The East Sea is a semi-closed expanse of water abutting seven countries - Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Singapore. It is not only crucial for their development but also a strategic link in several international maritime routes. The sea holds several strategic benefits that are eyed by global powers.
Vietnam has a long coastline, of 3,260 km. Its sea, known as the East Sea, covers over 3,000 large and small islands and the two major archipelagos of Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel). The East Sea is significant for Vietnam’s economic development, national defence, and external relations.
It is also important for national economic development. Indeed, most of Vietnam’s spearhead economic sectors, including oil and gas, tourism, fisheries, transportation, and shipbuilding, are closely related to the sea. Coastal cities and provinces contribute over 60% to the country’s total GDP.
In national security and defence, the East Sea is Vietnam’s strategic line of defence. Offshore islands, including Truong Sa and Hoang Sa, play an important role in coastal and inland defence. They are also key to controlling sea routes.
With its many strategic benefits, the East Sea has long been a geopolitical fault line, with several unresolved disagreements and disputes.
Vietnam’s longstanding goal is to persistently and patiently ensure its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and legitimate benefits in the sea, while maintaining a peaceful and stable environment for development.
To realise this goal, it has been relentless in negotiating and resolving sea-related issues while bolstering cooperation with related parties and neighbouring countries in line with international law.
Several concrete achievements have been recorded. Vietnam signed an agreement in 1982 on the maritime overlapping between the two countries in the Gulf of Thailand under the status of historic internal waters.
In 1992, Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia on the exploration and exploitation of petroleum in a defined area of the continental shelf involving the two countries.
Vietnam and Thailand agreed on maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Gulf of Thailand in 1997 after UNCLOS took effect in 1994 I think UNCLOS took effect in 1982.
In 2000, the Vietnam-China Fisheries Cooperation Agreement was reached. And, most notably, Vietnam along with other ASEAN countries has signed a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (known as the DOC) with China in 2002 with a view to maintaining peace and stability, ensuring maritime and aviation freedom in the region, while always calling for relevant parties to adhere to the declaration’s provisions and not to further complicate the situation.
Vietnam has been proactive in negotiating a Code of Conduct (COC) in the East Sea between China and ASEAN.
Vietnam has also been exerting great effort to ensuring maritime freedom in line with international laws, protecting the sea environment, sustainably managing the sea, and fighting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. It has also focused on traditional and non-traditional security challenges.
As a coastal country with lawful rights in the East Sea in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, Vietnam supports a state-of-law mechanism to resolve disputes in the sea.
The approach is expected to maintain stability, security, safety, and maritime and aviation freedom in the East Sea, turning it into an open and peaceful sea for mutual development./.