In what context did Phoenix TV invite you to join the interview?
Phoenix is a global satellite television broadcaster, one of the most influential television stations within the Chinese community. “Nhat Ho Nhat Tich Dam” (the talkshow that Dr. Phan joined) is a global monthly talk show on Phoenix, which is broadcast to over 150 countries in the world. The talk show is hosted by famous presenter Hu I-Hu. The talk show is broadcasted on Saturday night and re-broadcasted on Sunday afternoon.
As the tension in the East Sea was escalating, the Phoenix TV channel planed to hold a talk show with the participation of scholars from South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, mainland China and Vietnam. (Some were interviewed in the form of video conferencing and some were directly interviewed at the studio.)
Phoenix asked Vietnam’s Institute for Chinese Studies to recommend a scholar for the show and the Institute recommended me. I thought that this was a chance to express my viewpoint about the East Sea disputes to let Chinese people know what are right, what are wrong in the disputes.
How was the interview conducted?
The talk show was filmed and broadcasted around two days later. Before filming, Phoenix TV sent questions to me and asked me to answer in writing. I sent them the answers in Vietnamese and Chinese. I told them I would only join the show if Phoenix does not cut any word from the written document. They agreed. They told me I have 30 minutes in the show.
However, as many scholars participated in the talk show, I did not have enough 30 minutes. In the show, I only answered two questions completely. The third question (about the nature of the Vietnam-China disputes) was cut to give time for the question No. 4, which Phoenix said it is more important.
For this question, I basically spoke my main idea, not completely due to the shortage of time. Question No. 3 is my favorite but I did not have time to talk. However, I hope that all of my answers will be published online as they promised. I do not know whether the commitment is realized or not.
I did not watch the show on TV because Phoenix’s programs are not broadcast in Vietnam. I sent my answers in Vietnamese and Chinese to my friends in China and asked them to help compare the written answers with the broadcasted show.
My friends told me that the contents of the written document and the talk show are similar. They also said that Phoenix ran my answers in Chinese language on the screen because I speak in Vietnamese during the show. This shows Phoenix’s objectivity.
You were not at the studio but what did you feel about the atmosphere of the talk show?
The atmosphere at the studio during the talk show was quite “hot”. A scholar made sharp comments about Vietnam. At that time, I was managed to answer him directly but the presenter gave micro to the scholar in Taiwan.
But I was glad to listen to a Chinese scholar who said: “The two countries (Vietnam-China) have to hold each other’s hands to become wealth-off societies in the middle of the 21st century”.
I also heard someone from another country say: “Vietnam and China need to sit together to seek the reasons, to negotiate to promote their good relations. They should not let’s clashes by force occur”.
After the talk show was broadcasted, what feedback have you received from the audience, especially Chinese?
I think the feedback is positive. Phoenix is among the most popular and highly reputed TV channels in the Chinese community in the world, so I want Chinese to know the truth in the East Sea. Some friends of mine told me that the second broadcast attracted more viewers. Perhaps the first broadcast made good effects.
I joined the show to bring information to Chinese friends, not Vietnamese audiences because Phoenix programs are not broadcast in Vietnam and Vietnamese people already know what I said in the show.
But I’m very surprised about the effect of the show in Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands people have read the interview online and I received hundreds of phone calls and text messages from Vietnamese readers at home and abroad in only one week.
I remember the phone calls of two women, one from south Vietnam and one from a foreign country, who almost cried on the phone. They thanked me to help them understand the situation. They said from now on they could be very confident.
In the interview, you said when the two countries sit together; they have to “sit straight”. What do you mean?
Many people asked me this question. My answer is simple. The back is straight; the heart is straight, too – straightforward and honest. Straight back will help us see higher and farer. Straight back will help us be bigger and more confident and reject the feeling of a small and weak country, if that feeling exists.
As vice chairman of the Vietnam-China Friendship Association, what do you think about the view of a majority of Chinese people about the East Sea disputes?
We had an out-spoken exchange with Chinese scholars late last year. I realized that there are facts they knew and those that they did not know. When I told them about this information, they were quite surprised. It meant that they did not have sufficient information.
Many Chinese academicians spoke the same viewpoint with the government on the media and the Internet. Perhaps they did not know the truth or they spoke that intentionally. However, there are different opinions.
Recently I read the opinion of a Chinese scholar, Major-general Qiao Liang, who said: “The thinking about the South China Sea (East Sea) of Chinese people is unclear. We do not consider whether our viewpoint and claims of sovereignty are suitable to international law or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or not. What is the concept of exploring the sea together that we raise and emphasize in details? Do we discuss it with related countries or it is only a vain appeal?”
Even Chinese scholars doubt China’s claims of sovereignty through the U-shape line.
How to bring the objective truth to Chinese people?
My interview transcript on Phoenix TV is also in Chinese language. I don’t know which TV channels of Vietnam that I can introduce it so Chinese people can read it. It’s pity that we don’t have any TV channel in Chinese.
This is very important. We don’t make propaganda. We only need to tell the truth. If we had a TV channel for Chinese people, they would have known that the recent incidents did not happen accidentally and Vietnam did not threat to use force. If Chinese people knew that many Vietnamese fishing boats were captured by China, Vietnamese fishermen had to pay ransom to be set free and to take back their fishing equipment and Vietnamese seismic surveillance ships were harassed, they would have understood why Vietnam had to respond.
To solve the tension in the East Sea, what should we do?
I have said that we cannot move Vietnam far from China. The two countries are neighbors because it is the decision of the Creator, history and we cannot change it. We have no way to accept the geological position that we have, from which to build good relationships with our neighbor, to benefit both.
It is important that which position we are and how we behave. I’m an optimistic man and I strongly believe that disputes will be solved in a positive way.
Dr. Vu Cao Phan is a doctor of military art history, a former lecturer at the Institute of Defense, assistant to the Minister of Education and Training. He is also vice chairman of the Vietnam-China Friendship Association.