The Vietnamese government announced plans this week to take 100 local tourists to the disputed Spratly Islands in mid-April to visit Vietnamese military outposts, which resulted in a protest from the Chinese government.
“These tours should be considered a normal event” said Le Dung from the foreign affairs ministry adding “foreign reporters can also visit the islands with the tour group if they wish”.
China has lodged a diplomatic protest with Vietnam over its plan to open a tourist route by boat to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which are claimed by China, Vietnam and several other countries. A China foreign ministry spokesperson Kong Quan said China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and surrounding waters and Vietnam’s move to launch the first tourist activity there next month “has infringed on China’s territorial sovereignty.”
Kong said the Spratly claimants, which also include the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, have a consensus that maintenance of stability in the South China Sea is a shared responsibility.
“We hope relevant countries honour the consensus and respect the principles set forth in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),” he said, alluding to the 10-member regional grouping of which Vietnam is a member.
On March 18, the spokesman expressed “serious concern” over Vietnam’s having “unilaterally” invited international oil companies to bid for tenders for developing oil and gas resources in parts of the South China Sea that are claimed also by China.
He reiterated China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and called on Vietnam to “correct such a wrongdoing and avoid further complicating the situation in the South China Sea,” prompting a rebuke from Hanoi.
On March 24, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry dismissed Kong’s statement as “entirely groundless” and said it “violates Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Spratlys and does not confirm to reality.” “Vietnam has repeatedly asserted its indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos,” it said, referring to another group of islands in the area which China seized control of in 1974.
Hanoi urged all parties to the dispute “to exercise restraint and refrain from unnecessary statements in order not to further complicate the situation.” In March 1988, Vietnamese and Chinese naval forces clashed over the islands, resulting in the sinking of two Vietnamese ships and the loss of more than 70 lives.