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China’s expansion in Vietnam's archipelago is for attacks: expert

Tuesday, March 03, 2015, 17:09 GMT+7
China’s expansion in Vietnam's archipelago is for attacks: expert
Dr. Tran Cong Truc, the former chief of the government's Border Committee

A former Vietnamese official has sat down for an interview with Tuoi Tre News about China’s illegal construction in Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago, saying the works are for future attacks.

Dr. Tran Cong Truc, the ex-chief of the Vietnamese government's Border Committee, said on February 28 that the construction projects China is undertaking in Truong Sa are to be used for offensive purposes.

Therefore Hanoi has to push up activities in the area in order to obtain information about the expansion being actively carried out by Beijing.

Chinese land reclamation activity and installation construction at Bai Tu Nghia (Hughes Reef) in Truong Sa has been identified for the first time by satellite imagery analysed by IHS Jane's Defense Weekly, based in Coulsdon, Surrey (England).

According to IHS Jane's Defense, the imagery, provided by Airbus Defence and Space and taken in January, also shows the progress of construction at Gac Ma (Johnson South Reef), belonging to the same archipelago.  

IHS Jane's Defense previously used AIS transponder signals to monitor the movements of the Chinese dredger Tian Jing Hao through the Cum Dao Sinh Ton (Union Banks) and Cum Dao Nam Yet (Tizard Banks) regions in late 2013 and early 2014. It was present at Hughes Reef between March 20 and April 3, 2014.

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats last Thursday, Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper said China is expanding its outposts in the East Vietnam Sea to include stationing for ships and potential airfields as part of its “aggressive” effort to exert sovereignty.

His comments underscore U.S. concern over land reclamation activities that could fuel tensions between China and its neighbours over disputed islands and reefs.

The U.S. intelligence chief described China’s claims traced by a so-called nine-dash line a rough boundary covering more than 80 percent of the East Vietnam Sea as “exorbitant.”

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said China is expanding its outposts in the East Vietnam Sea as part of its “aggressive” effort to exert sovereignty. What do you think?

The information and imagery compiled by U.S. intelligence show that China’s expansion activities in Truong Sa are undeniable. These big-scale and prompt activities by the Chinese side are aimed at building military projects such as airstrips and outposts to serve their forces.  

The United States has indirect interest in the East Vietnam Sea as a superpower, particularly in the field of maritime navigation and geopolitics. It is clear that the U.S. shows their interest in this issue. They have a good will and do not want to add more fuel to conflicts, so Vietnam should ‘study’ their concern.

You once said that China turns sunk islands into floating ones and their recent moves in Truong Sa are much more dangerous than the deployment of oil rig HD981 to Vietnamese waters last summer. Could you explain this further?

The oil rig HD981 [Haiyang Shiyou 981 illegally stationed in Vietnam’s waters from May to mid-July last year] was used to test reactions from Vietnam and other countries. China could deploy and remove the platform anytime. Meanwhile, China’s illegitimate construction projects in Truong Sa have been built in Vietnamese territory that was occupied by Chinese forces.

When it comes to geopolitics and military strategies, these construction projects are close to Vietnam’s coasts and located in areas that alternate with places where Vietnamese forces are based, and on shipping lines in the southern part of the East Vietnam Sea. Thus, these projects are much more dangerous.

China is establishing ‘spans’ used as a springboard for a possible attack. They are likely to deploy forces to occupy more islands and archipelagos that belong to Vietnam, as they did in 1956, 1974, and 1988.

Also, they may carry out ‘soft occupation’ such as deploying fishing boats, exploiting oil and gas, or running aviation operations in the Vietnamese waters. I want to emphasize that this is a very dangerous direction of attack by China. 

In response to U.S. intelligence chief Clapper’s criticism, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his country's activities on shoals and in surrounding waters it claims are "reasonable, legitimate and legaland that its attitude has been one of "restraint and responsibility.” How should we understand his words?

Obviously, the Chinese spokesman quibbled to cover up his country’s wrong-doings and threats. Although their acts are illegal, they counter accusations against Vietnam to gain initiative in the disputes. They said they are responsible in keeping peace. However, if we do not make it clear, the Vietnamese public and our international friends will not understand the truth behind this.

In addition to running military operations, China wants to turn their projects in Truong Sa into logistics bases to serve upcoming activities like dispatching oil rigs so that they do not need to deploy hundreds of boats to guard them as they did with the HD 981 last summer.

We could say their construction works in Truong Sa are not purely for defensive purposes and completely fit China’s strategy to establish their hegemony over all of the East Vietnam Sea in accordance with their ambitious nine-dash line.

The lesson of having Vietnam’s Hoang Sa [Paracel] archipelago occupied by China is still there, so the Vietnamese should be vigilant.

Chinese media said the country is capable of mounting an attack against Vietnam from their military bases in Truong Sa within 24 hours. Is this possible?

This is not official information released by military or diplomatic agencies in China. But this information is completely logical. Those who released it want to threaten Vietnam.

How should countries with sovereignty claims and other legitimate interests in the East Vietnam Sea react to China’s ilegall expansion in Truong Sa?

We have to fight at a higher level for our sovereignty and legitimate interests, at least on the information, justice, and diplomatic fronts. 

On the justice front, we must show our will that we will never accept any wrong-doings committed by China. We need to strongly oppose and have a clearer standpoint in resolving the disputes. We also need to ask for support from other countries by providing them with solid legal and historical evidence to help them have a better understanding of where our territories are and how wrong China is when it comes to disputes in the East Vietnam Sea.

We must speed up more activities at the scene to get updated information about China’s expansion in Truong Sa more actively. Last but not least, Vietnam should release any information it acquires about China’s expansion to the public. Such information is more valuable.

Should the measures which were taken to oppose China’s oil rig HD981 last year be used again?

As I said, we should fight at a higher level, such as lodging more protests against China to UN agencies and showing how China has violated international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), signed in 1982.  

It is obvious that all the measures we took to ask for justice in the oil rig HD 981 event had a big impact on China’s strategy and forced them to change course by removing the oil rig. That is a lesson we should learn from to solve the East Vietnam Sea disputes in the most peaceful and effective way.

Thank you!

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Trung Pham/Tuoi Tre News

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