The South China Sea: Vietnam’s Limited Diplomatic Options


Russia, the United States, Japan — who can help Vietnam square off against China?

For Vietnam, 2016 seems fated to be a crucial year. Hanoi’s sovereignty disputes and related diplomatic efforts will be impacted by ongoing changes in Russia, China, and Japan and, yes, the results of the United States’ presidential election.

The role of Russia is of particular interest for Vietnam. On April 14, Vietnamese shipyard Ba Son launched two Russian-designed Project 12418 Molniya-class guided missile corvettes built under license for the Vietnamese Navy after 30 months of construction. Russia is still Vietnam’s long-time partner in military-technical cooperation, but the relationship is not trouble-free.

The same day, the spokesperson for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Le Hai Binh, voiced concerns about Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s previous comments about the internationalization on South China Sea disputes.

“Issues that involve all relevant parties, namely the disputes over the Truong Sa [Spratly] archipelago, must be settled by all countries concerned,” Binh said. He added that Vietnam would stick to its position of seeking to solve the disputes through peaceful measures based on international law, especially the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and in the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of parties in the South China Sea (DOC).