General Nguyen Chi Vinh at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
Vietnam brought to the Shangri-La Dialogue clear messages: Vietnam wishes that the East Sea is the area of peace, stability, but based on the principles of equality and respect of international law. Vietnam settles disputes in the East Sea by peaceful and transparent solutions. Vietnam proposes to put an end to incidents in the East Sea, which can make escalation of disputes and especially can be the fuse for clashes.
No country and no forces have the right to place their own rules in the East Sea. No country is allowed to ignore the recognized international law or practices of the modern world today.
If there are conflicts in the East Sea, no one will be the winner. All involved in conflicts will suffer from losses, while all countries that have interests in this area will be affected.
Based on the above point of view, Vietnam brought up the event on May 26, (Binh Minh 02 incident) as an alarm for the violation of the international law.”
With recent developments in the East Sea, in your opinion, what are short-term and long-term solutions for Vietnam?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: For specific issues like the incident on May 26, we must see its nature based on international law. This is the incident that is serious in terms of nature and also long-term corollary. The cases that foreign ships intrude deep into Vietnam’s continental shelf are unusual in in-the-sea relations. This incident caused economic losses for Vietnam and was also an act of violence in civil name.
If violence is not refrained, it will escalate. What did China rely on to behave like that?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: There is only the nine-dotted line that was drawn by China, which, as I know, has not been recognized by any country or any international organization and which is not proven by any possible legal evidence. Whether China is taking the first steps to make this nine-dotted line into reality? If it is true, it will harm not only Vietnam’s interests, but the interests of many countries.
I want our people to understand that we can only base on ourselves to solve our problems. We believe that we can settle disputes in peace and still maintain our territorial sovereignty. It is too difficult but based on analysis of interests, we can hope. That hope is based on our trust on the leaders of big countries in considering their own strategic interests in the East Sea.
As General Le Duc Anh (former President) said ‘Leaders make decisions but the people have the biggest voice, the first subjects that we need to persuade are our people and Chinese people.
We directly solve disputes with the related country, not draw in others to create advantage, but we solve disputes in public and transparent manner, for example, the speech by Minister of Defense Phung Quang Thanh, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, will make the world understand who is right, who is wrong and they will decide, based on their conscience, that the reason belongs to which side.
We solve disputes by peaceful measures and we have grounds to be persistent to peaceful measures based on the spirit of strengthening unity, friendship, mutual-understanding and mutual-respect. In the world of globalization, China needs a good image to develop its diplomatic, economic and social relations.
In China’s development space, the south is the quite stable direction and ASEAN is the gateway for it’s expansion. Is it possible that China can “close” this gate and make countries in this region disagree with China’s policies?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: We believe that Chinese leaders understand this issue. Based on that perception, but our solutions will benefit us as well as China.
We have to strengthen mutual-trust and mutual-understanding with China. We want peace, friendship and we only want to keep our land and our waters under international rules and we need to maintain our independence and self-reliance in policies.
To defend the country, we have to build the people’s defense and people’s war, in which building defense potential is the key mission. We have to strengthen offshore fishing, call for cooperation and investment in Vietnam’s waters, to found the fishery patrol force, to develop Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago, etc.
Our people are patriotic and they are willing to do everything to defend the country. We need to help the people understand the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, our East Sea and how we and other countries should behave… so that each citizen has the spirit of struggling, but based on international law. We also need to make the world to understand who is right and who is wrong.
Returning to the Shangri-La Dialogue, General Vinh said:
“Someone asked me: ‘Are you disappointed with the speeches released by some countries that were previously very firm, but now their voices become gentle?’ I answered: “I see it, but I’m not disappointed because first of all, we don’t bet on their speeches. Secondly, I think that the May 26 event (Binh Minh 02 incident) took place right before the Shangri-La Dialogue, so the information about the incident and its corollary is not fully understood. I believe that once they fully understand it, they will reiterate this issue’.
In this open world of globalization, conflicts will not benefit anyone and they will affect every country.
In wars to defend our nation, we always combined the national strength with the strength of the age. That strength was the strength of justice, which was recognized by the world and even part of people of the countries that provoked with our country. That is the soft power, which is extremely important in the world today.
The case that foreign executive ships intruded deep into Vietnam’s continental shelf to operate is unusual in in-the-sea relations. This caused economic losses for Vietnam and it is an act of violence in civil name.
The last point is we need to build the modern, streamlined army, which is not equipped with weapon for attack but weapon for defense. We don’t join military alliances and don’t cause worry for any country in terms of threats of using forces. We have recently bought submarines and planes, etc., but all are for defense. Minister Phung Quang Thanh spoke at the Shangri-La Dialogue that Vietnam’s submarines only operate in Vietnam’s waters.
Is Vietnam’s current military ability enough for defense in the East Sea?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: As a military expert, I would like to say that it is never enough for equipment of any army in the world. We equip enough weapons for Vietnam’s military policy. I believe that with the above general strength, we can win in any war to defend our nation.
How can we control our waters to quickly detect and prevent intrusion of foreign ships?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: It is extremely difficult for all countries to control their waters. We are trying our best to control our waters. In the incident on May 26, harmless traveling is the right of other countries. We don’t have the right to ban, but we have to protect them. Chinese patrol ships’ violation began when they rushed to cut Binh Minh 02 ship’s cable.
How is the combination among the navy, sea police, border guard and fishery patrol forces to defend our sovereignty and our fishermen?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: Our policy is in civil conflicts, civil subjects solve the conflicts with each other under the supervision of legal agencies, based on international and Vietnamese law. The army will supervise to keep conflicts from escalating. For example, in the Binh Minh 02 incident, we did not turn the navy as the subject. It is different from many countries.
Some people asked me “why Vietnamese fishermen are fined and punished when they are arrested by other countries, but when foreign fishermen intrude Vietnam’s sovereignty and Vietnam’s law, Vietnam doesn’t fine them?”
Foreign fishermen are also poor laborers. Their fault is as not as big as the fault of their managers. We only ask them to commit to not repeat the violation again and provide them with food and oil to help them return home. This behavior is our tradition.
If Vietnamese fishermen violate other countries’ law, Vietnam agrees that they must be punished under the law but inhumane treatment against Vietnamese fishermen is unacceptable. Seizing their oil, water, food, equipment… is brutal act which causes danger to the life of fishermen. We strongly protest this but we don’t do the same as retaliation.
Should Vietnam consider the Philippines’ behaviors as a reference: setting up files to send to the UN?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: There are two questions. Firstly, the Philippines used its navy and air forces, why Vietnam did not? The most important thing is that we attain our goal: driving violating ships away from out waters. Our ship – Binh Minh 02 – is defended to continue its exploration activities in that area, and we protested China at official channels and we tell the world the incident to know who is wrong, who is right. Thus, our goal is achieved without using military force. This shows our restraint and our will to not let’s conflict occur.
Secondly, setting up files to lodge to the international court is an option; but actually, Vietnam and China still have to solve the case together. We don’t refuse this option but I think Vietnam’s current policy is sound. We don’t need that option yet.
What do you think about the possibility for the come of the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC)?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: COC is a necessary document for ASEAN and China to improve relations in the East Sea. ASEAN commits to well observe the DOC and progress to the COC. Indonesia said it would try to have COC later this year. Cambodian PM Hun Sen hoped to sign the COC in Phnom Penh next year, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of DOC. The ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting 5 also confirmed the need to urgently build COC.
However, there are many difficulties. ASEAN and China have not defined the roadmap for COC. But first of all, building agreement inside ASEAN in the effort to build COC is also the strength for struggling.
Some people compare ASEAN as a bunch of sticks. What do you think about this?
Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: We cannot expect that ASEAN will reach agreement on all issues. ASEAN chooses the common issues to create agreement and it is very lucky that the East Sea, peace and stability and the DOC are among them.
I expect to have COC, but I don’t see it as the absolute legal foundation to solve all disputes in the East Sea. We have to lay expectation on our own actions. We can rely on any country or any multilateral forum because these are supportive factors only.
They even discount the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, so it is not sure that the COC can be the solution.
Recent incidents in the East Sea show the difference between Chinese leaders’ statements and China’s real actions. What is your opinion?
The time will answer. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue showed China’s friendship and good will. We are waiting for specific actions to prove that good will. For a strictly managed country like China, it is difficult that the inferior doesn’t obey the instruction of the superior.
The Binh Minh 02 incident is serious because Chinese ships intruded deep into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. This is not the case that fishing boats hit fishing boats, but executive ships assaulted a civil ship in Vietnam’s waters. This is an act of violence.