A Chinese coast guard vessel (left) followed by a Vietnamese coast guard ship near the area of China’s oil drilling rig. -AFP
In recent days, the Vietnamese authorities have dispatched a large number of vessels, including some naval vessels, to the waters off Zhongjian Island, forcibly disturbing the normal drilling operations of a Chinese oil rig and ramming China’s civilian escort ships.
Such provocative actions not only pose a serious threat to the safety of the Chinese drilling rig and the lives of those working on it, but also infringe upon the rights of China’s government vessels carrying out maritime law enforcement tasks in the sea areas under China’s jurisdiction.
It is true that there is a territorial dispute between China and Vietnam over some islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands, but there is not any dispute between the two countries over the Xisha Islands, in which Zhongjian Island is included.
It is also true that delimitation is yet to be done for the waters between China’s Xisha Islands and Vietnam’s coastline.
However, the drilling operation by the Chinese company is only 27km away from the Zhongjian Island, yet 241km from the Vietnamese coastline. The location obviously falls within China’s offshore waters, notwithstanding the lack of an official delimitation between China and Vietnam in this area.
According to Article 56 and Article 60 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China has exclusive sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve and manage resources within the waters off the Xisha Islands. It also owns exclusive jurisdiction over the construction and use of all installations and structures operating in these waters, including oil rigs.
It is clear by using the excuse that maritime delimitation has not been done, Hanoi has chosen to view the whole sea between China and Vietnam as disputable sea areas and sent a flotilla of ships to disturb the normal offshore drilling operations of the Chinese company.
Vietnam’s activities, a violation of international practices, have also set a dangerous precedent for a country to brazenly interrupt another country’s normal maritime operations in waters under the jurisdiction of another, which is obviously in breach of UNCLOS.
The actions of the Vietnamese authorities are a serious provocation.
Vietnam should be held accountable for the consequences of its actions, which are in violation of international law, and China certainly has the right to take countermeasures in accordance with international law.
The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, two documents passed by the International Maritime Organisation in 1988, formally came into effect on March 1, 1992.
China and Vietnam have both ratified and are party to these two international conventions.
The Vietnamese attempt to force China into giving up its legitimate rights and interests by escalating regional tension is both dangerous and futile. On the contrary, Hanoi will put itself in a dilemma that it cannot handle.
> The author is a Beijing-based expert on international studies.