KATIE TRINH WRITES – China’s antics are getting out of hand and Vietnam, along with Malaysia and the Philippines, will not be bullied by the Asian hegemon. The conflict between the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) and China began when China reclaimed larger portions of the islands in the South China Sea (known as the East Sea to the Vietnamese) in 2013. On record China has reclaimed 2,900 acres of land while Vietnam has reclaimed about 80 acres; Malaysia 70 acres; and the Philippines 14 acres.

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Kishore Mahbubani from the Financial Times argues that “China is being assertive, but not belligerent”. His definition of being belligerent is using military force to evict the other nations off their islands.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Lê Hai Bình would beg to differ. On March 16 Le responded to China’s activities around the Paracel islands, which Vietnam has declared the Ôc Hoa island as their own. China sent a 10,000 ton vessel carrying nearly 300 tourists to the Ôc Hoa island, and occupied other islands in the Paracel region.

Lê, frustrated with China’s behavior, points out that China is disobeying the “common understanding of the two countries’ high-level leaders” and is violating “international law and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) signed in 2002 between ASEAN and China”.

Not only do China’s actions create enemies, they are illegal according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the DOC, which China voluntarily signed.

Mahbubani might not believe that China is behaving belligerently, but in Lê’s response, the fishermen’s reports on attacks conducted by Chinese vessels were forceful and inhumane. China may not be using military force to push nations off their islands, but they are definitely treading on the line of brutal behavior.

Despite the aggravation that China has imposed on Vietnam, according to Lê, Vietnam does not want to make a permanent enemy out of China. Lê wishes for China to “make realistic contributions to the promotion of Vietnam and China’s co-operation and relationship as well as maintain peace and stability in the East Sea”.

Could this be Vietnam’s strategy to paint China as the bad guy? Vietnam knows the United States won’t allow China to bully its way to use the islands to enhance its military capabilities. Vietnam will publically prioritize peace and cooperation with China. But the whole world knows that Vietnam and China have not been playing nice with one another since Third Indochina War in 1979. Early this past February, the U.S. hosted the ASEAN-U.S. Summit to discuss the very issue of the South China Seas. Nice play Vietnam, nice play.