Vietnam appreciates India’s position on South China Sea

New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) With China’s increasing assertiveness on its claims over the South China Sea, Vietnam, the southeast Asian nation that is most vulnerable to this, on Wednesday appreciated India’s position on th issue.

“We appreciate the position of India on resolving the South China Sea disputes peacefully, without threat or actual use of force, and early concluding of a code of conduct on the South China Sea,” Vietnamese Ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh said at a workshop on “The South China Sea: Security and economic implications” here.

The workshop was organised by the M.L. Sondhi Institute for Asia Pacific Affairs (MLSIAPA) in collaboration with the National Maritime Foundation (NMF) and the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CSAS).

Speaking at a session on regional security dynamics vis-a-vis the South China Sea, Ton said that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj correctly stated at the Delhi Dialogue 2016 earlier this month that oceans and seas, including the South China Sea, were pathways to prosperity and security.

The Delhi Dialogue is a premier annual track 1.5 diplomatic event for discussing the politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“The security of sea routes in the Asia-Pacific is essential for India’s economy as a majority of Indian global trade flows across the straits of Malacca and beyond,” Ton said.

He cited the settlement of the maritime disputes between India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal by using the UN’s Arbitration Tribunal as a good example for the claimants in the South China Sea to solve their problems.

Stating that the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, over which China has laid claim to, belonged to Vietnam, the ambassador said Hanoi has full historical evidence and legal foundation to confirm its sovereignty over these islands, “which in fact have been owned and controlled peacefully and continuously by Vietnam since the 17th century when no other countries claimed their sovereignty over these islands”.

“However, Vietnam is ready to work with other claimants to settle territorial disputes over Paracel and Spratly islands by means of multilateral and also bilateral negotiations in a peaceful manner in accordance with international laws,” he said.

Asserting that Vietnam would spare no efforts to make the South China Sea a region of peace, stability and cooperation for development, Ton said that there has been a series of escalating illegal activities of China that were threatening the peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“Before 1947, all geographical maps printed by China show their territory stopped at Hainan island only. In 1974, China used force to occupy the Paracel islands which were under Vietnam’s administration. In 1988, China again used force to occupy some reefs in the Spratly islands of Vietnam,” he said.

According to ambassador, over the past 20 months alone, more than 2,900 acres of land was reclaimed by China, accounting for 95 percent of all land reclaimed by other countries in the Spratly islands over the past 40 years.

“China has built big airstrips on three artificial islands there,” he said.

“As you are aware, the South China Sea with over 3.7 million sq km area not only provides the surrounding countries with oil and gas, sea food and other natural resources, but also serves as the most critical shipping routes between the Pacific and Indian Ocean. The South China Sea has naturally become important to all countries countries within and outside the region, including major powers like India.”

Earlier, speaking at the inaugural session, former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said that China wanted to solve all issues pertaining to the South China Sea bilaterally.

He said that India should deal with the issue with China in cooperation rather than in confrontation.

In this regard, he said the security pact signed between India and Japan during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to New Delhi in December was a step in the right direction.

According to Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of China Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), previously, China only had Tibet and Taiwan as core interest areas, but it now has the South China Sea too.

G.V.C. Naidu, professor in the Centre of Indo-Pacific Studies at JNU, said that Asean alone has the clout to deal with Beijing on the South China Sea issue.

“But there is clear division within the Asean on dealing with China as only four Asean countries have claims over the South China Sea,” he said.

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