The Vietnamese military has a base on the bay to engage in patrol and surveillance activities over islands, such as the Spratlys, over which Vietnam is in a territorial dispute with China.
Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, while Vietnam and Taiwan also claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands.
The Philippines mainly claims sovereignty over the Macclesfield Bank, consisting of underwater reefs and shoals. China claims sovereignty over the territory covering these island groups and undersea reefs in the South China Sea, comprising the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, and the Macclesfield Bank.
Current disputes between China and some Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims to islands in the East China Sea are closely tied to the emergence of what can be called a power vacuum, caused by the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region.
U.S. forces pulled out of Vietnam under the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. The next year, China made a military incursion into the Paracel Islands, from which the Chinese forces drove away South Vietnamese troops deployed there — an incident in which the whole area eventually came under Chinese control.
On Sept. 17, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera visited the Vietnamese base Cam Ranh Bay at the invitation of the Vietnamese government, a visit that highlighted friendly ties between Vietnam and Japan.
After the inspection, Onodera issued a statement expressing Japan’s wishes to see cooperation with Vietnam increase.
“Vietnam and Japan, though facing different waters, the South China Sea and the East China Sea, respectively, are in similar maritime circumstances,” he said.
“There are definitely many things Japan should look at regarding Vietnam’s maritime security,” Onodera added.The standoff between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea is so tense it sometimes results in armed battles.
In March, a Vietnamese boat fishing near the Paracel Islands was fired upon by a Chinese government vessel. In March 1988, near the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands, the navies of the two countries clashed, claiming many lives.
There can be no mistake that Vietnam, in an armed showdown with China, is certain to be overwhelmed.
During talks with his counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in Tokyo on Sept. 12, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh stressed that Vietnam-China territorial conflicts “must be resolved on the basis of the U.N. Law of the Sea and relevant international laws.”
A number of countries other than Vietnam have also taken note of China’s maritime advances in the South China Sea.
China and the Philippines, for instance, have claimed the Scarborough Shoal that belongs to the Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands), a group of reefs west of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. Toward the end of August, a Philippine Navy reconnaissance plane detected some concrete blocks on the shoal. They are believed to have been brought in by China, presumably to build some kind of structure.
In 2002, China and the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, calling for all parties to refrain from constructing new facilities on South China Sea islands over which there are sovereignty disputes. The declaration has no binding power, however, and China has spurned protests from the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal.
In a meeting in Jiangsu Province, China, in mid-September between high-ranking officials from China and ASEAN member states, the latter sought to upgrade the declaration to a legally binding “code of conduct.” The Chinese turned down the proposal.
The Philippines lodged a complaint this year with the International Court of Arbitration, arguing China’s claim to the Scarborough Shoal is unjustifiable.
Reacting vehemently to the situation, China took unprecedented action. Beijing refused to allow Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to attend the 10th China-ASEAN Expo in China just before the start of the Sept. 3-6 event. China reportedly asked the Philippines to “choose a more appropriate time” for the visit.
The countries concerned about China’s behavior in the South China Sea are watching Japan in its conflict with China over the Senkaku Islands.
Josel Ignacio, the first secretary and consul for political affairs, at the Philippine Embassy in Japan, has said that although China is keen to change the status quo concerning the Senkakus, Beijing seems to be moving more cautiously than in the South China Sea because the Japan Coast Guard and the Maritime Self-Defense Force are quite strong.
If Tokyo and Beijing can resolve the dispute through legal means, rather than the use of force, it would set a good precedent, possibly applicable to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
In that sense, Japan’s response in September 2010 when a Chinese fishery boat slammed into JCG patrol vessels in Okinawa Prefecture was very disappointing to other Asian countries. They saw Japan’s release of the captured Chinese boat captain as yielding to pressure from China.
One diplomat from a Southeast Asian nation was cited as lamenting in front of a high-ranking Japanese Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo, “Why did your country fail to thoroughly apply the principle of the rule of law [in response to the incident]?”
Story first published on: October 16, 2013 15:11 (MYT)
The islands in dispute between China and Japan don’t look like much but may hide much oil and natural gas below the sea floor that the owner of these islands can tap.
China continues a territorial dispute with Japan in the East China Sea over the islands called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China
A Chinese Coast Guard ship near the disputed islets in the East China Sea, in a handout picture by the Japanese Coastguard, taken on August 13, 2013. The Philippines says China has similar ships on patrol in the South China Sea near the disputed Scarborough Shoal. (Japan Coast Guard/AFP)
China also has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself — claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.
Tags: Aquino, arbitration, ASEAN, Brunei, China, Chinese, East China Sea, international law, Japan, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, legal dispute, Macclesfield Bank, Malaysia, Maritime, Paracel Islands, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, Philippines, Scarborough Shoal, Senkakus, South China Sea, Spratly Islands, Taiwan, the Philippines, U.N. Law of the Sea, Vietnam, Zhongsha Islands