Vietnam's foreign ministry condemned Thursday a position paper China has used to outline its arguments against the jurisdiction of an international arbitration case which the Philippines has been seeking to challenge Beijing’s expansive maritime claims.
“Once again, we reiterate that Vietnam has incontestable sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands,” Le Hai Binh, the Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman, said in a statement Thursday, using the Vietnamese names for the Paracel and Spratly chains respectively.
“Vietnam’s established position is to resolutely object to China’s claims over Hoang Sa, Truong Sa islands and adjacent waters,” Binh said. Vietnam also rejects the legitimacy of what China call its “historic rights” over the waters, seabed and subsoil that fall within its so-called “nine-dash” line.
China routinely outlines the scope of its territorial claims by referring to maps featuring a nine-dash line -- a demarcation that includes about 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square kilometer East Sea, the Vietnamese term for the South China Sea.
Chinese maps featuring the line have been emphatically rejected by international experts. Moreover, the maps fly in the face of competing claims by four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.
In March, the Philippines submitted a case to an arbitration tribunal at The Hague, challenging China's claims in the East Sea.
In a position paper on December 7, China outlined its arguments against the jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague to take up the case filed by the Philippines that could have implications for China's claims over the East Sea, Reuters reported. The tribunal has given China, which has long rejected arbitration and insisted it would resolve disputes bilaterally, until December 15 to reply in the case, according to the newswire.
On December 5, the US Department of State released a long-awaited analysis of the legality of Beijing’s East Sea claims, dismissing them as both unclear and inconsistent. China has since bristled at the US report.
“The timing of these two releases, both in relation to each other and to the next stage of the arbitration case, suggest that policymakers in Beijing and Washington recognize the value of occupying the legal high ground in the [East] Sea and are eager to influence the arbitral tribunal even if they are not directly engaging in the case,” said Gregory Poling, a Southeast Asia analyst at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In the statement Thursday, Binh, the Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman, also said Hanoi has asked that the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague take Vietnam’s legal interests and rights into consideration.
In response to the Vietnamese statement, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying late Thursday that China's stance on the arbitration will not change.
Analysts say if the arbitration rules in favor of the Philippines, it could undermine parts of China’s claim to the East Sea.
“It would invalidate China's claim to maritime zones beyond 12 miles from the Spratlys and Paracels, including its claim to a continental shelf off Vietnam and the Philippines,” Alan Boyle, a British law professor who is a member of Philippines' lead counsel, told Thanh Nien News.
“Regardless of who has sovereignty over the rocks and reefs of the [East] Sea, China could not plausibly claim any right to explore for oil within 200 miles of neighboring states,” Boyle said,
Analysts say by stating its position to the court at The Hague, Vietnam has exhibited its support of the Philippine arguments in the case.
What Vietnam was meant to do “was the same thing that the Chinese position paper on Sunday was meant to do: ensure that the justices hearing the case consider the arguments contained in the document, but do so in a way that is less provocative than Vietnam actually joining,” Poling said.