Vietnam has asserted its sovereignty over the Spratly islands in a unique way. It is by showcasing its built heritage–lighthouses, which have been constructed over the past few decades to help sailors and fishermen navigate the seas.
A photo-feature in the Vietnam Net website shows how the lighthouses have not only cast a safety net in the surrounding seas, but also stamp the South-East Asian nation's claim over the Spratly archipelago (which Hanoi calls the islands of Truong Sa) region that has numerous claimants, including China and other neighbours.
Highlighting the utility of the lighthouses, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Xuan Truong, Vice Commander and Chief of Staff of Song Tu Tay Island, says that the lighthouse has helped to ensure safe movements of vessels, asserted Vietnam's sovereignty over seas and islands and made it easier for rescue and search activities at sea.
A map showing the location of Spratly Islands (Courtesy: Google Maps)
Vietnam has built nine lighthouses on various islands of the Spratly archipelago beginning in 1993. In pure geo-political terms, Hanoi calls them "sovereignty markers". The lighthouses are powered through solar energy and function non-stop. For emergency purposes, they are provided with standby generators.
The lighthouse staff at various islands has been engaged in drills on the protection of the islands–with a view to strengthening the combat readiness in a region that is a red zone in terms of tension and conflicts.
Vietnam maintains a high alert in the South China Sea (SCS) over multiple claims of territorial sovereignty in the region. The Spratly archipelago boasts of nearly a 100 islands, reefs and atolls which are under dispute between China and other ASEAN countries including Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Spratly Islands are vital as they lie in strategic shipping lanes of the SCS. The area is a rich fishing zone besides being a reservoir of oil and gas. China has been laying claim to the entire region and has also installed a permanent presence by putting up military facilities. It has created several artificial islands as well. Baring Brunei, the defence forces of the other South-East Asian countries have occupied many of these islands.
In the last few months alone, China has violated the air and sea spaces of a number of countries in the region, prompting many to lodge diplomatic complaints with China or even muster their own forces. Earlier this month, Malaysia had to scramble its jets after it detected a violation of its airspace by 16 Chinese aircraft.
Vietnam has formed its own maritime militia in response to the same by the Chinese, while the Philippines recently deployed additional ships to strengthen its maritime patrols to deter China. The Philippine forces sent additional vessels after more than 200 Chinese vessels were spotted near the Whitsun Reef, also called Julian Felipe Reef, within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.