VIETNAM’S president on Thursday voiced firm opposition to China’s claims in the South China Sea but declined to back a Philippine bid to take the row to a UN tribunal.
On a visit to Washington, President Truong Tan Sang rejected China’s so-called “nine-dash line” 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.
But Sang declined comment when asked if Vietnam would join the Philippines which in January said it was asking an 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 South China Sea.
The Philippines has had especially tense relations with China, which seized the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), an outcrop claimed by Manila, 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 hotline 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 on Thursday met US President Barack Obama, who encouraged calm in the South China Sea.
Sang and Obama in a joint statement called for “the settlement of disputes by peaceful means” and renewed support for a code of conduct to manage potential mishaps. AFP