During these past months, the relationship between China and Vietnam is crumpling, as the once linked forces are battling over their national boundaries. Resulting from this, Vietnam has seen a large escalating number of anti-Chinese riots, who are attacking the Chinese and even Taiwanese businesses on Vietnamese ground. Chinese businesses are leaving in large numbers, creating a large hole in Vietnam’s economy, but more important is the rising concern from foreign investors, who are highly needed for Vietnam to enter into the economy as an independent and strong force.

The general trend that is manifesting these few years is China’s claim on its boundaries. China sees their boundaries as unclear due to their past Chinese dynasties. In the past, an empire’s territorial expansion and contraction were a constant need to test an empire’s strength and weaknesses. From this historic past, China is today constantly battling to “join” their rightful land back. In other words, the current issue between Vietnam and China is just a small glimpse of the bigger, confusing problem.

What are the anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam about?

The conflict was brought into national attention in the beginning of May, when China issued an oil rig in Vietnam’s legal water. Anger continued to stir when China was caught on camera deliberating attacking Vietnamese ships trying to stop this oil installation.

The dispute is over the South China Seas, in particularly the Paracel and Spratly chain islands, which the Chinese believe belong to them. Though China does legally own a large part of the this region, the most controversial issue here is China’s claim of owning all of Paracel and Spratly islands based on an historic event in the 1940’s. To the contrary, in a press conference over the oil rig, Tran Duy Hai, the deputy head of Vietnam’s National Border Committee, states that there is “Historical and legal evidence show[ing] that Vietnam has absolute sovereignty in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos.” These statements convey the blurry lines of who, the Chinese or the Vietnamese, actually have valid “evidence.”

In China’ eyes, the Paracel and Spratly Islands historically belong to them. In 1947, Vietnam and China entered a bloody battle over the same islands. During this time, China issued an official map with a “nine-dash-line” that showed those islands as being part of China’s territory. After the formation of People’s Republic in China in 1949 under the Communist Party, the nation officially adopted this boundary line. No countries challenged this validity until the 1970’s.

China’s historical claim in the South China Sea based on the “nine-dash-line”overlaps with the claims of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines EEZ, an exclusive economic zone give by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea given the right exploration and use of marine resources. China,on the contrary, argues that having an historic devotion to these islands surpasses any qualifications for obtaining these islands.

China currently uses a historical map as evidence to further their boundaries and backing its claim is Taiwan, who issued  support for China. Vietnam, on the other hand, and several other East Asian countries have claim that they had been on these islands since the 17th century and even contains documents to prove it.

This year China was also involved in another territorial dispute over islands with Japan in the East China Sea. The Japanese call them the Senkaku Islands and the Chinese call them the Diaoyu Islands, portraying the issue quickly. Like Vietnam’s conflict with China, Japan’s conflict with China was also over national boundaries. And like Vietnam’s conflict, China was also violating legal national borders.

Why are the islands important?

The islands are highly valuable with a large amount of natural resources, crucial for any economy. More appealing is that Paracel and Spratly are noted for their lack of exploration and inhabitants therefore their value is not truly known. Furthermore this region encompasses large fishing grounds and shipping routes. The islands are also important because they will demonstrate China’s remaining power in Asia. If China win this round, it will strengthen China’s hold on the remaining East Asian countries.

The history of the relationship between China and Vietnam on the South China Seas

The May conflict was not a surprise as China and Vietnam’s hateful relationship can be traced back since the Vietnam War. Around the 1970’s, South Vietnam was in a bloody war against North Vietnam; during this exact time, the Chinese launched an attack to the same islands under conflict today. Discovering this, the Vietnamese joined forces to stop the Chinese occupation. The following year when South Vietnam was on the brink of losing to the North, the North made an extreme effort by displacing a South Vietnamese garrison onto these same islands to mark their territory against the deceitful Chinese. This would ensure against any attacks from the Chinese again. Ten years later, China attacks Vietnam after Vietnam’s invasion in Cambodia, where the Vietnamese tried removing China’s ally in Cambodia. In 2013, Vietnam threatened to take China to a UN tribunal under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, in order to challenge its claims in the South China Sea. Finally in 2014, Chinese issued the oil rig in the same region.

The historic relationship between China and Vietnam has always been rocky– a constant resentment from the Vietnamese at Chinese’s territorial greed. So, it was no surprise that the Vietnamese government, which tightly controls its people, “ignored” the anti-Chinese riots. Currently the Vietnamese government is helping to evacuate the Chinese from their grounds in fear of escalation. Ho Chi Minh himself stated that he would rather smell French excrement for a few years more than Chinese excrement for another millennium. From this historical starting point, the continuous conflict between these nations are reaching global attention.

What do these riots mean for the future relationships between China and East Asia?

In a sense, the anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam are portraying the current trend of attitudes towards China. From past history, China has been the powerhouse of Asia; the nation has asserted aggressive claims with their East Asian countries. These anti-Chinese riots are sparking the end of China’s dominance in this region.

More frightening for China is that as East Asia begins to pull away from China’s historic role, they tend to welcome America’s role. Vietnam has slowly increased their military relationship with the United States, which currently allows United States to conduct daily surveillance flights over the South China Sea. Vietnam has also increased their navy power. Fleet spokesman Commander William Marks statement that it is “interested in engaging with all our partners in the South China Sea and would welcome increased port visits with Vietnam” shows that the United States has no problem with intervening into this conflict.

[Image Attribute:Rod Waddington via Compfight cc]