‘False’ Report on Vietnam Rocket Launchers Sparked Chaos in South China Sea

A destroyer of the South China Sea Fleet of the Chinese Navy fires a missile during a training exercise.


A Reuters report citing unnamed Western officials that Vietnam had deployed rocket launchers to the Spratly Islands and pointed them toward Chinese facilities led Beijing to call on Hanoi to “remember” the 1979 War that led to 137,000 Vietnamese deaths.

On Thursday, Vietnam again refuted a Reuters report that it allegedly deployed rocket launchers to bases in the Spratly islands — allegations that led Beijing this weekend to remind Hanoi about previous wars which many view as a not-so-veiled threat to attack Vietnam.

The diplomatic row began following an August 10 Reuters report suggesting that “Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers,” in recent months.

Reuters also reported that Vietnam’s foreign ministry said the information about the deployment of rocket launchers, based on unnamed Western officials, was “inaccurate.” Despite the countervailing statement by Vietnam and the lack of satellite photography or other tangible evidence to substantiate the report, the news outlet chose to run the story, sparking an international incident.

On August 11, the Global Times, a subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, published a piece titled “Restraint crucial to avoid new crisis in South China Sea.” The article warned that, “If Vietnam’s latest deployment is targeting China, that would be a terrible mistake. We hope Vietnam will remember and draw some lessons from history.”

The Hong Kong-based Asia Times asserted that Vietnam would only place rockets on the Spratly islands as a defensive response. “Even if it had made such a move – or will make any similar attempt in the future – that is mainly a defensive act and a reaction to China’s action in the South China Sea.”

Hanoi insists on the resolution of maritime disputes by peaceful means and in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).