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Vietnamese expert warns of China's moves in the East Sea

14:37 | 27/06/2020

The Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam's East Sea Institute General Director Nguyen Hung Son, has warned about China's increasing activity in the East Sea (internationally known as South China Sea) in an interview with Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

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Nguyen Hung Son, director-general of the East Sea Institute at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, was speaking to NHK.

He said China might be taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to increase its presence or to take strategic advantage in the East Sea. And, China has also engaged in developments which had not been observed in the East Sea in previous years, such as the establishment of two new districts in the waters.

The expert stressed the need for cooperation among ASEAN member nations, including those with a pro-China stance, to promote their common interests in the East Sea.

He said the common interests are achieving peace and stability in the waters and that Vietnam, as the current chair of ASEAN, will work toward that goal.

2020 has seen China step up their presence in the East Sea to a larger extent, with ever-increasing numbers involved and activities aimed at expanding their waters. Most recently, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Zhao Lijian on June 22 has left open the possibility of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on air space above the East Sea by saying "every country has the right to establish an ADIZ and to decide whether to establish an ADIZ based on the intensity of the threats it faces in air defense security."

"In the light of the air security threats China faces above relevant waters of the South China Sea, China will carefully and prudently study the relevant issue taking into account all factors," he added on the fmprc.gov.cn.

Experts have said that enforcing such a zone, which would cover a vast area of the East Sea, would present huge logistical challenges for the Chinese air force and could provoke a diplomatic backlash.

On June 25, at a news conference, Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono also raised concern about China’s increasingly assertive activity in regional seas and skies, stressing that Chinese coast guard vessels are repeatedly in and out of Japanese waters around East China Sea islands, and a Chinese submarine recently passed just off Japan’s southern coast, reported AP.

“China is trying to change the status quo unilaterally in the East China Sea, South China Sea and with Indian border...” Kono said. “It is easy to make connections about those issues.”

This week also saw the bilateral exercises between the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) JS Kashima (TV 3508) and JS Shimayuki (TV 3513) while sailing together in the East Sea.

According  the United States Indo-Pacific Command's post in their official website, Gabrielle Giffords, Kashima and Shimayuki met at sea to practice and enhance bilateral interoperability between the two navies and to emphasize the importance of communications and coordination while operating together. In April, Gabrielle Giffords sailed with JMSDF Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DD 116) in the Andaman Sea.

Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7 underscored the importance of practicing bilateral exercises to effectively maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“The opportunity to operate with our friends and allies at sea is incredibly important for our combined readiness and partnership,” said Kacher. “Executing complex maritime skills with our Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force allies allows both of our teams to build on our interoperability and readiness as we maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

vietnamese expert warns of chinas moves in the east sea
The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), left, exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) training ships JS Kashima (TV 3508) and JS Shimayuki (TV 3513), June 23, 2020.  (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brenton)

'Build an East Sea of peace, friendship, cooperation'

Answering reporters' query about the pandemic’s impacts on Vietnam’s agenda on the negotiations on the East Sea issues, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on June 26 affirmed that peace, security and stability in the region and the East Sea in particular are the common interest and aspiration of the community, especially the ASEAN.

The summit has reaffirmed the ASEAN’s determination to build the East Sea into a sea of cooperation, development, security and safety, he stressed.

As COVID-19 has disrupted discussions on the building of a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) between the ASEAN and China, he said.

Phuc added that Vietnam and the ASEAN are working with parties concerned to exercise self-restraint, prevent actions that could complicate the situation at sea, comply with international law, build an East Sea of peace, friendship, cooperation, maritime and aviation freedom, seriously implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and accelerate talks on an effective and efficient COC in line with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)./.

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Hannah Nguyen