China Warns Vietnam to Not ‘Complicate’ South China Sea Dispute By Seeking Legal Arbitration



On Friday, China pushed back on a suggestion from a senior Vietnamese official that the country would be willing to pursue international arbitration over its disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung, speaking at a conference, said that Hanoi would look to arbitration and litigation if negotiations with China did not yield any solutions.

Trung spoke on other possible measures beyond negotiations that Vietnam might pursue in the South China Sea. “We know that these measures include fact-finding, mediation, conciliation, negotiation, arbitration and litigation measures,” Trung said on Wednesday.

“The UN Charter and [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] 1982 have sufficient mechanisms for us to apply those measures,” he continued.

Vietnam “needs to avoid taking actions that may complicate matters or undermine peace and stability in the South China Sea as well as our bilateral relations,” Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Friday, responding to a question on Vietnam possibly pursuing arbitration.

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“The core of the South China Sea issue is territory, a matter related to the occupation of China’s Nansha Islands by Vietnam and other countries concerned. I hope the Vietnamese side will face up to the historical fact, keep to our high-level consensus and resolve differences through dialogue and consultation,” he also said. China refers to the Spratly Islands as the Nansha Islands.

The two countries experienced their most serious face-off in the South China Sea since 2014 this summer after a Chinese seismic survey ship conducted weeks of activities in Vietnam’s claimed exclusive economic zone despite protests from Hanoi. Both countries claim the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

In July 2016, a Hague-based international tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a historic award in a case filed by the Philippines against China in 2013—one year after the two countries faced off over Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The award was largely in Manila’s favor and declared, among other things, that China’s capacious nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea had not validity under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea.

China regarded the arbitral tribunal’s proceedings and award as invalid. The tribunal’s five judges issued the award unanimously.

Other countries around the world had varied responses to the 2016 South China Sea ruling. The United States and many of its allied and partners insisted on the legally binding nature of the award on China and the Philippines.