President discusses South China Sea tensions with Vietnam leader

Michael D Higgins says he supports peaceful solution using international law

President Michael D. Higgins in the Presidential Palace with president of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang as they give press statements watched over by the bust of Ho Chi Minh in the city of Hanoi. Photograph: Maxwell’s

President Michael D. Higgins in the Presidential Palace with president of Vietnam Tran Dai Quang as they give press statements watched over by the bust of Ho Chi Minh in the city of Hanoi. Photograph: Maxwell’s

 

President Michael D Higgins has expressed strong support for a peaceful solution using international law to growing tensions in the South China Sea.

Vietnam and China are in dispute over the resources-rich area known as the Paracels archipelago.

During his state visit to Vietnam, President Higgins said the issue had featured prominently in what he described as very wide-ranging bilateral talks with Vietnam’s president Tran Dai Quang.

“What President Quang wanted to emphasise, and in this would have Irish support, was that settlement of these issues which involve so many partners would be in accordance with international law,” President Higgins told a small group of Irish journalists outside the National Assembly.

The area around the Spratly Islands and the Paracels is emerging as one of the world’s regional flashpoints. Alongside Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, Vietnam is in dispute with China over its claim to control the resource-rich waters through which some €4.5 trillion worth of trade passes every year.

“Our common position is to settle disputes by peaceful means on the basis of international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Mr Higgins said.

In July, an international maritime tribunal in The Hague said China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea region were illegal.

Ireland is a long supporter of the international law of the sea, and we are also supportive of the arbitration and we are also committed to resolution in terms of our support for the United Nations and its institutions,” he said.

Earlier President Quang had mentioned that Vietnam was seeking a peaceful resolution to an increasingly difficult situation.

Just like China, Vietnam believes it has full historical evidence and legal foundations to prove its sovereignty over the Paracels and Spratly, or Truong Sa, Islands in the East Sea, or South China Sea.

However, recently the Philippines, which originally brought the claim to the tribunal, has made conciliatory noises towards Beijing, as has Malaysia.

Vietnam has the strong backing of the United States for its stance on the region.

Last week, as part of efforts to shore up relations, three vessels from the 23rd Chinese naval escort task force docked at the Vietnamese deep port of Cam Ranh, and both navies participated in activities.

China’s claims in the area have prompted Vietnam to step up its fleet of fighters, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft.

During the day, President Higgins also oversaw the signing of a number of agreements, including deals between Anam Technologies, Ericsson Vietnam and Vietnamobile for SMS services and a strategic partnership between University College Cork and Vietnam National University.

One of the biggest signings was an agreement between Irish company Mainstream Renewable Power to develop, build and operate 940 megawatts of wind power in Vietnam, with a combined investment of over €2 billion.