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Vietnam may soon sue China on South China Sea

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Vietnam is believed to be inching towards filing an international arbitration case against China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, a potential legal response to rising Chinese intimidation and harassment in the contested waterway.

Analysts monitoring the situation believe Hanoi could file such a petition, possibly similar to the one the Philippines filed and won against China at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2016.

That decision ruled that China has “no historical rights” under its “nine-dash line” which Beijing uses to claim sovereignty to nearly 90% of the sea. China refused to participate in the proceedings and said it would “ignore” the decision, which lacked an enforcement mechanism.

“There have been significantly more voices within the ruling elite in Hanoi calling for bringing China to court” since last year, said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, a Washington-based think tank, said he had no confirmation that Hanoi is moving forward with an international case, but “I have heard from government sources that the proposal is under serious consideration.”

A Vietnamese diplomatic source who spoke to Asia Times on the condition of anonymity said discussions in Hanoi about an international lawsuit are now more intense than previously.

At an annual South China Sea conference hosted last November by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, Vietnam’s deputy foreign minister Le Hoai Trung publicly raised the issue of an international case, the first time in nearly five years that a senior official had broached it.

“The UN Charter and UNCLOS 1982 have sufficient mechanisms for us to apply those measures,” Trung said at the time, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international treaty.

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