Hanoi – Vietnam’s government has asked Taiwan to call off a planned inspection tour of the disputed Spratly Islands, one of two archipelagos in the South China sea claimed by several countries in the region, local press reported Tuesday.
‘Vietnam resolutely objects to all activities violating its sovereignty over the two archipelagos,’ government spokesman Le Dung said.
Taiwanese Defence Minister Tsai Ming-hsien was scheduled to visit the Spratlys on Monday before postponing the trip due to bad weather.
Vietnam, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei each claim all or part of the Spratlys and the nearby Paracels, and all but Brunei have a military presence on one or more of the atolls. Taiwan has built an airstrip on the largest of the islands, while Vietnam has stationed sailors on another.
The waters around the islands are believed to contain substantial petroleum reserves.
Conflict over the islands began heating up in November, when China established a new government district, called Sansha, to administer them. Vietnam officially protested the Chinese move, and Vietnamese students staged rare spontaneous protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City asserting Vietnamese sovereignty.
To avoid military clashes in the region, China, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand signed the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
The declaration commits the parties to resolving the islands’ status through negotiations, and provides for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Taiwan is not a signatory to the declaration because China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has barred Taiwan from attending official meetings on the Spratlys.