Sunday, 10 September 2017

Vietnam: The Lone Opposer To China's Imperious Approach

When it comes to the conflict of South China Sea, one must laud Vietnam's lone opposition to China's imperious approach as all of its fellow Southeast Asian neighbours have either changed their tone after years of intensifying tensions with Beijing, or are trying to stay out of this imbroglio, rather keeping their heads down and letting Vietnam alone take up the fight.

The South China Sea plays an outsized role in international commerce and politics. More than half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage and a third of all maritime traffic worldwide passes through these part. Roughly two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, nearly 60% of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy supplies, and 80% of China’s crude oil imports come through the South China Sea & China is claiming its sovereignty over virtually all of the South China Sea.

In June, the Vietnam refused Chinese demand to halt drilling by a Spanish company Repsol in an oil and gas block on Vanguard Bank—which if international law to be considered, is undisputedly Vietnam's.

Just after a month, when China threatened to use military force on Vietnamese bases, Vietnam had to terminate the exploration. The company behind the drilling, Repsol of Spain, was ordered to leave the area.
General Fan Changlong of China even paid a visit to Spain to raise China’s concerns over Spanish corporation Repsol’s involvement in the deal. By that time, Respol had already invested $300 million in the project.

Unfortunate for Vietnam, the expedition terminated only days after it had confirmed the existence of a major gas field.

It seems like all the Vietnam's neighbors and the international community has tacitly agreed to remain silent on this act of bullying by China.

After years of standing up against Chinese coercion, the Philippines, has transformed into one of its potential allies. All credits to President Rodrigo Duterte who seems like refurbishing Philippines' foreign policy.
Malaysia, knowing that maintaining good ties with China is paramount objective, is being complacent about this issue.
And Indonesia is happy to occupy a middle ground, resisting meagerly when it comes to Chinese fishing encroachments in its waters, but uninterested in taking a more active role in the disputes.

Vietnam has paid a diplomatic price for its activism, with China's foreign minister Wang Yi canceling a planned bilateral meeting with Vietnam.

Although China’s population is about  14 times more than Vietnam’s, and its military budget is $151 billion compared with Vietnam’s mere $5 billion, the smaller southern nation has a long history of pushing back against the formidable kingdom.

While this may seem a setback for Vietnam, it has continued to defy China in other important areas.For instance, Vietnam has moved forward with construction of artificial land features in the South China Sea. Yet Beijing is unable to publicly condemn these moves without appearing hypocritical, as China has itself constructed several islands in the South China Sea and has continued to install more military hardware on them.

Given the overwhelming power disparity between the two, Vietnam’s success will depend in part on continuing to improve relations with outside powers, such as India, Japan, and the United States, all of which have been more engaged in the South China Sea in recent years.

While it may seem a lonely fight, Vietnam's hard-line stance is important. It will surely create an opening for other regional powers to involve in the issue even as the axis is increasingly inclining toward China and its growing economic influence.

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