Amidst tensions with Vietnam, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is going to conduct military exercises in waters off China’s Xisha Isands from July 1st to 5th. The Xisha Islands, also known as internationally known as Parcel Islands and Hoang Sa Archipelago, are a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. The archipelago includes about 130 small coral islands and reefs, most grouped into the northeast Amphitrite Group or the western Crescent Group. The archipelago is approximately equidistant from the coastlines of the People’s Republic of China and Vietnam; and approximately one-third of the way from central Vietnam to the northern Philippines.
According to a navigation warning released by the Hainan MSA Bureau on June 27 on the website of the Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) of the People’s Republic of China, that there will be military training exercises in the waters off the Xisha Islands from 0000 hours on July 1st to 2400 hours on July 5th Beijing time. During the period, no vessel shall be allowed to navigate within the above lines and all vessels have to follow the guidance of the commanding ship on site. On June 18, A PLA Southern Theater Command naval flotilla featuring destroyers and frigates also executed maritime operations in the South China Sea on China Military Online reported on Friday.
At the 36th ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Summit in Hanoi last Friday regional leaders expressed concern over recent South China Sea developments and called on all parties to build trust. At the recently concluded virtual ASEAN summit, leaders called to resume stalled negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between China and ASEAN. Vietnam called for a resumption of negotiations between ASEAN and China on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC). Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said at the summit that the Covid-19 pandemic had disrupted the discussions on the COC between ASEAN and China, which have been ongoing since 2002 for developing legally binding rules.
China had seized the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam by force in 1974, and has been illegally occupying it since. In February 2017, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported that Chinese authorities had carried out land reclamation on 20 reefs, thus establishing 20 Chinese outposts so far. These include Duncan Island and Drummond Island which also have small helipads. Vietnam had responded to this by expanding its already existing facilities on some of the Spratly islands occupied by it. Vietnam has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the islands, as well as rights over its waters in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).