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Vietnam Leader Urges Restraint Over South China Sea Dispute With China

2019-10-15 -- Vietnamese President and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong called for calm in the disputed South China Sea, saying Hanoi would uphold its sovereignty its standoff with encroaching Chinese ships but also values stability, state media reported on Tuesday.

"The principle is independence, sovereignty, territorial unity, but at the same time, stability. There is no period in which the country has had a stable atmosphere this good, so let's keep it," state media quoted Trong as telling a town hall meeting in Ba Dinh, which he represents in the Communist state's National Assembly.

"At this moment there are certain people who intentionally provoke, raise their voices … pretend to be heroes, pretend to be patriots, but what about the Central Party Committee, the government, the general secretary? Are we not patriots? Are we irresponsible?"

Trong, 75, was responding to questions about the South China Sea from a carefully screened audience amid efforts by Hanoi to tamp down public discussion of the territorial dispute with China.

"Will there be time for us to meet like this if there war going on in our country?" state media quoted him as saying.

In July, a Chinese survey ship named the Haiyang Dizhi 8 entered Vietnam's EEZ to conduct seismic surveys off of the Spratly Islands' westernmost reef, known as Vanguard Bank, triggering a tense standoff between military and coast guard vessels from Vietnam and China, as well as rare protests by Vietnamese citizens in front of the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

It moved out of Vietnam's EEZ in early August and toward Fiery Cross Reef, a militarized reef occupied by China farther out in the South China Sea, but later returned under escort, prompting new demands from Vietnam that it leave.

The violation, and several other recent incursions by Chinese vessels, have led to tense relations between Hanoi and Beijing in recent months, with each side asserting sovereignty over the waters, including the Vanguard Bank.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, called the East Sea by Vietnam. The Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam also have overlapping territorial claims to the sea, which is vital to international shipping and trade.

While Hanoi has lodged protests with Beijing over the incidents, some Vietnamese believe that the one-party Communist government has failed to take a strong enough stance on the issue because it is wary of economic repercussions from China as well as the potential for further social unrest within Vietnam.

Analyst Pham Chi Dung told RFA's Vietnamese Service says that Trong was "self-contradictory" in saying that Hanoi would make no concession in terms of independence and sovereignty while Chinese ships have infiltrated deeply into Vietnam's territorial waters.

"That is merely propaganda and demagoguery showing Vietnamese leaders' fearful mindset," said Pham.

Vo Minh Duc, a former Vietnamese military officer, tolf RFA that "as a Vietnamese citizen and a former soldier, I strongly oppose (China's actions) and Vietnam have to take concrete measures -- petitioning China, for example, or sending the armed forces to the sites for prevention."

"Of course, Vietnam will not wage war, and we will not open fire first, but we have to raise the issue to show that this continental shelf is Vietnam's and it has been managed by the country for a over a thousand years," said Vo.

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh spoke about tensions in the South China Sea, but avoided naming names.

"Vietnam has on many occasions voiced its concerns over the recent complicated developments in the South China Sea, including serious incidents that infringe upon Vietnam's sovereign rights and jurisdiction in our maritime zones as defined by UNCLOS," Minh said at the time.

"The relevant states should exercise self-restraint and refrain from conducting unilateral acts which may complicate or escalate tensions at sea, and settle disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS," he said.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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