Vietnam protests over Chinese live-fire drill in seized island

By Staff reporters   September 5, 2017 | 05:54 am PT
The objection came just several days after Hanoi bristled at Beijing’s military exercises in the Gulf of Tonkin.

China's announced live-fire drill on the Paracel archipelago in the troubled South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, is a serious violation of Hanoi's territorial sovereignty, the Vietnamese foreign ministry said in a statement late Tuesday.

“Vietnam strongly opposes this action and demands that China respect Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago and cease and refrain from repeating acts” that threaten peace and stability in the East Sea and the region, Le Thi Thu Hang, Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said, employing the Vietnamese name for the Paracels, the island chain China took from Vietnam by force in 1974.

"We will resolutely protect our sovereignty and our legitimate rights and interests in the East Sea through peaceful measures that are in accordance with international laws," Hang said.

The Maritime Safety Administration of China’s southern province of Hainan, which oversees the East Sea, announced that military drills would take place south of the province and east of Vietnam from August 29 until September 4, Reuters reported. That would include live-fire drills around the Paracel Islands until Sunday, according to the newswire.

Last Thursday, Vietnam also said it was deeply concerned about the Chinese exercises in the Gulf of Tonkin area, at the north end of the East Sea. Vietnam and China agreed on an equal split of the maritime boundary of the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000.

“The drills themselves are not unusual,” Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

“China does several military drills in the South China Sea each year, including frequently in the Gulf of Tonkin and around the Paracels. And Vietnam protests them anytime they occur in waters that Hanoi considers to be disputed," Poling said.

But "the language of the objection from Vietnam highlights that tensions are high right now.”

China invaded the Paracel Islands in 1974, as American forces withdrew from the region, abandoning a naval unit of the then U.S.-backed Republic of Vietnam to a brief but bloody assault.

Vietnam's behemoth northern neighbor has illegally occupied the islands ever since; re-unified Vietnam has never relinquished its sovereignty over the Paracel Islands.

China claims most of the East Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the sea, which commands strategic sealanes and has rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits. More than $3 trillion in cargo passes through the strategy waterway every year.

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