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China’s militarization in South China Sea concerns related countries, Hanoi says

China is said to fully militarized three of Vietnam’s isles in the resource-rich sea.

Vietnam has said that China’s militarization of features in the Spratlys (Truong Sa Islands in Vietnamese) triggers concerns among relevant countries and is unconducive to regional peace and stability.

Deputy Spokesperson of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pham Thu Hang in a press conference on April 7. Photo: MOFA 

“Promoting the militarization of some features in the East Sea [referring to the South China Sea] violates Vietnam’s sovereignty,” Deputy Spokesperson of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pham Thu Hang said on April 7.

Hang made the statement in response to a question on China’s aggressive military build-up in Vietnam’s Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, and Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea.

She said the move violates Vietnam’s sovereignty and demanded China stop the process.

Hang reaffirmed that Vietnam has sufficient historical evidence and legal basis to assert its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands) and Truong Sa in accordance with international law. “Vietnam asks China to respect its sovereignty and not to take any action that could create tension,” she said.

Two weeks ago, US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John Aquilino was cited by AP as saying that China fully militarized at least three isles it built in the resource-rich sea, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and fighter jets.

Aquilino said the construction of missile arsenals, aircraft hangars, radar systems and other military facilities on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross appeared to have been completed but it remains to be seen if China will pursue the construction of military infrastructure in other areas.

Adm. John Aquilino called the actions “hostile” and went against China’s pledge not to transform the artificial islands in contested waters into military bases. The efforts were part of China’s flexing its military muscle, he said.

“They have advanced all their capabilities and that buildup of weaponization is destabilizing to the region,” Aquilino said.

China aggressively shored up its vast territorial claims over the entire South China Sea by building island bases on coral atolls nearly a decade ago. The US responded by sending its warships through the region to promote free navigation and airspace.

 China's militarization in Mischief Reef in April 2020. Image: Maxar/ CCIS/AMTI

In a separate move, Vietnam welcomed joint patrols in the South China Sea which was earlier suggested by a former Filipino high-ranking official.

Deputy Spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said Vietnam always wishes to cooperate with other countries to contribute to peace, stability, security, and development in the sea, adding that Vietnam has over the years participated in joint patrols with other countries like Cambodia, China, and Thailand.

She said Vietnam has also joined many international cooperation activities in scientific research, environmental protection, crime prevention at sea, and economic activities.

On March 30, retired Filipino Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio advised the government of the Philippines to conduct joint patrols with some countries, including Vietnam.

“We should do a joint patrol not only with the US but with other countries like Malaysia and Vietnam. We will jointly patrol in the West Philippine Sea and also in their exclusive economic zone, in Vietnam and in Malaysia. Even ask Indonesia to join,” Carpio told ANC.

“If you band together you will have a stronger position,” he noted.