Issue Brief on “China-Vietnam Maritime Crisis: Trying to Strike a Balance”

Vietnam continues to drill oil in the disputed South China Sea despite strong reservations by China. It has led to the cancellation of much awaited Vietnam-China 4th Border Defense Friendly Exchange, which was to be held from June 20-22, 2017 in the northern border province of Lai Chau and China’s Yunnan province.[1] South China Sea is a disputed area for a very long period of time. There are conflicting claims over both maritime boundaries and resources and islands within ASEAN countries and also with China. The recent ASEAN summit held on April 29, 2017 saw a softening stance on China being adopted with respect to the South China Sea but no progress has been made practically, in fact relations have again starting to deteriorate. On the other hand, interestingly Vietnam and the Philippines have effectively resumed intra ASEAN confidence building measures on the South China Sea.

On June 22, the Philippines and Vietnam did the third iteration of their naval personnel interactions on Southwest Cay in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.[2]  China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, all have competing claims[3] especially on the Spratly Island. China’s claim on the Spratly Island is backed by its historical linkages with the island, while Vietnam discredits China’s historical aspect. The other main claimant is the Philippines, which calls upon its geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the integral basis of its claim for part of the grouping.[4] Previously, the Philippines has chosen a combination of confrontational language and high-profile legal protestation, supported by strong military alliance with Washington, while Vietnam has mostly relied on low-key, patient bilateral diplomacy to push for joint-development designs with China.[5]

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