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Vietnam, as next ASEAN chair, urges China to behave in S. China Sea

A Japan Coast Guard helicopter orders a fishing vessel to stop in waters off Danang, central Vietnam, in a joint drill with the Vietnam Coast Guard on June 16, 2017. Hanoi plans to enhance its ability to control its waters with Japan's support, aiming to prevent China from further advancing in the disputed South China Sea. (Kyodo)

SINGAPORE (Kyodo) -- Vietnam on Tuesday called on China to refrain from conducting provocative activities that could threaten security in the South China Sea next year when Hanoi takes over the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"I hope that during our chairmanship, China will restrain and refrain from this kind of activities," Vietnamese Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Dung said in a lecture in Singapore organized by a state-run think tank, the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

In July, China sparked tension with Vietnam when it sent a research ship to be stationed for months in an area that Vietnam designates as its exclusive economic zone but which is also claimed by Beijing.

"You have seen what China has done a couple of months before in Vietnam's EEZ. Of course, it's a blatant violation of our sovereignty. But Vietnam...did exercise self-restraint and finally China withdrew from the EEZ, but I am not sure if such kind of thing will not happen again," Dung said.

"What China did was very alarming and also a kind of threatening. Not only Vietnam but also other countries see the potential of being threatened in the future," he said.

Dung said China has almost completed its reclamations of artificial islands and has militarized those features.

He acknowledged that ASEAN tends to have different views in terms of how to deal with China on this issue.

"Among ASEAN, the voice of ASEAN among member states can be different. The difference here is level of protest, not because other ASEAN member states support that, but only the difference is how to address the issue."

However, he believes that "China understands how important is its relations with ASEAN, how important the image of China as a rising power, so the South China Sea is a kind of litmus test for China to practice its big power positions."

ASEAN member states have often been at odds about criticizing China for its actions in the South China Sea.

Aside from Vietnam, several other ASEAN members, namely the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, are also claimants in the territorial disputes over the South China Sea, over which China has staked a large claim.

While Vietnam and the Philippines have been most vocal in expressing their unhappiness with China, other ASEAN states such as Cambodia, which heavily relies on China for development aid, trade and foreign investment, have been anxious not to aggravate Beijing, resulting in deadlocks over the wording in some statements that the group releases at the end of their ministerial meetings.

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