China asked to withdraw vessels from Vietnam's Union Banks atoll

By Viet Anh   November 4, 2021 | 04:59 am PT
China asked to withdraw vessels from Vietnam's Union Banks atoll
Chinese vessels at Whitsun Reef, Spratly Islands, March 7, 2021. Photo by Reuters
Vietnam has demanded that China stop its actions near the Union Banks atoll, saying they violated Vietnam’s sovereignty, breached international law as well as multilateral commitments.

The activities of Chinese vessels within the territory of the Union Banks atoll are severe violations of the sovereignty of Vietnam over these waters, go against the decisions and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), Pham Thu Hang, deputy spokeswoman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, said at a press meet Thursday.

She was responding to a question regarding information that nearly 150 ships suspected to belong to Chinese militia were present in Vietnam's Union Banks atoll in Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands, several months after dispersing to surrounding entities.

Vietnam has affirmed numerous times that it has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Spratlys in line with international law. The country also has sufficient historical evidence and legal grounds to assert its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction over its waters under UNCLOS.

Vietnam will remain resolute and steadfast, taking suitable measures in line with international law to protect its lawful and legitimate rights and interests, Hang said.

"Vietnam asks China to withdraw its vessels from this area and respect Vietnam sovereignty over these waters," she said.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently published a satellite image taken in mid-October, showing the Chinese fleet returning to the Union Banks.

They are believed to be vessels that had illegally anchored in the Whitsun Reef in the Spratlys since early March this year. The vessels kept their lights on overnight, but have not engaged in any fishing activities despite the convenient weather.

In late March, after facing a fierce reaction from Vietnam as well as the international community, the Chinese fleet left the reef, dispersing to other features in the Spratly Islands.

The AMTI said that from the beginning of August, about 40 Chinese vessels began to return to the north of the Union Banks, including the Whitsun Reef. By September, the number of vessels increased to more than 100 and 150 a month later.

Given that Chinese vessels have been scattered in the northern area of the Union Banks, with some returning to anchor in the Whitsun Reef, the AMTI said it believed that the Chinese militia had no intention of leaving the Spratly Islands.

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