The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday condemned Chinese moves to hamper Việt Nam’s oil and gas businesses within the country’s rightful waters, saying they constitute a serious violation of international law.
“Việt Nam’s sea economic activities, including oil and gas exploration and exploitation, are all conducted in Việt Nam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf as defined from the country’s land territory, in accordance with United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) 1982, to which both China and Việt Nam are signatories,” Lê Thị Thu Hằng, spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said at a press briefing in Hà Nội.
Hằng was responding to China’s recent claims that Việt Nam is conducting oil and gas activities illegally in Chinese waters.
She said UNCLOS 1982 is the sole legal basis to regulate the rights of each country and this has been complied with by signatory countries, manifested in arbitration cases and received general consensus from reputable lawyers.
“Therefore, no country can lay claims to the waters in the East Sea [internationally known as the South China Sea] beyond the geographical limitations and contents regulated in the UNCLOS 1982,” she commented.
Unlawful claims that go against UNCLOS 1982 cannot be used as basis to say there are disputed waters, the spokesperson said, adding that Việt Nam has sovereignty over Trường Sa and Hoàng Sa islands.
The foreign ministry has also provided updates on Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 08, saying the ship continues to infringe Việt Nam’s sovereignty, sovereign rights, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
“Việt Nam has been raising its opinions on the negative impacts this flagrant violation of the Haiyang Dizhi 08 causes to bilateral relations as well as to the security, order and peace in the East Sea and in the region,” Hằng said, adding that Việt Nam demanded China end this encroachment and withdraw the survey ship from Vietnamese waters.
Concerning the reports the UK is intending to send aircraft carriers to the East Sea amid China’s growing ambitions in the region, Hằng said Việt Nam has on many occasions stated that the country welcomes all activities that aim to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight in the sea, conform with UNCLOS 1982 and contribute to regional and global peace and security.
Hằng also spoke out regarding claims that the American multinational oil and gas group ExxonMobil is intending to rescind its decision to co-operate with the State-owned oil and gas group PetroVietnam in the Blue Whale project, lying within the Vietnamese EEZ.
PVN itself on Thursday confirmed all ongoing projects in the central region – both onshore and offshore – are still being carried out by the contractor grouping comprising ExxonMobil, PVN and its upstream arm, PetroVietnam Exploration Production Corporation (PVEP).
PVN, PVEP, ExxonMobil and ExxonMobil Exploration and Production Vietnam Ltd signed a framework deal on the Blue Whale project back in 2017.
PVN said it is not commenting on “unofficial information” surrounding these projects and is working closely with media agencies to disseminate information of the “innovation and dedication” of the oil and gas workers.
Freedom of speech
Hằng also responded to a question from Vietnam News Agency, which asked for the ministry’s comments regarding a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists which stated Việt Nam is amongst the 10 countries with the most stringent censorship of the press.
“We totally rejected these allegations that were based on untruthful and subjective information regarding Việt Nam’s situation in these reports,” Hằng said, adding that Việt Nam is working on its legal system to uphold freedom of speech and freedom of press as enshrined in the 2013 Constitution, while making sure that the people are protected against fake news, news that goes against Vietnamese traditions and cultural values, and “misleading information designed to incite hatred and violence.”
Regarding the ongoing situation involving Hong Kong, Hằng stated that Việt Nam respects the policy of ‘one country-two systems’ policy and hoped that normal life would soon return to the city, in order for it to maintain its status as one of the most important financial and commercial hubs in the region and the world.
She also said Việt Nam has asked the Hong Kong administration ensure the safety of Vietnamese citizens who are visiting, living or working in the city amidst the protests.
The spokesperson added that Việt Nam and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have enjoyed good relations with Hong Kong across many fields – from trade, investment to tourism and people-to-people exchanges.
“Việt Nam will continue to put in efforts together with ASEAN countries to further foster the ties,” Hằng said.