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Response to Bill Hayton's "A New Confidence-Building Process for the South China Sea?"

2015-11-27 10:41:20       source:NISCSS

This article is naïve and misleading. These types of meetings and discussions have been ongoing for many years--perhaps before Hayton even became aware of the “problems” in the South China Sea.

Hayton and the general public need to be aware that the South China Sea disputes have generated an ugly “academic war” with all its nasty accoutrements like nationalistic bias, disingenuousness, disrespect and blacklisting. Confidence and trust have not been built and will not be built by such national-position serving meetings. In fact both have been undermined and after this particular meeting it is doubtful that any senior Chinese academics will attend such meetings in Vietnam in future.

 The main objective of this meeting was to extol and further Vietnam’s position. Open-minded analysis and discussion were never the true intent. As the Deputy General Secretary of the Association of Vietnam’s Lawyers --one of the co- organizers of the meeting Hayton refers to- said “We aim to show the viewpoint of foreign scholars from all over the world in order to prove that what China has done in the South China Sea does not conform to international laws, including the declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.” This is indeed what is behind this whole series of DAV meetings. The tactic is to invite some of China’s best scholars on the topic and confront and embarrass them both behind closed doors and publicly (see http://m.voanews.com/a/vietnam-media-criticize-chinese-scholars-over-south-china-sea/3073722). They invite only those “international experts” who are in their “camp” or who have not criticized Vietnam’s position. This now excludes me even though I helped train the first generation of Vietnam’s maritime policy experts under the late broad-minded and far-sighted patriot Le Minh Nghia.

At a previous such gathering the Chair of the Conference tried to introduce a resolution condemning China’s behavior. I and others opposed this attempt to politicize an academic meeting.  I was invited to the first few meetings in this series. But as soon as it became clear that I was objective and not an ardent supporter of Vietnam’s position or knee-jerk anti-China--unlike many of the perennial foreign participants-- my participation was terminated and regular requests for my opinion on South China Sea issues from a leading Vietnamese newspaper were blocked by veiled threats to the editor.

There are no angels in South China Sea affairs. All claimants have violated international law by undertaking unilateral actions on disputed features or in disputed waters, as well as the DOC and trust.  Moreover all claimants and interested outside powers are using academic and Track Two meetings to further their national position. Hayton needs to dig deeper to fully understand the situation.

Mark J. Valencia

Adjunct Senior Scholar

National Institute for South China Sea Studies

Haikou, China

Note: Bill Hayton's "A New Confidence-Building Process for the South China Sea?" is available at: http://thediplomat.com/2015/11/a-new-confidence-building-process-for-the-south-china-sea/.