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Daily Press Briefing on May 15, 2014 About Vietnam Spratly Islands Dispute with China


May 15, 2014

SOURCE: U.S. State Department


Spratly Islands Dispute with China


China Reclaiming Land in South China Sea/ Call for Restraint and Transparency


Construction of Oil Rig by China in Disputed Waters/Communication by U.S. Officials at High Levels

Vietnam Protests/Urge Refrain from Violence

Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 15, 2014

MS. HARF: And then you can ask another question. Okay, our next question is from Elliot Waldman of Tokyo Broadcasting.

QUESTION: Hey, Marie. Thanks for doing this. I just had one – actually, two questions on Asia.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: And so I just wanted to know if you guys are following the ongoing unrest in Vietnam. The riots and looting and protest to the Chinese actions off the coast have now spread to the central part of the country, and seeing reports that the number of dead could be more than 20. I was just wondering how you guys are responding − what guidance you’re providing to Americans, if any. Yeah, maybe if you want to get into that first, and then I’ll go on with my second one.

MS. HARF: Yes. So we are, obviously, closely following the protests that you asked about. And as we say frequently – as I say frequently – support the rights of individuals, people to assemble peacefully to protest. Obviously, all parties need to refrain from violence and exercise restraint here.

We are in close touch with national and local authorities; condemn any of the violence that we’ve seen and the loss of life that’s occurred. And again, would encourage people while they – everyone – while folks are exercising their right to freedom of expression to refrain from any further violence.

QUESTION: Any particular sort of warnings or guidance to U.S. citizens in the country or visiting U.S. citizens?

MS. HARF: Not that I’ve seen. We haven’t – not that I’ve seen. We haven’t seen any reports of U.S. citizens being targeted, but I’m happy to check with our folks and see. I just haven’t seen any specific warnings.

MS. HARF: Great, thanks. Our next question is from Taurean Barnwell of NHK.

QUESTION: Hi, Marie. I think my first question was addressed earlier, so I’m not going to revisit that one, but I did have a follow-up question on Vietnam. There are some reports suggesting that the Chinese have started constructing an airstrip on the Spratly Islands that Vietnam considers its territorial island. Do you have any comments on that?

MS. HARF: I thought I did. Just give me one second. Hold on. You should see – I don’t have my trusty big book here. Let me see if I have something. Just give me one second on that.


MS. HARF: I may not, though. I may have to take that question back. Obviously – let me take that question back. I don’t think I have anything, but I can also keep – it may be here in the stack of papers I have, but let me take that and get you something.

QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine. Thank you.


MS. HARF: Thank you. Going back quickly to the Spratlys, I did find it in my guidance. So to revisit the last question: We are aware of reports that China is reclaiming land at a disputed reef – I think this is what you were referring to – in the South China Sea. Major upgrades or the militarization of disputed land features in the South China Sea by any claimant has the potential to raise tensions. That’s why we think that all parties to the Declaration On the Code of Parties in the South China Sea should fully and effectively implement the DOC, especially with regard to exercising self-restraint and the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes. And recent incidents highlight the need for claimants to be transparent about their respective activities in disputed areas.

Obviously, we’ve talked about this in a number of ways recently, but again, want folks to reach a shared understanding on appropriate behavior and activities in these kind of disputed areas. So I found it in this stack of paper on my desk here in Vienna.

MS. HARF: Our next question is from Guy Taylor of The Washington Times.

QUESTION: Hi Marie, thanks for doing this. Can I just go on back to the Vietnam protests for a minute? I certainly appreciate that the State Department supports the right of people to protest around the world, but these have been unusually large demonstrations for Vietnam and I’m wondering if the Department has a position on whether the protests are justified. That would be my first question.

Then there have been mounting sort of anti-Chinese fervor in Vietnam over the past week or so, particularly since China placed an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam. Does the Department believe that the Chinese may be violating Vietnamese sovereignty with this move and sort of pushing the Vietnamese to accept Chinese sovereignty claims over certain areas of the South China Sea? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond beyond just saying we support the right of people to —

MS. HARF: Yep.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, on the oil rig issue, I’ve said and a bunch of us have said repeatedly that China’s decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels in waters that are disputed with Vietnam is provocative and raises tensions, absolutely, and that this is a unilateral action that appears to be part of a broader pattern, quite frankly, of Chinese behavior to advance its claims over disputed areas in a manner that really undermines peace and stability in the region.

So we are very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation of this kind. We’ve called on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner and address competing sovereignty claims peacefully and in accordance with international law. So I think we’ve spoken out very clearly about how that action was seen and could be seen as provocative and raising of tensions.

QUESTION: Could you —

MS. HARF: In terms —

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Go ahead. No, no, go ahead. You can follow-up on that before I get to my next one.

QUESTION: Could you update us just on what the last communications or what level of communications is the Department having with the Chinese on this particular issue within the context of perhaps getting the Chinese to pull the ship out without losing face at this point?

MS. HARF: Well, we have raised this issue with both sides, including at high levels, during separate calls with both the Vietnamese deputy prime minister, who is also the foreign minister, and the Chinese foreign minister. The Secretary – Secretary Kerry emphasized our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea and stated our view that China’s unilateral introduction of an oil rig was provocative; urged both sides to de-escalate tensions, engage in high-level dialogue, ensure safe conduct by their vessels at sea, and a host of other things as well.

So the Secretary’s been engaged on it; other folks have been as well. I think the last time the Secretary spoke to the Chinese foreign minister was on Monday evening, where he again emphasized our strong concerns over recent developments in the South China Sea.

QUESTION: But that was – when were the protests that time? Had they really gotten out of – gotten big by Monday evening, or that was before the protests really got going?

MS. HARF: Well, we can – I can check on that, but he was very clear about what was happening in the South China Sea and what behavior should not continue.

In terms of the protests, as I’ve said, we’ve been in close touch with national and local authorities and have absolutely condemned the violence and the loss of life that’s occurred. What I said, though – and I – it didn’t sound like you really liked the answer, but it’s true that we support the rights of individuals to assemble peacefully to protest, period. So that is something that is important to us, but at the same time, urge all parties to refrain from violence and to exercise restraint. Those are really things that underscore what we’ve said.

So while we support peoples’ right to protest, we do not in any way support violence against Chinese-affiliated businesses or firms in Vietnam – absolutely are opposed to that, so —

QUESTION: Thank you very – no, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.


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