Vietnam reasserts sovereign rights amid 'nine-dash line' shirt incident

By Khanh Lynh   May 17, 2018 | 06:27 am PT
Vietnam reasserts sovereign rights amid 'nine-dash line' shirt incident
Chinese tourists wear T-shirts with a Chinese map that violates Vietnam's sovereignty. Photo by Vu Cha
The T-shirts worn by a group of Chinese tourists displayed a demarcation that claims waters belonging to Vietnam.

Vietnam's foreign ministry on Thursday reasserted the country's sovereignty over the Paracel (Hoang Sa) and Spratly (Truong Sa) Islands, in response to a group of Chinese tourists entering the country with shirts showing China's claim over the islands.

The ministry's spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said Vietnam has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the islands, as well as its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the surrounding waters in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"This is an unchangeable reality that needs to be respected," Hang said in a statement.

Last Sunday, police at Cam Ranh International Airport in the central province of Khanh Hoa discovered 14 Chinese tourists passing through immigration wearing T-shirts with a Chinese map that violates Vietnam's sovereignty.

In addition to China's mainland, the map also includes the nine-dash line, a demarcation line that claims most of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, as China's territory.

The airport's police have ordered the tour company, which is based in the nearby resort town Nha Trang, to have the visitors take off the shirts and confisticated them. A joint investigation with the provincial police into the incident is also underway.

While it is illegal for someone in Vietnam to demonstrate the nine-dash line, there is currently no specific legal regulation to handle this situation, according to provincial officials.

News of the Chinese wearing the controversial map surfaced on Tuesday, causing outrage on social media. Many people, both Vietnamese and foreigners, urged the local authorities to deport the Chinese.

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism has instructed Khanh Hoa authorities to take actions, and asked for assistance from the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The nine-dash line was unilaterally drawn by China based on what it called its "historical rights" to the region and encompasses the Paracel and Spratly Islands, as well as the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by the Philippines.

The line, which has been met with strong opposition from the international community, overlaps with claims by Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines, and violates Vietnam's sovereignty over its waters in the South China Sea.

An arbitral tribunal constituted under Annex VII to the 1982 UNCLOS in 2016 ruled that China has no legal basis to claim "historic rights" within its nine-dash line in a case brought by the Philippines. China, however, rejected this ruling.

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