically navies are humiliated if they are pushed around at sea. Often the footage is withheld for some time. But the decision to release to video – with a good English translation – shows the desire of the Vietnamese to widen the audience for its complaint with China.
In English from Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defence.
According to Deputy Director of the National Boundary Commission Tran Duy Hai, China has so far deployed many vessels, up to 80 at peak time, of various kinds, including seven military ships backed by 33 boats of marine police, marine surveillance force and fishery administration force, as well as transport and fishing vessels. In addition, dozens of Chinese plane are operating daily on the area. A flotilla of armed fishing boats and military ships are prowling 50-60 nautical miles from Ly Son island.
Hai said that when Vietnam’s law enforcement ships arrived to stop the illegal intrusion of the Chinese side, Chinese ships aggressively fired water cannon at and even rammed at Vietnamese vessels, damaging Vietnam’s coast guard vessels and injuring crew members.
Eight Vietnamese ships were rammed or sprayed with water cannons. The incident was sparked by China’s decision to tow a huge oil platform into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, which itself is a dramatic escalation of the tussle over territorial rights in the South China Sea.
So…Vietnam is reaching out to foreign audiences. That would also explain the pretty slick poster making the Vietnamese case, credited to Dai Trang and included above.
After the most recent ASEAN meeting in Brunei, China has ignored the prodding of the US to sign on to a Code of Conduct aimed at preventing maritime disputes from escalating.
However, the Christian Science Monitor notes that China has established hotlines with Japan and Vietnam, aimed at diffusing tensions. It’s not clear what level of the bureaucracy these hotlines are plugged into among the nations.
But it’s been noted elsewhere that the China-US hotline does not function as particularly smoothly during crises both because the consensus-nature of China’s leadership, which makes snap decisions difficult. Moreover, in times of crisis, China has been known to not pick up the phone in protest.
Just in time for May Day, China will begin shipping tourists to the Paracel islands, which it gained control of in 1974 after a short war with Vietnam.
Quote from the BBC: The Xinhua news agency said tourists would live on board ships, as the largest island has only one hotel and no fresh water.
Analysts view the latest move as an another step in China’s battle to demonstrate that the potentially oil-rich area is Chinese.
The islands, in the bustling, combustible South China Sea, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. This is happening as just China hosts mainly Asian nations at the Boao forum in Hainan. It’s worth comparing this decision, sure to upset Vietnam, with comments from Chinese president Xi Jinping today.
Asia needs to “enhance mutual understanding, build consensus, and enrich and deepen cooperation so as to strike a balance among the interests of various parties and build mechanisms that bring benefits to all,” Xi said, according to Xinhua.
Although other Asian nations are participating in the forum, one can’t help but think their representatives are props for Xi’s speech, which is intended not for Asia, but for a China, to show the nation as a regional peacemaker and consensus builder.
Last week, ahead of the opening of the National People’s Conference, a spokeswoman for the country’s legislature laid out China’s position on security in the region.
China seeks to solve disputes through negotiation and diplomacy, National People’s Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying said…
“Historically China has had weak national defense, and was subject to the hurtful lessons of bullying,” Fu told a briefing in Beijing. “Chinese people’s historical memories of this problem are deep, so we need a solid national defense.”
Solid defense is a fair enough goal, given China’s history. But it’s the volatile nature of resolving issues through action on the high seas, rather than through diplomacy, that is causing the alarm. China seems to have little appetite for diplomacy with either Vietnam or the Philippines.
A revealing exchange to me, is the idea that there can be little historical precedent for China’s development.
Asked about political reform, Fu said China would not copy the model of other countries.
“You cannot say that if China’s reform is not following the model of other countries then China is not following political reform,” she said. “This is unfair and not correct.”