Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Vietnam's Objective in the South China Sea: National or Regional Security?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Vietnam's Objective in the South China Sea: National or Regional Security?

Article excerpt

Vietnam's interests in the South China Sea may be divided into traditional national security interests, and interests linked to the broader category of human security. This article examines Vietnam's policy in the South China Sea and its use of the Law of the Sea. Vietnam has doggedly upheld its claim to the whole of the Paracel and Spratly areas (Hoang Sa and Truong Sa) and has spent considerable resources in modernizing its naval and air forces. However, there seems to be a move away from a narrow focus on national security to a more broad-based concern for human security. This is connected with a trend towards a greater regional, less nationalist approach, which may give Vietnam a key role in resolving the multiple disputes in the South China Sea.

Introduction

The disputes in the South China Sea form a permanent threat to Vietnam's national security, to its full integration with the rest of ASEAN, and to farther improvement of its relationship with China. [1] The disputes also threaten regional security and the interests of the populations around the South China Sea, who need to be protected against typhoons, floods, pollution, depletion of fish stocks, piracy, and war. The manner in which Hanoi handles the situation in the South China Sea may have a significant impact on the living conditions of the Vietnamese, and for their country's regional role.

Vietnam's aims in the South China Sea may be divided into traditional national security concerns, and aims linked to the broader category of human and regional security. Under the first category are aims such as defending the long S-shaped coast against invasion, defending the sovereignty of the Paracels (Hoang Sa) and the Spratlys (Truong Sa), gaining exclusive control of resources on and under Vietnam's continental shelf, as well as living resources in the sea out to 200 nautical miles, collecting customs duties, and suppressing smuggling, piracy and other illegal activities within Vietnam's 12-nautical mile territorial waters. [2] As long as no formal agreements have been reached on the delimitation of maritime boundaries, attempts to pursue these aims tend to generate conflict between Vietnam and the other nations around the South China Sea.

Under the second category are aims such as defending the population against typhoons, protecting mangrove swamps, securing fish stocks for future generations, halting the destruction of coral reefs, preventing pollution, facing the eventuality of major oil spills, building modern and secure ports, maintaining open communications securing regional peace, attracting serious oil companies to explore for oil and gas, and facilitating international trade and investments. These aims entail a need for regional and international co-operation.

The means in pursuit of the traditional national security interests are not necessarily effective in achieving human and regional security. National security may be pursued by maintaining considerable military capabilities, entering into alliances with other powers, and conducting nationalistic propaganda domestically and internationally. These means are costly and can lead to a deterioration in relations with neighbouring states, thus endangering human security. In pursuing human security for its population, the Vietnamese Government is finding other means more useful, such as bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, international co-operation in resource management and environmental protection, and activities to further develop an internationally recognized legal regime, on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS was signed in 1982 and entered into force in November 1994, one year after the sixtieth state had ratified it.

This article will test the hypothesis that there is a gradual movement in Vietnamese policy away from a narrow focus on national security to a more broad-based concern for human security. …

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