Vietnam seeks ASEAN discussion over South China Sea

By Ai Yang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-11 07:56
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Vietnam will likely persuade neighboring countries and others to join territorial negotiations with China on the South China Sea as it presides over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year. The move is likely to prove unsuccessful, say analysts.

Hanoi hosted an international conference in November to discuss disputes in the South China Sea and invited 150 scholars and officials from across Asia.

"The conference, although a scholarly one, was very much politics oriented," said Su Hao, board member of China Asia-Pacific Studies Association and director of Center for Strategic and Conflict Management. Su attended the workshop and told China Daily that it is clear that Vietnam has been trying to internationalize the issue.

Vietnam still claims sovereignty over China's Xisha Islands in the South China Sea.

"Vietnam is making the issue a multilateral one and even involving more international players outside Asia. However its strategy will not be a successful one because China opposes such moves." The analyst said China's feelings will be taken into account when other countries consider joining the table.

The campaign strategy is "one that smaller Asian countries like Vietnam may adopt" as they bargain with China on many fronts, said a New York Times report, which also quoted M. Taylor Fravel, a political scientist saying the approach "faces real obstacles" and that it is unlikely that ASEAN members will be able to build a consensus without a major clash on that issue.

Tension has also been generated by a tourism plan proposed by China in early January. A government document revealed that "active and steady" efforts will be made to open the Xisha Islands to visitors and tourism development will be carried out on uninhabited islands in an orderly manner.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga responded to the proposal and said it "causes tension and further complicates the situation".

Su said China's stance on its sovereignty is steadfast. "We have to stick to our one-on-one policy, and resolve disputes with individual countries one at a time rather than with a handful of them."

(China Daily 02/11/2010 page11)