Behind China's violations is the intention to control the East Sea through promoting maritime claims that are completely contrary to the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Located between the first and third largest oceans in the world, with abundant resources, the East Sea plays a particularly important role for countries in and outside the region. Therefore, developments in the East Sea always attract the attention of the international community.
In recent months, once again, countries inside and outside the region have had to raise their voices against the illegal acts that have infringed upon the legitimate rights of coastal states, increased escalations of tensions, and threatened peace, stability, freedom, maritime and aviation safety in this waters.
The cause of tension in the East Sea
Since July 4, 2019, China's Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey vessel (HD8), with the assistance of dozens of maritime, civilian and logistic vessels, has conducted illegal survey activities on a vast area in the south of the East Sea, which belongs to Vietnam's exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.
The activities of HD8 group have seriously violated Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction.
Earlier, there were reports of China’s violations to the waters of several other coastal states along the East Sea, such as Malaysia and the Philippines.
Behind the violations of China is the intention to control the East Sea through the promotion of illegal maritime claims that are completely contrary to the provisions of the UNCLOS, to which China is a party, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration's rules in the East Sea lawsuit, which is binding on China.
China's promotion of illegal maritime claims has directly threatened the integrity of the UNCLOS and the maritime order that is based on the law the international community has developed and maintained; and has challenged the value of the UNCLOS's dispute settlement system.
The key interests of many countries in and outside the region, as well as of the international community in general, have been negatively affected; the regional and international security, safety and freedom of navigation in the East Sea have been threatened; and efforts to create and maintain a peaceful environment for economic development in the region have been hampered.
China's Haiyang Dizhi 8 geological survey vessel. Photo: Schottel
Countries in and outside the region have paid great attention to the operation of HD8 group - the source of the current tensions.
In particular, after the spokesperson of the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry called on the international community to speak out for peace, stability, cooperation and development in the East Sea, many countries inside and outside the region have expressed their concerns and opposed violations of the HD8 vessel group in Vietnam’s waters.
The phrase "serious incidents" is included in ASEAN joint statement
Among 10 ASEAN member countries, eight are coastal countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia.
For these eight countries, the East Sea plays an important role in ensuring national security and defense, maintaining a stable and peaceful environment, and promoting economic and trade development. The other two countries, Laos and Myanmar, are not coastal states but reap benefits for maintaining a peaceful and stable environment in the East Sea as well as in the region in general.
On July 31, 2019, ASEAN foreign ministers issued a joint statement affirming the importance of international law and the 1982 UNCLOS, emphasizing the peaceful resolution of disputes in the East Sea, calling on the parties to restrain and respect international law, including the UNCLOS.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Thailand in July. Photo: Kyodonews
In particular, the joint statement expressed concern about land reclamation and “activities and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region”.
This is the first time since 2016 the phrase "serious incidents" has been included in a joint statement of ASEAN foreign ministers.
In addition to the joint statement of the ASEAN Foreign Ministerers' Meeting, countries in the region also expressed their stance through separate or bilateral statements.
In a joint statement with Vietnam on August 28, Malaysia expressed "serious concern" about the recent developments in the East Sea and called for respect for the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the coastal state as prescribed in the UNCLOS, and respect for diplomatic and legal processes, thereby implicitly rejecting Beijing's claims and affirming the value of the Permanent Court of Arbitration's rules in the East Sea lawsuit between the Philippines and China.
Respect law-based marine order
The situation of the East Sea and the violation of Vietnamese sovereignty of China’s HD8 vessel group have also attracted the attention of other Asian countries, such as Australia, Japan, India and South Korea, which have interests in maintaining peace, stability and legal order in the waters connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Australia has twice expressed concern about the East Sea situation in its joint statements with Japan and the United States on August 2 and in a joint statement with the US on August 4. The two documents marked the first time Australia has publicly supported long-standing oil and gas projects of the coastal states along the East Sea and objectef to the disruption of these projects.
Japan, in addition to a joint statement with Australia and the US on August 2, raised its voice twice on July 31 and August 27 on the "serious situation” in the East Sea, condemning militarizing and bullying activities, and emphasizing the need to uphold the rule of law in the East Sea.
India also twice spoke out about the East Sea on August 2 and August 29, affirming India's interests in the East Sea, calling for respect for legal and diplomatic processes, and supporting legally commercial activities that should not be obstructed in international waters according to international law.
South Korea, on August 2, asked for respect for the rules-based maritime order, demilitarization, maritime safety and peace in the East Sea.
To be continued…