Vietnam and the Dragon

08/06/20110 nhận xét




1vietnam
Associated Press
Vietnamese people hold a protest against China 
in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi.
[WSJ] Public protests are rare in Vietnam, where the Communist government monitors and restricts all public assembly, especially when it might have a political purpose. So when demonstrations occur, it's a sign that the government takes an issue seriously enough to sanction a little unrest.

(Southeast Asia needs U.S. support to stand up against China's bullying.)
Over the weekend hundreds gathered in Hanoi to protest Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. On May 26, a Chinese patrol boat allegedly snipped the surveying cable of a Vietnamese vessel that was conducting seismic research within Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. Vietnam also says Chinese ships fired warning shots at Vietnamese fishermen working in territorial waters on June 1. Ho Chi Minh City saw protests over the weekend too, and Vietnam's state-controlled press has been on a tear decrying Beijing's bullying.
The territorial disputes in the South China Sea have long been a flashpoint for regional tension, but diplomacy has taken a bellicose turn in recent years. Even before China designated the mineral-rich sea as a "core interest" last year, Beijing's maritime policy has led to brief but at times bloody scrapes that seem to portend a more serious conflict.

Amid this strain Vietnam has mostly kept quiet. The country's relationship with China has a long history of aggression, though improved relations have made Hanoi unwilling recently to assert itself too strongly against its ancestral enemy. That seems ready to change. In the past, Vietnam's government has jailed bloggers and activists for criticizing its limp China diplomacy. Now Hanoi seems prepared to call wider attention to Vietnam's case.

The problem is that the country risks elevating its interests in a way that leaves itself vulnerable. Though six countries have overlapping claims to islands in the South China Sea, regional diplomacy has mostly taken the form of bilateral agreements between competing claimants. But like its fellow Southeast Asian claimants—the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei—Vietnam on its own doesn't have the mettle to strike constructive deals with China. The status-quo agreement is based on claims of historical use, which are only nebulously enforceable.

So for Hanoi, putting its peaceable if fraught bilateral relationship at risk by endorsing the public's anti-Chinese sentiment would seem suicidal—unless, of course, Vietnam has reasons to believe that it has more friends on its side than a purely bilateral tie would imply. At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend, Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh echoed his Philippine and Malaysian counterparts in insisting that his country's row with China be resolved without interference from third parties.

Yet the other strong current of late is the one that has an explicit role for third parties—one in particular. Hanoi may pay lip service to the importance of negotiating bilaterally with China, but it has also long worked to make sure the United States provides backup. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in Singapore that external legal mediation will be key to resolving the spat. "I fear that without rules of the road and agreed approaches to dealing with these problems that there will be clashes."

The U.S. support is certainly welcome. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, includes four claimants but has struggled to put aside internal squabbles and meet China as a united front. A formal, multilateral code of conduct for the South China Sea, in the works for nearly a decade, was revived recently but seems destined to founder again. Yet with American backing, Asean may muster enough unity to forestall a conflict.

As for China, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie said in Singapore on Friday that "China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea," noting that China's recent naval actions in the area have been undertaken in pursuit of "peaceful development." The best way to ensure that is for the region's other nations to work together, with the U.S., to oppose China's regional bullying.
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