Vietnam urges respect of international law as China draws Gulf of Tonkin baseline

By Thomson Reuters Mar 14, 2024 | 4:10 AM

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam’s foreign ministry on Thursday said international law and the rights and interests of other countries must be respected, responding to a question about China’s demarcation earlier this month of a baseline in the Gulf of Tonkin.

China’s government delineated the baseline in the Gulf of Tonkin, known in Chinese as Beibu Gulf, using straight lines far from the coast, a move it said was in accordance with international law.

Baselines are used to determine limits to territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and are a sensitive subject in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam and other states in the region have some conflicting claims.

“Vietnam holds that coastal countries abide by the UNCLOS 1982 when determining the baseline for measuring their territorial waters,” the ministry’s spokesperson said in a regular press conference, referring to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The two neighbours have overlapping claims in the broader South China Sea, but in the Gulf of Tonkin have maintained friendlier relations, and agreed to conduct joint patrols there during a visit to Hanoi by China’s President Xi Jinping in December.

According to UNCLOS, the drawing of straight baselines “must not depart to any appreciable extent from the general direction of the coast”.

It is unclear how the change could affect boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin, which is located off the coast of Northern Vietnam and Southern China, as the two countries have agreed a demarcation line in that area, said Van Pham, general manager of the South China Sea Chronicle Initiative (SCSCI), an independent non-profit organisation.

The Vietnamese spokesperson urged China to respect the agreement about the demarcation line, but declined to comment about whether the new baseline could jeopardise that deal, which was signed in 2000.

The spokesperson also declined to say whether China’s move could affect the agreement on joint patrols.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Martin Petty)