Highlights of Vietnam’s diplomacy in 2014

VietNamNet Bridge talks with Mr. Tran Viet Thai, Deputy Director of the Strategy Institute, the Academy of Foreign Relations, about the bright spots of Vietnam’s foreign affairs in 2014.

Thai said:

The most notable event in 2014 is China’s deployment of its oil rig in Vietnam’s continental shelf and Vietnam’s response. Before the oil rig incident, Vietnam - China relations were progressing in a favorable direction. During the visit to Vietnam by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, the two countries agreed to establish three committees for cooperation on infrastructure, finance and maritime cooperation. But China unexpectedly put the rig in the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of Vietnam. The incident not only affected the bilateral relationship, but also security in the region and the security, social order and safety in Vietnam.

There are two main groups of reasons for China’s act.

Firstly, China wanted to assert its ability of actual control of the irrational cow-tongue line on the South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea or East Sea). They might also want to test the response of Vietnam, ASEAN and the US, particularly after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Asia where he made strong commitments to security in this region.

Secondly, the factors within China: As we all know, the Chinese leaders have been conducting very strong security crackdown in Xinjiang, and at the same time launched a biggest-ever campaign against corruption. China arrested and prosecuted many high-ranking officials and generals and it might want to direct public attention to outside its borders.

What do you think about Vietnam’s behaviour?

I appreciate the behavior of Vietnam in the incident, including four key points:

Firstly, Vietnam was very persistent and proactive in handling the incident bilaterally. Vietnam proposed to China to negotiate not less than 40 times. This is great goodwill of Vietnam, thereby achieving consensus and broad support of world opinion.

Secondly, in the region, Vietnam made good use of the ASEAN forum, and for the first time after 20 years, ASEAN released a joint announcement with very strong words about the Bien Dong Sea. The 10 ASEAN countries reaching consensus on the issue sent a very strong message to China that Bien Dong Sea is not only a bilateral issue, but a problem of security of the entire region.

At the global level, Vietnam sent diplomatic notes to the UN General Assembly to affirm that Vietnam respects the UN Charter and international standards, and made clear the stance of Vietnam.

Thirdly, Vietnam used the role of the media very well, especially the international media. Vietnam invited both domestic and international reporters to take part in field trips and was proactive in providing information to the world. The major newswires in the world, such as CNN and NHK, used Vietnam sources, and international journalists reported directly from the field, creating considerable pressure on China.

Fourthly, the resolute and courageous behavior of the forces in the field: fisheries administration and coast guard forces are newly established units but these forces were very brave and patient to be present in the waters of Vietnam where China deployed its illegal oil rig. They actively avoided collisions and China’s provocation to call for Chinese ships and oil rig withdrawal from Vietnam’s waters.

Why did China withdraw its oil rig out of Vietnam’s continental shelf in mid-July?

China officially claimed that the oil rig had completed the task, plus it mentioned the weather elements (a storm was coming). But in the opinion of experts, a period of about 2.5 months is not enough for exploration and discovery of reserves of oil or gas in the sea, especially in the deep waters with a complex terrain as Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel Islands).

Perhaps politics remained an important factor. If it maintained the oil rig in Vietnam’s waters too long, China would have lost more than it gained, and Vietnam’s strong response and the international community’s protest was also a factor.

This year there were two important foreign trips: the visit to India by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the visit to Russia by Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. What is the significance of these trips?

Both Russia and India are very important strategic partners of Vietnam. They are also important factors in maintaining peace and stability in the region. The relationships with these partners are not only important in terms of geopolitics, but also in many fields such as economy, science and technology, energy and national security.

Russia is a traditional friend and a major partner of Vietnam with very essential cooperation. The visit of Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong took place at the moment Russia was handling the crisis in Ukraine and was facing sanctions and intense pressure from the US and the West. In short, the visit was very timely. The results are not only significant in politics. The trip also transmitted a strong message that Vietnam never forgets its friends. In addition, there were more substantive results through specific cooperation projects.

With India, since Prime Minister Modi came to power, we are witnessing a rapidly growing, dynamic India, with powerful steps to confirm the position of India in East Asia.

India has always attached great importance to Vietnam in its Look East policy and always affirms its support for the legitimate rights of Vietnam in the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of Vietnam, which are recognized under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS 1982). Conversely, Vietnam is ready to support India to play a greater role in the region and the world.

As with Russia, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to India not only created momentum for greater political beliefs, but also was a strong motivation to promote substantive cooperation between the two countries in various fields from energy to security and defense.

What do you think about Russia’s attitude in the oil rig incident? Russia’s voice was quite modest; was that because they were entangled in enormous economic relations with China?

The characteristic of international relations today is both cooperation and struggling. Currently Russia is moving closer to China, but Russia is also a very important partner of Vietnam. I think in today's international relations, for national interests, we need to be practical to avoid losses.

Looking back at the history of relations between the two countries since 1950, basically, Russia is a reliable ally. Russia can keep silent in a few specific cases, but for substantive and significant issues with Vietnam, Russia still cooperates fully and effectively. We should not require everything to be as we want while we are only one of the partners of Russia in the region.

This is the last question: Could the attitude of the US over the oil rig incident, its statement of objections against China’s cow tongue line, or its easing of the embargo on antipersonnel weapons on Vietnam be seen as bright spots in Vietnam’s external relations in 2014?

It is true that in 2014, there are bright spots in the Vietnam – US relations.

After the two countries upgraded the relationship, the deployment of the Vietnam - US comprehensive partnership has had positive developments.

Firstly, in the Bien Dong Sea conflict, the viewpoint of the US is very clear. This is an important point. On Dec. 5, the US State of Department released a 26-page report strongly criticizing China’s unjustified, illegal cow-tongue line. This is the first time the American State of Department publicly and directly criticizing the cow tongue in a scientific, convincing way both from a legal and political perspective. Moreover, this year the US Congress passed in both houses a resolution on maritime security in the Bien Dong Sea at an unprecedented consensus rate. It proves that the US has interest and long-term benefits in the region.

The US also announced publicly that the US respects the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam. Americans want a strong and independent Vietnam, which can afford to protect their country.

Cooperation in many fields, including cooperation on security – defense, is making substantial progress such as cooperation on demining, the Coast Guard, PKO, training etc.

In the long run, I believe that Vietnam - US relations will further develop and the US is really a strategic factor in the development process, in the face of foreign affairs, security and defense of Vietnam today.

Vietnam was recently elected to the UN Human Rights Council with a very high proportion of votes. This is a sign that the international community recognizes what Vietnam has achieved, especially in relation to basic human rights.

The second is the commitment of Vietnam on democracy and human rights is serious and reliable. Vietnam’s universal statements presented at the UN Human Rights Council, which included details of the results that Vietnam performed on the basis of recommendations of many member states, was highly appreciated.

How does Vietnam benefit from joining the UN Human Rights Council?

Firstly, joining this council will help enhance the image and reputation of the country. Secondly, participating in the UN Human Rights Council, the pressure and criticism of human rights on Vietnam also is reduced. Furthermore, participating in this council, Vietnam will be closer to the standards of human rights, because the crux of the UN human rights mechanisms is helping promote and disseminate the global value of human rights.

We not only participate in international conventions, but also step by step localize international standards, which the International Convention Against Torture is an example. Not any country can do this like Vietnam.

Interviewer: Huynh Phan

Source: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/


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