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Borders as Negotiated Spaces: the Cases from Vietnam-China Land and Sea Borders

Mon, June 22, 4:05 to 6:00pm, North Building, Floor: 8th Floor, N822


This paper looks at Vietnam-China borders as spaces of negotiation between different actors. Though controlled by states, borders are not the exclusive domain of state actors. Using two different cases of the maritime and land borders between Vietnam and China, this paper shows the different meanings of the borders and different incentives for the actors involved. The first case is the maritime boundaries between Vietnam and China that receive international attention due to their disputed nature and this dispute’s far-reaching impact on the South China Sea region. They are presented as a case of unsuccessful negotiation between the states. This paper however, argues that this border negotiation is ‘beneficial’ to the states as their role and importance is brought to the center. Hence, there is a consensus on both sides to attach high profile to the border dispute. Juxtaposed with the previous case is the equally complex nature of the land border. Economic activities and cross-border mobility are not directly benefiting states but rather local governments and people, hence there is a shared tendency by both sovereigns of ‘downplaying’ the importance of land border interactions. Vietnam and China face domestic and international pressure to address the increased cross-border illicit movements, including trafficking in persons, smuggling wildlife and illegal goods. But both bilateral and regional cooperation remain unsatisfactory, proving that the land border spaces are beyond states’ domain that actually delineates states’ sovereign limits. Despite this case’s illegal nature, it paradoxically reflects ‘successful’ negotiation among people, organized groups and non-state actors.