Vietnam Takes Steps to Reinforce Its South China Sea Claims


Last week, Vietnam protested China’s construction of two lighthouses on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, saying the construction violates Vietnam’s sovereignty. In an email interview, Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discussed Vietnam’s claims to the South China Sea.

WPR: What are Vietnam’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, and with what other countries do they overlap or conflict?

Poling: Vietnam claims territorial sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands within the South China Sea. It also claims a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone from its coast and, in two parts of the South China Sea, a longer extended continental shelf as permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Its continental shelf claims, made in 2009, suggest that it is not claiming any additional waters or seabed from the islands in the Paracels and Spratlys, except for a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea around each.

Vietnam has territorial claims that overlap with China and Taiwan, both of which also claim all of the Paracels and Spratlys, and with Malaysia, the Philippines and to a lesser degree Brunei, which all claim parts of the Spratlys. China occupies all of the Paracels and seven of the Spratlys. The Philippines occupies nine of the Spratlys, Malaysia occupies five and Taiwan one. Vietnam occupies 29 of the Spratlys.

Vietnam’s maritime claims clearly overlap with the so-called nine-dash line claim of China (and Taiwan) to most of the South China Sea. It’s continental-shelf claims overlap with those of Malaysia and, possibly, with the Philippines. 

WPR: What island-reclamation and island-building activities has Vietnam engaged in, and what impact have these had on its claims?

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