By Jennie L. Ilustre
Photos courtesy of Genie Nguyen
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the Voice of Vietnamese Americans (VVA) led several rallies, denouncing China for its aggression in Asia over territorial disputes, including “placing Oil Rig Hai Yang 981 in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam.”
VVA President Genie Nguyen stressed the rallies were a “demonstration for the sovereignty of Vietnam, peace in Asia Pacific,” and a prayer for Buddhist Dong Xuan who self-immolated in a protest.
She said 20 other organizations in the Vietnamese American community in Washington D.C, Maryland and Virginia joined the rallies, which began at the embassy of China, located in the nation’s capital. “We came by bus or individual cars, and we also rallied in Virginia, maybe a hundred in all,” she said in a phone interview.
The participants proceeded to the Vietnamese embassy for a peace rally and to Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, located ten miles from D.C. Filipino Americans attended the 4 p.m. rally at Eden Center, a popular restaurant site and shopping center owned by Vietnamese American entrepreneurs.
Founded in 2009, the VVA aims to empower Vietnamese Americans by promoting civic engagement. It also “advocates for universal human rights, liberty, and justice.”
Wang Min, China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said Xisha Islands are an inherent part of China’s territory. Min made the statement during last month’s meeting of state parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to Xinhua news, Min also said Vietnamese governments prior to 1974 had acknowledged Xisha islands as part of China’s territory since ancient times.
China claims 90 percent of South China Sea, which includes oil-rich Spratly Islands. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei each claim part of the islands and the sea lanes. Vietnam and the Philippines have been the most vocal in defending their territories.
In recent months, hostile incidents have escalated over territorial disputes in the Asia Pacific region. Nearly every day has seen a war of words among China, the Philippines and Vietnam.
On March 30 last year, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China, based on the 1982 UNCLOS. China declared it was not participating in the case, stressing its sovereignty over the disputed territory. Last month, the arbitration tribunal directed China to reply by December 15.
The escalating tension is a regional security issue with global implications. Other concerns come from international businesses that use the sea lanes to transport products, including oil.
The U.S. is not taking sides on the issue. As a Pacific power, however, it has issued several statements calling for a peaceful resolution involving all claimants (multilateral approach), based on international law. In another territorial dispute between China and Japan, the U.S. has strongly declared its support for Japan, a treaty ally.
Among those who joined the rally at Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, was Dr. Priscilla A. Tacujan, an independent consultant and a Ph.D. graduate of Claremont Graduate University in California. She did not speak at the rally. She stressed in a phone interview that “international law must have more teeth” in enforcing the rules of conduct on the maritime dispute.
In her article for cogitAsia, a policy publication of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in D.C., Dr. Tacujan urged China to look at its maritime claims “against its larger interests and expanding role on the regional and world stage.”
“China must understand that ancient imperial encroachments are inconsistent with modern nation-states’ clearly-delineated sovereignty and boundary rights,” she noted. “As to the marine and oil resources in the disputed territories, China is wealthy enough to invest in their exploration and development by partnering with their rightful owners and making things profitable for both sides.”
Maurese Owens, public relations director of the Philippine American Foundation for Charities, Inc. (PAFC), said she was there in support of another Asian American organization. She did not speak at the rally, but she brought a Philippine flag.
The Voice of Vietnamese Americans condemned China “for its aggression in the Pacific Ocean, from the East Sea of Korea, the Japan’s Sea, to the West Sea of the Philippines, the East Sea of Vietnam, the sea of Malaysia, and its self-claimed 90% of the Southeast Asia Sea.”
Starting in May 2014, according to the VVA statement, China “has illegally placed the Oil Rig Hai Yang 981 in the EEZ of Vietnam, and exerted control of the whole area, including air, space, and maritime sovereignty of Vietnam.”
“With up to 130 vessels, including armed military ships, the People Liberation Army of China has attacked defenseless Vietnamese fishing boats and Vietnamese coast guards,” it added, “causing injuries to at least 9 people, and damages to many ships and boats.”
“On May 22, China sank a Vietnamese fishing ship in Vietnamese water, regardless of international voices from the United Nations, the United States, Japan, the Philippines” and European countries, the statement noted.
Last May, Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III accused China of violating an informal code of conduct after its land reclamation efforts in its Mabini Reef was discovered.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said at the 13th anniversary of Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day, held last month, that their difficulties on the issue are “temporary,” according to the Philippine Star, citing their “thousand-year-old friendship and extensive cooperation.” He added, “It is our common responsibility to handle the South China Sea issue in a proper and peaceful manner.”