South China Sea expert expelled from Vietnam’s Communist Party

HANOI: Vietnam’s Communist Party has purged a prominent researcher whose work on his country’s claims to the disputed South China Sea had threatened to ruffle feathers in Beijing, which says it owns most of the resource-rich waterway.

Tran Duc Anh Son, deputy head of a state-run research institute in central Danang City, was expelled from the party this week after being accused of eroding its prestige, state media reported.

“The violations by Tran Duc Anh Son are very serious, creating negative public opinion among cadres, party members and the people,” Danang Online official news site reported Friday.

He was also accused of “defaming the prestige of… the party organisation and the institute where he is working,” it added, referring to the Danang Institute for Socioeconomic Development where he has been employed since 2009.

The newspaper did not specify Son’s alleged misdeeds, though the historian has previously criticised the Vietnamese government for not standing up to Beijing in its long-simmering fight over disputed territory in the sea.

The outspoken researcher has collected documents that he says justifies Hanoi’s claims in the waterway dating back to the 19th century, namely over the Spratly and Paracel islands.

Son’s patriotic Facebook posts have argued in favour of those claims and against China’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam that sparked a bloody border war.

Son was not available for comment Friday, but posted a cryptic message on Facebook after the news of his expulsion from the party broke.

“This is a happy moment,” he posted, quoting the controversial anti-war Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Hanoi and Beijing enjoy an at times uneasy alliance, with occasional flare-ups over the South China Sea.

Though Hanoi disputes Beijing’s so-called nine dash line — its own historical justification over most of the South China Sea — Vietnam is careful not to upset its powerful neighbour and leading trade partner.

The dispute boiled over in 2014 when China moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Hanoi, sparking violent protests across Vietnam.

Last year Vietnam scrapped a major exploration project off its coast in the South China Sea run by Spanish oil firm Repsol, a move seen as a sop to Beijing. —AFP

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