China Seminar | 10 January 2013

Whither the South China Sea: China–Viet Nam Relations Today

Stephen O'Harrow Stephen O'Harrow

China’s connections to the geographical region that is now Viet Nam go back well in excess of 2,000 years. They have resulted in very intimate links in areas of history, economics, & culture with the modern state of Viet Nam, engendering a relationship whose intricacies confound any attempt at simple description. Over nearly twenty centuries, countless wars have been fought between the two sides and, after Ngo Quyen’s defeat of the army of the Southern Han Dynasty in AD 939, these wars have nearly always ended in the defeat and withdrawal of Chinese forces from what the Vietnamese consider their sovereign territory. Thus, as seen from the Vietnamese viewpoint, the present tension between China and Viet Nam is yet another chapter in two millennia of conflict. The latest hot spot in this unhappy chronicle is the East Sea [known the Chinese as the “South China Sea”]. Our discussion will briefly summarize the history of Chinese-Vietnamese relations and delve into the details of the present happening in this rapidly unfolding story.

Professor O’Harrow came from Paris to join the faculty of UHM in 1968, where he is both Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Coordinator in Vietnamese language and literature. He has an AB degree in Chinese from the University of Michigan, a master’s in Chinese and Vietnamese from the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London, and a doctorate in Oriental Philology from the Sorbonne. He is a founder and past president of the professional assoc for teachers of Vietnamese in America and has lectured in China, Viet Nam, France and England.