China Looks to U.N. in Vietnam Spat Over Oil Rig
by TREFOR MOSS
by TREFOR MOSS
Beijing Still Opposes Arbitration but Seeks to Spread Its Position Via Global Body
A Chinese vessel near the oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
China told the United Nations it is the victim and Vietnam the aggressor in the countries' month-long standoff over an oil rig in disputed waters, in a written defense of its recent conduct.
Despite Beijing's shunning of international fora when it comes to dispute resolution, Chinese officials on Monday sent U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon what it called a position paper detailing Vietnam's "illegal disruption" of the "routine" activities of an offshore drilling platform that China deployed near the Paracel Islands in May.
China maintained its resistance to seeking a multilateral resolution in the dispute, but the approach suggested that Beijing is growing uneasy about the reputational damage it has suffered from the spat with Vietnam and from a similar dispute with the Philippines, both of which have characterized China as a bully pushing around its smaller neighbors.
China's bid to spread its message via the U.N. came after its rejection of an ongoing legal case the Philippines has brought against it at an international tribunal in The Hague under the terms of the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, a move Beijing has said it will disregard, and as Beijing has faced mounting condemnation of its assertiveness in the region.
In a sign that the criticism is starting to hurt China – which had worked hard to convince its Asian neighbors of its "peaceful rise" before taking a more assertive approach to territorial issues in recent months – Wang Min, China's deputy permanent representative to the U.N., requested that Mr. Ban distribute the paper among the U.N.'s 193 member states, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
Xinhua said Mr. Wang called on nations to uphold principles of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. "The Chinese government believes that the most effective way to peacefully settle maritime disputes is negotiation and consultations between the parties directly involved in the dispute on the basis of respect for historical facts and international law," Mr. Wang said, according to Xinhua. Meanwhile, at a regular briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China rejected any U.N. arbitration of the dispute with Vietnam. Hanoi hasn't launched legal action against China, but has indicated it may do so.
Ms. Hua again urged Vietnam to withdraw its vessels from the disputed area and said the Vietnamese approach was to "sling mud and attack China," and that China therefore found it "necessary to tell the world and set the record straight" by publishing its own version of recent events.
Separately on Tuesday, Daniel Russel, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, encouraged China to present the case for its legal claims in the South China Sea to the international tribunal, saying that would "open the door to the removal of some ambiguity regarding China's claims that have helped fuel tension and uncertainty in the region."
At the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian security summit in Singapore at the end of May, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized China's "destabilizing, unilateral actions" in the South China Sea, while leaders from Australia and Japan also essentially took Vietnam's side, pinning the blame for the region's worsening security problems on what it labeled as China's disregard for international law. Several Western analysts left the summit with the impression that China didn't much care what the world thought about its actions, and would continue forcefully pressing its territorial claims regardless of other countries' complaints. Gary Samore, the White House adviser on weapons of mass destruction during President Barack Obama's first term, commented that China seemed completely unfazed by the damage being done to its international image.
"Does this even matter back in Beijing?" he asked.
China has released similar position papers previously, including on maritime disputes with its neighbors. In September 2012, the government issued a lengthy paper on the issue of Chinese sovereignty over a group of Japanese islands in the East China Sea. The islands, known as Senkaku, are a major source of tension between the nations.
The position paper alleged that Vietnam had accepted Chinese ownership of the Paracels decades ago, only to "go back on its word by making territorial claims" from the 1970s onward. Chinese companies had been drilling in the area for 10 years, it continued, and only now was Vietnam "illegally and forcefully disrupting the Chinese operation and ramming the Chinese vessels."
As of June 7, Chinese ships had been rammed 1,416 times by Vietnamese vessels, according to the Chinese account. The paper pointedly concluded that "these waters will never become Vietnam's [exclusive economic zone] and continental shelf no matter which principle is applied in the delimitation." The site of the drilling is roughly 150 miles from the Vietnamese coast, and as such sits within what would normally be considered Vietnam's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone under the Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Vietnamese National Assembly, the country's lawmaking body, said Tuesday it has agreed to set aside $762 million for the construction of additional coast-guard vessels and larger fishing vessels. The Assembly didn't directly address the Chinese position paper and Vietnam's Foreign Ministry also hasn't commented on it.
Separately, the State Bank of Vietnam said Tuesday it is planning to offer a package of around $476 million to provide low-interest loans for fishermen to build steel fishing vessels.
A Vietnamese fishing boat sank last month after a collision with a much larger Chinese vessel. Each side blamed the other for the incident. Vietnam last week released a video purporting to show the Chinese fishing vessel chasing, ramming and sinking the Vietnamese fishing boat.