In a recent interview with Vietnam News Agency, Nguyen Manh Dong, head of the Maritime Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ National Border Committee, reiterated Vietnam’s consistent policy that all international disputes, including those in the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the East Sea), must be resolved by peaceful means as regulated in the Charter of the United Nations and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
|Vietnam Coast Guard conducts sea patrol__Photo: https://canhsatbien.vn|
What can you say about the need to maintain a peaceful and stable environment in the East Sea?
First of all, we need to reaffirm that peace, security, stability and cooperative development are the wish of all nations in the world and an inevitable trend of humanity.
All nations, regardless of their economic development level or scope of influence, must together make efforts - with goodwill and via practical and constructive contributions - to maintain an environment conducive for this trend, in the interest of the international community as a whole, when international integration deepens and mutual dependency grows.
Secondly, we have seen that peace, stability and cooperation served as important bases for the dynamic, vibrant growth of the Asia-Pacific region in general, including the East Sea region, over the last decades.
Thirdly, the East Sea is a living space and has room for growth of coastal countries, including Vietnam, and a space for cooperation between countries inside and outside the region. The East Sea also holds vital global maritime routes in terms of both volume of goods and number of vessels.
In consideration of the sea’s strategic position, the respect toward each other’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdictional rights, and maritime and airspace freedom as delineated in UNCLOS, serves as the basis for efforts to uphold peace and stability in the East Sea.
That’s why, in recent years, coastal countries and other countries both inside and outside the region have expressed utmost concern over the unilateral acts that encroach upon littoral countries’ legal maritime rights and interests - including stymying lawful exploration, survey and exploitation activities of the coastal countries, along with stepping up illegal construction and militarization of geographical features in the East Sea.
These activities erode the trust, exacerbate tensions and have negative implications for regional and global peace, stability, order, development and growth.
The international community and countries in the region have repeatedly expressed their concerns and protested these unilateral, unlawful acts, and called for respect toward the rule of law and compliance with international law, including UNCLOS.
What is the role of UNCLOS in settling sea disputes?
This year, UNCLOS signatories celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Convention’s entry into force.
On the occasion, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that UNCLOS is effectively the “Constitution for our oceans” and the “comprehensive framework for the peaceful, cooperative and sustainable use of seas, oceans and their resources.”
I want to emphasize that the birth of the Convention is an important step toward forming an international legal order that regulates all activities concerning the seas and oceans, meaning that UNCLOS serves as the most comprehensive legal basis for countries to identify and exercise their rights and perform their duties concerning the seas, and also the basis for countries to settle disputes arising from interpretation and application of the Convention in real life.
Most UN members, 168 out of 192 countries, have participated in the Convention and therefore, they have the obligation to observe the Convention, with goodwill and in a responsible manner.
Disputes are inevitable in interpretation and application of the Convention, but all countries have the obligation to settle these disputes in a peaceful manner via measures stipulated in Article 33 of the UN Charter and Article 279 of UNCLOS. I want to point out that there’s a distinction between real disputes and unilateral infringements and in this regard, UNCLOS can be used to determine which is a dispute and which is an infringement.
One of the most progressive characteristics of UNCLOS’s provisions on dispute settlement is the “finality and binding force of decisions,” which means that, in certain conditions and circumstances, disputes concerning interpretation and application of UNCLOS may be decided by a third party and the decisions rendered must be complied with by all parties to the dispute. In recent years, a few countries inside and outside the region have made use of this procedure to successfully settle their own disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the terms of UNCLOS.
International and regional documents have also underpinned the role of UNCLOS in the resolution of international maritime disputes.
|Fleet 402 of the Coast Guard Zone 4 High Command__Photo: VNA|
How has Vietnam applied peaceful measures under international law to protect the country’s sovereignty over seas and islands as well as its lawful rights and interests?
Our consistent policy is that all international disputes, including those in the East Sea, must be resolved peacefully in line with the UN Charter and UNCLOS.
This has been asserted clearly in the National Assembly’s Resolution ratifying UNCLOS in 1994, and the 2012 Law of the Sea of Vietnam, in addition to other legal documents.
On that basis, so far, we have completed the demarcation of and fisheries cooperation in the Gulf of Tonkin with China in 2000, maritime demarcation with Thailand in 1997 and continental shelf demarcation with Indonesia in 2003. The country has also signed an agreement on joint oil and gas exploitation with Malaysia in 1992 and a treaty on historical waters with Cambodia in 1988.
We are stepping up negotiations to deal with issues related to demarcation of the sea off the mouth of the Gulf of Tonkin with China and the demarcation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with Indonesia.
Vietnam always shows respect for its neighboring countries’ territorial waters identified properly by UNCLOS and has been paying attention to raising awareness of our fishermen about the need to comply with international law, especially UNCLOS, and refrain from violations of foreign waters.
At the same time, we have patiently and resolutely fought against acts of infringing Vietnam’s EEZ and continental shelf - as specified in accordance with the terms of UNCLOS - by peaceful measures, including sending diplomatic notes voicing our protests, circulating the notes at the UN, and repeatedly reaffirming that Vietnam reserves the right to make use of all peaceful measures in line with international law to protect the country’s lawful and legitimate rights and interests under UNCLOS.
What particular efforts has Vietnam taken to enhance the implementation of UNCLOS and international maritime cooperation?
Vietnam was one of the 107 states to have signed UNCLOS in Montego Bay, Jamaica, right after the Convention opened for signing in 1982, and it was one of the earliest countries to ratify the Convention.
Over the years, Vietnam has always respected and fulfilled all its obligations under UNCLOS, demonstrated through the country’s integration of the convention’s terms into domestic laws, the continual improvements made to the country’s legal system on the sea and the use of the convention’s regulations as a basis for resolving demarcation issues and promoting maritime cooperation with neighboring countries that share maritime borders.
Regarding bilateral cooperation, Vietnam has conducted joint marine scientific research with the Philippines in 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2007. Based on these successes, the two countries have institutionalized bilateral marine cooperation and expanded the cooperation from marine scientific research to new fields like marine environmental protection, search and rescue, and oil spill response.
In terms of the partnership in less sensitive areas at sea with China, the two countries have successfully implemented a study comparing the Holocene-epoch deposits in the Red River and Yangtze River deltas, and worked together to release fish breeds and protect aquatic resources in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The two sides are enhancing collaboration in search and rescue, maritime affairs, the opening of a hotline to deal with fisheries-related incidents at sea, and implementation of some new projects on environmental protection in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Vietnam has also set up joint patrol mechanisms at sea with Thailand in 1998, Cambodia in 2002 and China in 2005 to maintain order in relevant maritime zones, enhancing ties between relevant forces of Vietnam and the countries, and fostering good neighborliness.
Within the framework of ASEAN, Vietnam has also joined in cooperation on the East Sea issue, including the ASEAN Senior Transport Officials’ Meeting, the ASEAN Transport Search and Rescue Forum, the ASEAN Maritime Forum, and the Sub-Committee on Marine Science and Technology.
To implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea between ASEAN and China and negotiate a Code of Conduct in the waters, Vietnam has proposed many initiatives and made practical contributions for the sake of the parties concerned and for ASEAN-China maritime cooperation.
Additionally, Vietnam has actively engaged in activities within the framework of international mechanisms established under UNCLOS, including participating in the meetings of the UNCLOS member states held annually at the UN General Assembly and the meetings of the International Seabed Authority.
We have also supported the enhancement of activities of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and for a stronger role of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, taken part in efforts to build international legal regulations governing the conservation of biodiversity in international seas.
These vividly attest to the Vietnamese Government’s goodwill, active participation and determined commitment to respecting and implementing UNCLOS and, at the same time, show the country’s efforts and consistent policy in coordinated settlement of maritime disputes and conflicts by peaceful means in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS, with a view to promoting cooperation with other countries and protecting legitimate rights and interests of Vietnam in the East Sea.-