Viet leader opposes China’s sea claims

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Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang. AFP

WASHINGTON—Vietnam’s president on Thursday voiced firm opposition to China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) but declined to back a Philippine bid to take the row to a United Nations (UN) tribunal.

On a visit to Washington, President Truong Tan Sang rejected China’s “nine-dash-line map” through which it claims virtually all of the strategic sea, including islands close to neighboring countries.

“We cannot find any legal foundation or scientific basis for such a claim and therefore it is the consistent policy of Vietnam to oppose the nine-dash-line plan by China,” Sang told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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But Sang declined comment when asked if Vietnam would join the Philippines, which in January took its territorial dispute in the sea with China to the arbitration panel of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to declare China’s claims invalid.

“As a member of the United Nations, the Philippines has the legal right to carry on with any proceedings they would like,” Sang said.

The Philippines and Vietnam have led criticism of what they consider increasingly assertive claims by China in the West Philippine Sea.

Brunei and Malaysia, as well as Taiwan, also claim parts of the sea.

Tense relations

The Philippines has had especially tense relations with China, which seized the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), an outcrop within Manila’s economic exclusion zone, after a two-month naval standoff last year.

But friction has eased slightly between Vietnam and China, with Sang visiting Beijing last month and agreeing to set up a hot line to try to prevent mishaps from escalating.

China separately has increasingly butted heads with Japan, which fears that Beijing is trying to exert control over resource-rich waters in the East China Sea.

Sang earlier Thursday met US President Barack Obama, who encouraged calm in the West Philippine Sea.

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