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MANILA, Philippines – Catching many foreign emissaries by surprise, the delegates of Vietnam and China at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) on disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) exchanged sharp words on Thursday, June 5, when discussions veered toward the two countries’ territorial dispute.
The disagreement started when Hoang Van Thang, Vietnam’s vice minister of agricultural and rural development, called China’s actions in the South China Sea an example of a “man-made disaster.”
“China has placed an oil rig 18 nautical miles deep into the Vietnamese exclusive zone, as prescribed by the 1982 United Nation Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS),” Thang said in concluding his presentation on ensuring resilience and sustainability of the agricultural sector in disasters.
Thang added that China committed a “serious violation of international law and the declaration of conducts of the parties in the South China Sea” by dispatching more than 130 ships, including military vessels, in the area.
A sharp rise in tensions between the two Communist countries was triggered by China’s installation of an oil rig in disputed waters on May 1, 2014. This led to a series of anti-China riots in Vietnam, where 4 people had reportedly been killed. Thousands of Chinese nationals have been evacuated from Vietnam.
Before the plenary was adjourned, a delegate from China who was not named, came to the podium and slammed Vietnam’s claims.
“Obviously, the oil rigs are not part of the Vietnamese exclusive economic zone. The Vietnam side has used armed vessels to harass and even collide with China’s ships,” the Chinese official said.
The official said that the Vietnamese side “fabricates” their claims and disputes, which China does not accept or recognize at all. “China has shown great self-restraint.”
The Chinese delegation called on ASEM officials to monitor the Vietnamese delegations’ presentations.
“We hope that the organizers of this conference will regulate or better manage the presentations of the Vietnam representatives from now on, so as not to misdirect this conference,” he concluded.
China, Vietnam, and the Philippines are caught in a maritime dispute over parts of the South China Sea. The communist giant’s claim to nearly all of the area has strained its ties with Southeast Asian countries.
In a press conference in the sidelines of the ASEM, President Benigno Aquino III said there is a movement of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario said the country may soon file another protest against China. “If in fact it’s clear to us that the status quo there is being changed, then we will take a look at a formal protest. Right now we aren’t sure and we are taking a good look, as I said.”
Thang noted that Vietnam had always wanted peace and friendship with China. “[We have] exercised utmost restraint and showed every gesture of good will.”
But he said his country is “resolute in defending its sovereignty by peaceful means, in conformity with international law.”
Thang called on Southeast Asian neighbors to support Vietnam’s claim. “We express our deep gratitude and launch our urgent call on the ASEAN member states and other countries in the world to continue voicing your support to the legitimate demand of Vietnam,” he concluded.
The ASEM, which runs until Friday, gathers some 50 government officials from Asia and Europe. The delegates discuss collective solutions to different aspects of climate change adaptation and DRRM. On Wednesday, the delegates went to Haiyan-hit Tacloban City to check the Philippine government’s ongoing rehabilitation efforts.
Other speakers in the plenary aside from Thang were Philippine Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Japan Ambassador to the Philippines Toshinao Urabe, and Swiss Ambassador to the Philippines Ivo Sieber.
Watch Hoang Van Thang’s speech here.