Vietnam calls for respect for international law as US ships sail near Spratly Islands

By Khanh Lynh   May 9, 2019 | 07:13 am PT
Vietnam calls for respect for international law as US ships sail near Spratly Islands
An aerial view of an island of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Photo by Reuters/Erik De Castro
Vietnam said it respects freedom of navigation and requests all parties to fulfill their legal obligations in the South China Sea.

"As a party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a nation bordering the East Sea, Vietnam always respects the rights to freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea in accordance with the regulations of international law, specifically UNCLOS," foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said Thursday, using the Vietnamese name for the waterway.

Her statement was a comment on an incident that happened on Monday as the U.S. guided-missile destroyers Preble and Chung Hoon traveled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet, said that the "innocent passage" was "to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law," Reuters reported.

The action, which came on top of trade tensions between the world's biggest economies, angered China, who called it a challenge to Beijing's territorial claims in the region.

"The relevant actions of the U.S. warships violated China's sovereignty and undermined peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing.

Gaven and Johnson are two reefs belonging to Vietnam’s Spratly Islands, which is illegally occupied by China.

Hang said: "Vietnam requests that nations contribute positively and practically to the maintenance of peace and stability, respect and carry out their international legal obligations, respect the rule of law in seas and oceans."

She reiterated at the press conference that Vietnam has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in accordance with international law.

China seized the Paracels from South Vietnam by force in 1974 and a number of reefs in the Spratly Islands in 1988.

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