Hon. John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
May 19, 2014
Dear Mr. Secretary,
As old friends and colleagues from the Vietnam War era, we are writing to support your condemnation of China's "provocative" behavior by installing an oil platform and sending some eighty ships to implement its unilateral claims to the South China Sea near Vietnam.
We are not proponents of what many call a "new Cold War" by our country against China. Too great a projection of US naval and diplomatic power, into what China understandably sees as its sphere of interest, is sure to escalate a conflict where we are disadvantaged as the historic Western outsider. The waters in question are called the South China Sea, or the East Sea, by the Vietnamese; and not the West American Sea, for obvious reasons.
That does not mean our government should be passive or remain neutral to a policy of Chinese expansionism when it threatens the sovereignty of smaller Pacific nations like Vietnam and the Philippines. Like you, we are deeply aware from experience that nothing is more precious for Vietnam than its independence. The Vietnamese have fought their "brother enemy" or China, twice since the US-Vietnam war, and 14 times over the centuries. As this month's extraordinary street protests have shown, Vietnamese public opinion is willing to confront China over the deployment of an oil rig 140 miles off the Vietnamese coast. The tensions even could escalate militarily with a Vietnam-China border battle on the one hand, and Vietnamese attacks on China's over-extended supply lines, on the other.
China, despite being a rising power, has shown great concern for its regional and global reputation through the exercise of soft power diplomacy. The United States government therefore should add its voice to those criticizing China's unilateral expansionism and indicate that Beijing will pay a diplomatic price for its behavior. In no way, however, should the US respond with any military threats, since those would be ineffective and play into the narrative of a new Cold War.
According to the international press, China says it will remove its rig by August 18 for the coming typhoon season. That allows time for the current dangerous brinksmanship to be transformed into a diplomatic process, which will ensure Vietnam's sovereignty, lessen regional hostilities, and restore China's standing as a good neighbor in the area. The idea of joint exploitation of resources benefiting powers with historically established contending claims should be explored.
We all know the perils of hubris, blind ambition, and over-reach. We also know the proven potential of meaningful steps towards conflict resolution. It is our hope that our government can summon the lessons of the bitter past to play a constructive role in protecting sovereignty while promoting coexistence in this case.
Over the long term we should deepen our relationships with Vietnam to make clear we are a committed partner to regional stability, and not a power seeking to use them as a counter to China. Of course it would bolster our reputation if we reconciled with Cuba, Vietnam's closest friend in our hemisphere.
We are encouraging many friends to sign or support this letter.
TOM HAYDEN JOHN McAULIFF
Peace and Justice Resource Center Fund for Reconciliation and Development
RICHARD FLACKS ANN FROINES
University of California Santa Barbara University of Massachusetts Boston (Retired)
MARILYN B. YOUNG CHARLES M. PAYNE
New York University University of Chicago
JERRY LEMBCKE VAN GOSSE
Holy Cross College Franklin & Marshall College
GWENDOLYN ZOHARAH SIMMONS, PHD
University of Florida