Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Following a series of attempts at easing the tension and meetings between senior government officials, relations are strained again between Hanoi and Beijing because of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The two nations were already at loggerheads last spring over the placing of an oil rig in the disputed waters. The spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, intervened in the dispute branding Vietnam's claims over the Spratly Islands as "illegal and invalid," and adding that "China will never be prepared to accept them." The communist Chinese Government's harsh words against its (former) Vietnamese ally comes in response to a formal statement lodged by Hanoi at the UN International Tribunal which has already used the Philippine government to resolve disputes in those waters .
According to the appeal filed by Hanoi to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA, based in The Hague in the Netherlands), the Vietnamese government makes three main claims: that the court has jurisdiction over the case submitted by the Philippines, in contradiction to China's position; it asks the court to give "due regard" to Vietnam's legal rights in the Spratleys and Paracels; finally, it strongly rejects the so-called "nine-dash line" used by Beijing to mark large parts of the South China Sea. It would be "without legal basis".
In a note re-launched by the China's official Xinhua news agency, Hong Lei reportedly says that "China urges Vietnam to respect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights" and to "maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea." Meanwhile, Beijing once again reiterates its refusal to participate in an arbitration by the International UN Tribunal, which "has no jurisdiction over territorial disputes between countries."
It has been some time that Vietnam and the Philippines - the first to submit a dispute to the International UN court - have been expressing growing concern about Beijing's "imperialism"in the South and East China Seas. The Chinese government claims a large chunk of the ocean, including sovereignty of the Spratly and Paracel Islands which are disputed by Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia (almost 85% of the territories).
The United States supports the claims of the South-East Asian nations, repeatedly condemning as "illegal" and "irrational" the so-called "nine-dash line" demarcation used by Beijing to mark its territory, taking in about 80% of the 3.5 million square kilometers of the South China Sea.
This hegemony is strategic nature for the exploitation of oil and natural gas in the seabed, in Asia-Pacific area of high interest; this is where two thirds of the world's maritime trade takes place and, at a geo-political level, it is amongst the hotspots which could trigger a new planetary war.