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ABN # 65 648 097 123
Vietnam: 3rd International Workshop on the South China Sea
Carlyle A. Thayer November 9, 2011
[client name deleted] Q1‐Please tell me some of the most important ideas in your conference paper. ANSWER: Developments affecting security in the South China Sea this year have been like a soccer game of two different halves. In the first half China was very assertive in enforcing its jurisdiction in disputed waters of the South China Sea. In the second half China went on the defensive and promoted diplomatic discussions. There is now a window of opportunity for claimants to the South China Sea to explore areas confidence building measures under the just adopted ASEAN‐China Guidelines to Implement the DOC (Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea). At the same time, China and Vietnam have the opportunity to move from confrontation to cooperation under their bilateral Agreement on Basic Principles for the Settlement of Sea Issues. There are six trends, however, that could derail this process: 1. Increased exploration for oil and gas reserves. 2. China’s build up of its civilian naval capacity for maritime jurisdiction enforcement. 3. Force modernization by regional states and, in particular, the expansion of submarine fleets. 4. U.S. re‐engagement in the region and China’s response. 5. Enhanced roles for Japan and India in regional security and China’s response. 6. Development of new regional security architecture that may embed major power rivalries. In sum, realpolitik continually threatens to undermine building legal regimes. Q2‐ In the meeting chaired by you, which report do you think was the most notable? Could you comment especially on the report of Prof. Dustin Wang Kuan‐hsiung about the fisheries dispute. ANSWER: Professor Wang was unable to attend the workshop, his paper was delivered by Tai Tsung Han. Wang’s paper made two major points. First, it argued
2 that international law, especially as it applies to semi‐enclosed seas, enjoined the littoral states to cooperate. Second, Wang’s paper argued that since fish do not respect national maritime zones and because marine pollution was a threat to the interests of all, a new Regional Fishery Management Organization needed to be created. Wang’s proposal addressed one of the pressing issues raised by disputes over the South China Sea: how to preserve a vital resource for the benefit of all. Q3‐What’s your comment on the presentations of the Vietnamese scholars? ANSWER: The performance of the Vietnamese participants was impressive. It is clear that Vietnam has succeeded in developing a cadre of younger persons who are steeped in international law and South China Sea affairs. There were four participants and they acquitted themselves well, giving as good as they got. They were not reluctant to challenge Chinese assertions and based their arguments in international law. In line with official policy, they offered useful proposals for cooperation. One of the most interesting proposals was by Vu Hai Dang who argued for a special maritime zone in the northwest of the South China Sea where China and Vietnam could cooperate over fisheries as this was a bilateral matter not affecting third parties. Q4‐According to you what were the achievements of the workshop? ANSWER: The first two workshops internationalized the South China Sea issue and put China on the back foot. This workshop was aimed at promoting cooperation for regional security and development. There were seven Chinese academics present and their papers, while defending China’s official line that the South China Sea was China’s by virtue of historic rights, offered positive proposals for cooperation. Thus, the major achievement of this workshop was its accentuation of the positive Q5‐Vietnam ambassador Dang Dinh Quy said that the sovereignty dispute over the South China Sea at risk of conflict exploded into full if the country involved does not comply with international law. What is your comment? ANSWER: The third international workshop was more carefully managed than the previous two workshops. This year foreign participants were directed not to speak to the press. All information was provided by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and its director Dang Dinh Quy. Quy’s remarks reflected concerns by Vietnamese authorities that nothing should contradict the official line that the time was ripe for security cooperation in the South China Sea. Unless this opportunity was grasped there was the likelihood of armed conflict. In other words Quy offered both a carrot of cooperation and the stick of conflict to convince China to be less assertive and more constructive. Quy was also speaking to two audiences. In addition to China, Quy’s remarks were aimed at domestic opinion that has been vocally anti‐China and implicitly critical of the government’s handling of relations with China. The domestic audience basically was told cooperation rather than confrontation with China was how the government would handle South China Sea issues.