As tensions continue to rise, Hanoi has flirted with the idea of following the international law route to try and legally restrict China’s ability to send vessels into Vietnam’s economic exclusion zone. Vietnam’s Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung recently said their disputes, including over the oil and minerals hotspot in the Vanguard Bank, should be resolved according to the United Nations Convention.
This comes after China recently brought to and end a months-long standoff between themselves and Vietnam in the Vanguard Bank region, where a Chinese oil vessel had entered Vietnam’s economic exclusion zone.
The Haiyang Dizhi 8 was speeding away from Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone towards China last month under the escort of at least two Chinese ships, according to data from Marine Traffic, a website that tracks vessels.
But the move by China to send in the vessel represented a refusal from Beijing to back down before they had planned to.
But while Vietnam’s government see the UN as a route to seizing control, they will be discouraged by Beijing’s recent twisting of the rule book in their dispute with the Philippines.
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).
Even as they remain determined, Vietnam will want to avoid conflict at all costs given the already violent history between the two countries.
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.
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.
So while Hanoi’s officials look to find a solution, waging a legal battle with Beijing may be counter productive.