The situation in the South China sea is becoming more intense. The conflict between China and Vietnam started on may 3 with a statement by Chinese oil company CNOOC (China National Offshore Oil Corp) on the development of the major oil fields in the area of the Paracel Islands, over which China and Vietnam continues a territorial dispute.
Both countries claim the territory and include them in its exclusive economic zone and plan field development. A verbal conflict at this time turned into a real clash between Vietnamese and Chinese ships.
Huge reserves of natural resources in the South China sea
It's all natural resources that are rich in this region. According to CNOOC, the oil reserves at the field are estimated at 125 billion barrels, almost equal to half of the world's largest field in Saudi Arabia. Gas reserves believed to be 16 trillion cubic meters.
The oil was Vietnam's vital resource, state oil and gas company PetroVietnam brings almost one-third of revenues to the state Treasury.
Minor clashes between China and Vietnam in the battle for these territories happened many times before. With Vietnam, bearing in mind the friendship with the Communist party of China, has hampered China's actions externally, and maintained a good relationship.
However, this time we are talking about natural resources, so the government of Vietnam officially condemned China that was perceived by the population as a visual signal to the demonstrations.
In this case, one can hardly expect any real escalation of the conflict in the South China sea from the Vietnamese government. Most likely Vietnam will choose the only realistic method of pressure on China, namely the cooperation with other ASEAN States faced with China on the basis of territorial disputes, as well as with Japan and the USA.
Let's see, what relations with China for Vietnam to better understand the logic of the Vietnamese government.
The history of Vietnam is a history of conflict with China
The history of Vietnam before colonization by France in the second half of the nineteenth century in a highly simplified form represents the history of the long struggle with China.
For almost a thousand years, from the Dinh dynasty in 966 and ending with the establishment of an independent dynasty, Vietnam was under Chinese rule.
Hai BA Trung (Trung sisters), BA Chieu and other heroes of ancient times who fought for the independence of Vietnam, is still revered by the Vietnamese, their names are called main streets in all the major cities (all three of these women were warriors. In Vietnam and now there are a large number of prominent women, but if you look at the history of this country, it seems that the most famous generals were women).
In modern history, despite the establishment of communism in both States, relations between the countries remained strained.
During the Vietnam war, China sent a large financial and military assistance to North Vietnam. But in 1972 China over the head of North Vietnam made concessions to the U.S. that led to the deterioration of relations. The generals of North Vietnam, did not heed the advice of China, with weapons took control of the southern part of the country.
In 1979, during the confrontation in Cambodia the Chinese army for a short period invaded the territory of Vietnam (Sino-Vietnamese war).
Normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Vietnam occurred in 1991. It's just a little more than twenty years ago. However, after that continued small clashes in the dispute over territory in the South China sea.
These invisible historical background still has an impact on the Vietnamese and are manifested in two ways.
First, is the prevalence of anti-Chinese sentiments among the population. They do not go to any comparison with the Japanese attitude towards China. The Japanese have a complex relationship to the PRC, but I think that a considerable number of people in Japan respects Chinese civilization, which once was the source of our own culture. The Vietnamese, who also was strongly influenced by Chinese civilization, there is almost no such thoughts.
The Vietnamese are pretty apolitical. Moreover, Vietnam is still not developed national consciousness. In this sense, anti-Chinese sentiments are quite unusual for Vietnamese political and national overtones.
"The dominion of France and Japan lasted only a few decades, China has been sitting on our necks for a thousand years," the Vietnamese Express their negative attitude to China.
The second manifestation of the long enmity with China is a pragmatic approach Vietnamese: "China cannot win." Vietnam realizes that is only a small country, but he learned the art of survival, the art of staying afloat in the dynamics of international society.
As a result it seems that even if China will take more aggressive actions in the South China sea, Vietnam will avoid direct confrontation through cooperation with other countries.
Economic relations with a strong China
On the other hand, if you look at economic relations, China is the largest trading partner of Vietnam with an annual turnover of $ 50 billion.
Vietnam, especially its Northern part, receives a large amount of daily necessities from China. Vietnam, with its lag in industrialization, in many cases, simply cannot produce the goods in their factories, therefore, forced to import cheap products from China.
Economic ties are one of the limiting factors that prevent relations between the two countries to deteriorate completely. However, the economy of Vietnam, unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, are not so much influenced by Chinese businessmen.
In the southwestern part of Ho Chi Minh city has a Chinese quarter called Cho LON. This quarter was established by Chinese merchants who fled China in the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644 years). In the 1970s, the Chinese population of Vietnam according to various sources ranged from 500 thousand to one million people.
In the era of French colonial rule on the economic activities of Vietnamese imposed strict restrictions against the Chinese these limits were minimal, so it is the Chinese ruled the trade of rice in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam's granary.
Almost all the Vietnamese population in those days was engaged in farming. The peasants had neither the capacity nor the knowledge necessary to engage in trade.
But in 1975, immediately after the end of the Sino-Vietnamese war, the huge Chinese population of Vietnam disappeared. The Communist party of Vietnam, giving the property of the Chinese quarter of Cho LON, forced them to leave the country. As a result, Vietnam has become the country with the smallest Chinese population in Southeast Asia.
Such repression of the Vietnamese government against the ethnic Chinese had become a bone of contention in political relations between countries. The expulsion from the country such a large number of Chinese may also have influenced the formation of anti-Chinese sentiment in Vietnam.
Unlike Japan and the Philippines
Despite the anti-Chinese attitude of the population, the likelihood that the exacerbation of relations with China will happen at the initiative of the Vietnamese government, is very small, both for political and for economic reasons. The situation Vietnam is a little different from Japan and the Philippines, which also have territorial disputes with China.
Japan and the Philippines does not have land borders with China, those countries don't have and the historical image of China as the invader. In addition, the position of Japan and the Philippines, having as ally the U.S. army is quite strong in comparison with Vietnam.
Vietnam understands the difference in power with China and pragmatically evaluates itself as a weak state. In this sense he does not care greatly about maintaining their image. In addition, after the Vietnam war Vietnam was difficult to strengthen military relations with the United States.
But in recent years Vietnam is still expanding military cooperation with Washington. Despite the protests of the Chinese government, since 2010, U.S. Navy ships anchor in da Nang, in Central Vietnam, Cam Ranh (in this port came the Baltic squadron of the Russian fleet before the battle in the sea of Japan during the Russo-Japanese war), joint military exercises, and expanding the range of interaction.
It is unlikely that the conflict between China and Vietnam escalates into a military clash, but if the Maritime expansion of China will increase in the future, the Vietnamese government, probably need the help of a reliable political "steering".
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