As Chinese President Xi Jinping aims to assert dominance in the South China Sea, his Nine-Dash Line waters claim has been met with significant backlash from Asian neighbours who have also been supported by the US and Australia.
The Philippines, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, has been especially determined to thwart the overreaching nature of the Chinese Navy’s operations in the seas, turning to international governing bodies for help.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s claims to almost the entire stretch of sea. China does not recognise the ruling.
The tribunal in The Hague found that China had violated sovereign Filipino rights under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In 1994, Beijing also infuriated Manila when it asserted its ownership of Mischief Reef, which was inside the claimed EEZ of the Philippines.
Mr Duterte said he has been offered a controlling stake in a joint energy deal by Xi Jinping in exchange for ignoring the international arbitration in Manila’s favour.
Vietnam will be looking to the UNCLOS ruling as inspiration for their own efforts to stop Chinese vessels from entering their waters.
Mr Parameswaran highlights in his article for The Diplomat that while Vietnam has previously flirted with the idea of going to the international courts, the idea has now become a realistic threat.
In an address last week, Vietnam’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Le Hoai Trung, made reference to Vietnam potentially pursuing international legal arbitration to manage the South China Sea disputes.
He said: “We know that these measures include fact-finding, mediation, conciliation, negotiation, arbitration and litigation measures.
“The UN Charter and UNCLOS 1982 have sufficient mechanisms for us to apply those measures.”
As Mr Parameswaran indicates, the explicit mentioning of UNCLOS legislation signifies a significant ramping up of planning of legal action in Hanoi, which could leave China further frustrated.
Given Beijing’s history of disregarding international treaties, any effort to restrict China will have to be coherent and persistent if any success is to come from it.
The move could also further intensify the tensions between China and Vietnam, which have boiled over leading to tragic consequences on multiple occasions.
On February 17, 1979, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed Vietnam’s northern border to invade the country, waging a bloody strike along the 370-mile border that the two nations share.
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The result was as comprehensive as it was deadly. A far inferior Vietnamese army were picked apart by waves of Chinese invasion.
In 1988, 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in a conflict over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea.
In 2014, there was a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese military, as a Chinese oil rig entered disputed waters where Vietnam had also contested for ownership.
Just last month, a Chinese oil survey vessel departed Vietnam’s EEZ after a three month standoff.