Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for March 12, 2023

Newsline: Vietnam faces increased diplomatic disputes over Spratly Islands

As territorial tensions mount in the area around the Spratly Islands, known in Vietnam as Truong Sa, Hanoi moves towards a sad anniversary. On March 14, 1988, 64 Vietnam’s naval personnel died in combat defending Johnson Reef, known in Vietnam as Gac Ma, against China’s assault. As the 35th anniversary of the Gac Ma battle approaches, Vietnam remains determined to defend its sovereignty over Truong Sa Islands. Last year, Vietnam was reported to conduct dredging and landfill work at several of its Truong Sa outposts. Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said the work in the Spratly Islands had created roughly 420 acres (170 hectares) of new land and brought the total area Vietnam had reclaimed in the past decade to 540 acres (220 hectares). This landfill work is seen as a major move toward reinforcing Vietnam’s position in the Spratlys. Meanwhile, China claims most of the South China Sea and has established military outposts on artificial islands it has built there. China insists it has sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, known in China as the Nansha Islands, and its adjacent waters. The scale of Vietnam’s landfill work is still seen falling far short of the more than 3,200 acres of land created by China from 2013 to 2016. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan, also have overlapping claims in the sea, which is crisscrossed by vital shipping lanes and contains gas fields and rich fishing grounds. In recent weeks, the Philippines repeatedly complained it had spotted Chinese naval and militia vessels around Thi Tu, a contested Philippine-occupied island in the South China Sea. The Philippines has filed 77 complaints against China’s activities in the sea, including a claim that a Chinese coast guard ship on Feb. 6 directed a “military-grade laser” at one a Philippine coast guard ship on a supply mission. In February, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr said the Philippines “will not lose an inch” of territory as the Southeast Asian protested China’s “aggressive activities” in the sea. As Hanoi faces increased controversy over Spratly Islands, firstly Chinese claims of sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, the territorial issue remains a sensitive matter in Vietnam. Earlier this month, a tourist company in Danang was fined for using a map of Vietnam as a logo without Truong Sa and Hoang Sa (Paracel) islands.

Newsline: Iran’s top diplomat pledges upcoming prisoner swap with US

Iran’s top diplomat claimed Sunday a prisoner swap was near with the U.S., though he offered no evidence to support his assertion. (https://keyt.com/news/2023/03/12/irans-top-diplomat-claims-prisoner-swap-near-with-us/) American officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about his remarks. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has made similar comments in the past about possible deals with the U.S. on frozen assets abroad and other issues that never came to fruition. He made the remarks Sunday to Iranian state television. The U.S. State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Newsline: U.S. top diplomat to travel to Ethiopia, Niger next week

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Ethiopia next week, the State Department said. The visit, set as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed works to reestablish himself on the world stage following the two-year Tigray war, comes as foreign troops remain within the region and bureaucratic hurdles hamper the humanitarian response. Blinken will also visit Niger, a key U.S. security partner, during the trip, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement. It will be the first-ever visit to Niger by a U.S. secretary of state. (https://neuters.de/world/africa/blinken-travel-ethiopia-niger-march-14-19-state-dept-2023-03-10/) Africa has emerged as a focus for Washington as it aims to position itself as a partner to countries in the region amid competition with China, which has sought to expand its influence by funding infrastructure projects on the continent. The visit to Addis Ababa and Niamey is one of a slew of high-level visits the Biden administration has planned to Africa this year.