Three messages of the Vietnamese Prime Minister

VietNamNet Bridge - Shangri-La 2013 closed but its echo still continues. Perhaps, since the Vietnam War, the Asia Pacific region has never been in need of the things that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung stated at Shangri-La, as the representative of Vietnam.

PM calls on dialogue partners to build trust

PM nguyen tan dung, keynote speech, shangri-la 2013, singapore, strategic trust, ASEAN, East Sea

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in at Shangri-La. Photo: Tuoi Tre

More than 400 politicians, diplomats, militarians and scholars were present at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue 2013. But the audience were the governments and the people in the region, even from outside the region such as the EU – the entity that wants to participate in the dialogue from next time.

Singapore is still seen as a great talented organizer of big events and once again they were successful because the regional security topic is the biggest concern at present. The speech of more than 3,600 words by the Vietnamese Prime Minister focused on three key messages from the perspective of history and time.

Win with trade, lose with conflict

When classical economist David Richardo mentioned the comparative advantage between countries as a condition to promote trade, perhaps he also wanted peace for nations. Because, once they focus on trade, countries will have to reduce conflicts.

In fact, since 1945 the human race has not had to witness the third world war, and one of the important reasons is that all countries are aware of the importance of building prosperity. Prosperity and happiness, peace and friendliness are the values that can prevent  fears and the motivation to go to war.

In the theory of international relations, the conditions for cooperation among nations is a win-win situation. Although the ideal ratio is 50/50 or 70/30 but it always happens is that both sides will benefit.

For example, joining the WTO, countries can suffer loss in this market but in other markets they will benefit. Vietnam suffers trade deficit with China but it enjoys trade surplus with the United States. In bilateral relations, importing a lot of goods may result in loss of financial balance but it meets the needs of businesses and consumers in the country. In short, trade will make good commonwealth compared to the absence of trade.

Richardo was right and today even the opposing opinion or group interest cannot stop the trend of liberalization of global trade. For example, protection groups cannot stop the free trade agreements that are booming in Asia-Pacific region. Besides RCEP, which is initiated by ASEAN, are TPP and a series of FTAs with deep commitment to freedom.

But the beautiful painting of trade is being threatened. Trade needs transport routes. Assuming a conflict occurs in the East Sea, two-thirds of goods movement in the region will be interrupted. A gunshot will not only threaten to a ship but also cooperation processes in the region. Because if only a gunshot resounds, the memories will come back and the memories of Asia-Pacific is inherently with hidden suspicion, loss and even hatred. A clash, no matter how small it is will threaten the achievements that the countries in the region had to struggle in a very long time to have. Peace in the region which have fragile elements.

In war, no side wins. In addition to mobilizing resources for the war machine that should have been reserved for schools, hospitals, amusement parks, nations must accept the sacrifice of their children. In the wake of the global conscience, plus the tremendous impact of the media, the price to pay for a gunshot is not small.

Nations should always be aware of the danger of threatening behavior, coercion, aggression and more dangerously, it is the use of violence in international relationships -- that is the first message of the Vietnamese Prime Minister in Shangri-La.

Faith - prerequisite of peace

The second message and also the subject of the speech of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, is the strategic trust, even though countries in the region have tried to build trust.

For example, in the three processes of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the first process is to build trust. Two other processes are preventive diplomacy and conflict resolution. The Shangri-La Dialogue is also a good tool to build trust. In addition, the existing regional cooperation mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meetings Plus (ADMM+) as well as the Shangri-La Dialogue offer the opportunities to foster multilateral security cooperation and find solutions to the arising challenges and the measures to build trust. But it is not enough.

The problem is not only the quantity but also the quality. Trust must be deep enough, must be made at a strategic level. It must be seen as an asset, a general obligation of all countries in the region.

But reality is not what you expect, otherwise there would have not had increase in defense spending of other countries in the region in 2012, which far exceeded the total national income of many countries in the region; there would have not had conflict and collision in the East Sea and East China Sea; there would have not had tension on the Korean peninsula; and the countries that share the Mekong River would have had more cooperative behaviors on the Mekong mainstream.

That fact will worsen if the region does not really focus on building trust. Trust is the only way to help the countries overcome the "security dilemma" in which country A’s improvement of its national capacity interpreted by country B as an action to prepare aggression; in turn, when country B builds its national power in order to improve response capabilities, country A will have the same interpretation.

In relations between countries in the feudal period, sometimes building positive attitudes generally was only done through things as security. Nowadays, it seems that the confidence-building is more difficult because the society, population and everything are in larger-scale and more complex. The world is unpredictable and there is no room for miscalculation. Those who follow the realism in international relations say that competition between nations is inevitable. But they do not believe that war is inevitable. Because alternating between conflicts of benefits and violence is the conflict management capacity of human beings.

In this context, the East Sea became a big "laboratory" of the world for the trust between nations.

Trust has helped nations sign millions of agreements with each other. The common protocol of the world today is to avoid a major war. But what is happening in the region shows that for good governance of disputes, all must begin from trust.

The primary responsibility belongs to big powers

The speech by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also pointed the third message: major countries play a particularly important role in this process, in maintaining peace and stability of the world and the region.

After all, international relations are dominated by the relationship between the major powers. It is practical standpoint. So when the big countries cannot "sit" together, the remaining countries have reason to worry. On the other hand, the small and medium countries also do not want compromise among the major countries to sacrifice their interests.

From their perspective, the small countries cannot evade responsibility and show goodwill. The messages that Vietnam desires to establish strategic partnership with all countries of the Security Council of the United Nations (including the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France) is a practical standpoint. Perhaps having a positive relationship with major countries is desired by any country.

And the world has awaited the moment Vietnam claims to participate in the UN peacekeeping force. Vietnam’s defense policy is that of peace and self-defense. Vietnam will not be a military ally to any country and will not allow any country to set up military bases on Vietnamese territory. Vietnam will not ally itself with any country to counter another.

In the past years, sustained high economic growth has enabled Vietnam to increase its national defense budget at a reasonable level but lower than that of economic growth. Vietnam’s army modernization is only for self-defense and the safeguard of our legitimate interests. It does not, in any way target any other country.

Peacekeeping is a shared responsibility of large and small countries, in which big countries must have greater responsibility. If large countries do not prove to be so, they will lose confidence in themselves and thereby also take away a part of the world’s trust.

Thach Ha

PM nguyen tan dung, keynote speech, shangri-la 2013, singapore, strategic trust, ASEAN, East Sea