A dangerous conflict has broken out between the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam over the placement of a giant Chinese oil rig in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands.
On May 2, China placed the $1 billion Haiyang-981 oil rig, owned by the Chinese National Oil Company (CNOOC), in waters claimed by both sides. The rig was accompanied by 80 Chinese boats. Conflict broke out. Ships were rammed, and Chinese water cannons were fired at Vietnamese vessels. Demonstrations took place in Vietnam; foreign factories were damaged and destroyed.
We call upon the PRC to take the first step in de-escalating this crisis and to lead in finding a way toward a mutually acceptable and mutually beneficial resolution to this conflict.
China is a strong power with the world’s second-largest economy, a fifth of the world’s population and developing technological, economic and military power. Vietnam is a relatively small, underdeveloped country that is struggling to revive itself and recover from decades of imperialist invasion and destruction.
The Chinese leadership is acutely aware that because of the historical relations between China and Vietnam, the Vietnamese can regard the forcible placement of this oil rig as an exercise in great-power chauvinism. We do not know the extent to which economic grievances played a role in the protests that have swept Vietnam and to what extent the protests reflected resentment against what many Vietnamese could regard as bullying.
Vietnam does not have the power to prevent China from placing the oil rig, nor does it have the resources or technology to create its own rig and exploit whatever resources might be under the sea.
The Vietnamese government vehemently opposed this deployment. Both countries claim that the oil rig is in their territorial waters, and both countries advance historical claims to the islands, which are unpopulated and lie in a region near where oil and gas deposits have been found. It is also a vital fishing area.
While both countries have made enormous concessions to capitalism in their economies, both still have intact centralized state institutions established by their respective revolutions. Both also still have communist parties in power. We have defended both countries against capitalist counterrevolution and imperialism, and we will continue to do so.
Resorting to claims of international law and of historical precedent are the wrong bases on which these two countries should try to unthread this dispute. That is for imperialist and capitalist powers, not for socialist countries that should be allies.
In October 2011, both countries entered into talks in which they pledged to resolve such conflicts peacefully by negotiations and on the basis of mutual interest. Hotlines were set up between the two capitals and working groups were established.
That agreement has broken down. We urge China, as the bigger power, to take the initiative to restore a collaborative relationship that can calm the crisis in a way that is not only mutually acceptable, but also mutually beneficial. It should allow Vietnam to share in the benefits of China’s technological achievements and have access to urgently needed resources. That is the best way out of this crisis.
To be sure, both China and Vietnam need to establish military and economic rights in their coastal waters against the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the so-called “Asian pivot” by Washington, as well as the growing belligerence of Japanese imperialism.
One way that China can give a strong rebuff to imperialism and lift the morale of the masses in east Asia would be to take strong steps toward reconciliation with Vietnam — to erase all traces of big power domination and to put relations on the basis of international collaboration and solidarity, without regard to international law, historical precedent or appeals to any forms of capitalist legality. n