Hallmark of Vietnam’s defense external affairs

Reporter: What do you sum up Vietnam’s defense external affairs in 2018?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: 2018 was a busy year for Vietnam’s defense external affairs sector. In spite of the current complex international context, Vietnam still promoted and extended defense international cooperation in both bilateral and multilateral terms.

Regarding to bilateral defense relations, Vietnam focused on promoting defense relations with neighboring countries, particularly Laos and Cambodia, maintaining defense relations with ASEAN member countries. At the same time, Vietnam strengthened defense relations with major regional powers, particularly China. Among them, the country attached much importance to developing the bilateral defense relations with China, and in fact the bilateral defense relations saw a number of fruitful outcomes, especially the success in the fifth Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange hosted by both countries. 

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh

In terms of multilateral relations, Vietnam participated in various major regional defense and security forums, such as Beijing Xiangshan Forum 2018, Moscow Conference on International Security 2018, Shangri La Dialogue 2018 and so on. In most regional security forums, Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich led a high-ranking defense delegation to participate in and made remarks, expressing Vietnam’s viewpoints on regional and global issues, which were all strongly and widely advocated by delegations of other countries and international organizations as well as contributed positively to the successes of the events.

Other great achievement Vietnam attained in multilateral defense and security relations in 2018 is the successful deployment of its first-ever military unit (its first level-2 field hospital) to a UN peacekeeping mission. This demonstrated Vietnam’s great effort as the preparation process for the deployment of the hospital with more than 60 staff members and hundreds of equipment to a far-away country in Africa (South Sudan) was very difficult and complex. After the deployment, the UN leadership sent a letter of congratulations and thanks to Vietnam, emphasizing that no peacekeeping force of other countries could ever be deployed as quickly, and could ever take over the load of work and start the mission as effectively as the Vietnamese level-2 field hospital.

Reporter: You have been in charge of directing forces to prepare and hold all five Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange programs. What new contents do you think the two sides should add to the program to maintain it as a major event in the Vietnam-China bilateral defense relations?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: I just want to cite the conclusion made by the Vietnamese Defense Minister, General Ngo Xuan Lich and Chinese Defense Minister , Senior Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe during the fifth Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange to answer the question. The two defense ministers pledged that the two sides will continue to maintain this bilateral defense mechanism but will make it more plentiful, higher-quality, more effective in the coming years so that it can always be a light spot in the bilateral defense relations – a key pillar in the Vietnam-China comprehensive strategic partnership. 

Reporter: You have once said that the Vietnam-US relations have developed fast and effectively via cooperation activities in overcoming war legacy in Vietnam. What did the two sides conduct the cooperation program in 2018?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: In 2018, Vietnam continued maintaining defense cooperation with the US in line with the memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation signed in 2011 and the Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations in 2015, with a focus on cooperation in overcoming war legacy. The Vietnamese side held a ceremony to officially announce the completion of the project on detoxifying dioxin-polluted land at Da Nang airport at a cost of US$110 million, and actively made preparations for the start of a much-larger project on detoxifying dioxin-polluted land at Bien Hoa airport.

Thanks to the defense external affairs sector, efforts of Vietnam in overcoming war legacy have been strongly supported by other countries, including the US. In particular, 30ha of land nearby Da Nang airport used to be considered a dead zone, which has now been cleaned up and handed over to the local authority for socio-economic development.

Maintaining strategic balance

Reporter: International politics depends heavily on relations between major powers, which was clearly manifested in 2018. What position do you think Vietnam has in the relations between major powers?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: With its geo-politics, history and development properties, Vietnam is always on the line of strategic dispute between major powers. So few strategic changes of regional powers do not impact our country. In other words, Vietnam is within the strategic crossing area of major powers. In this complex context, what impresses me the most is Vietnam has still preserved the stability of its foreign policy and maintained the strategic balance, avoiding it leaning toward any side. The most important factor that has helped the country maintain its strategic balance with all major powers is that the country has pursued a foreign policy of independence and self-reliance along with its political stability, relatively fast economic growth and improved living standards of the people. In 2018, Vietnam welcomed 15 million international tourists – a impressive figure. The figure also showed that Vietnam is a politically stable country. 

Reporter: The world was strongly shaken due to the trade war between the two giant economies of China and the US in 2018. In late 2018, the world also saw a risk of a technology war between the two major powers. What opportunities and challenges may Vietnam have in this context?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: What made the world fluid and complex in 2018 is not only the trade war between China and the US, but also the difference between Russia and the US in various issues and diplomatic crisis among countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa. In this context, whenever we maintain a foreign policy of independence and self-reliance, we will not depend on any major power nor be drawn into a strategic competition of major powers. Not only Vietnam but many other countries have chosen such an independent foreign policy.

Vietnam contributes to easing the situation in the East Sea (South China Sea)

Reporter: In 2018, the Vietnamese Defense Ministry introduced basic contents of Vietnam’s defense strategy. What do you think the defense foreign affairs sector should do to contribute to the implementation of the strategy?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: First of all, preserving peace is considered one of Vietnam’s first and foremost priorities, alongside the protection of national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Second, we have firmly affirmed the role of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) in maintaining socio-political stability, protecting the Party, socialist system and people. Third, alongside protecting and building our Fatherland, the VPA should also participate actively in preserving peace and stability in the region and world. In other words, we engage in regional and global issues in a peaceful manner on the basis of international law to protect the national interests in harmony with common interests of the region and world.

Reporter: The situation in the East Sea was relatively placid last year. Do you think this has resulted from the country’s multilateral diplomatic activities in the region, which Vietnam’s foreign branch, including the defense external affairs sector, has carried out over the past years?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: It must be noted that the situation in the East Sea did not naturally become placid but this come from a number of factors: Increased engagement of big powers in the region; reactions from the international community, particularly reional countries; Vietnam’s foreign policy and outcomes of its foreign and domestic activities. But it is clear that Vietnam has contribited very polistively to easing the situation in the East Sea by promoting diplomatic activites last year.

Lat year, China and ASEAN also reached an agreement on enhancing negotiations on a code of conduct in the East Sea (COC). I think, regional countries need an efficiency-in-reality COC rather than a symbolic document. So a COC must contain regulations binding the member countries: To repect national independence, self-reliance and terrotorial integrity of every member country (no matter how big it is); to honor international law; to reject any illegally reclaimed, newly-built or militarized areas, which changes the status quo and triggers instability in the region.

Although the COC is signed between China and ASEAN to regulate the conduct of the member countries in the East Sea, this does not mean the East Sea belongs to only China and ASEAN countries. The COC should “open” the East Sea to other countries with interests and responsibility in the region in order to build a sea and airspace of peace, security, safety, cooperation and development.

The East Sea can be seen as a playground, in which any players with lawful registration can play. Those who play with each other more frequently and more closely should have a set of rules (a COC in the East Sea case), which aims to avoid clashes between them rather than ban the participation of other players.

Reporter: You have said that 2018 was a busy year for the defense external affairs sector that you are in charge of. In fact, you made a large number of visits to foreign countries, participated in various bilateral dialogues and multilateral forums. What did you feel when you were so busy with foreign activities last year?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: I have realized that the world has become more complex; as a result, defense relations have become more complex but more necessary. I’m always very confident in every foreign activity as our country has a constant and sound foreign policy.

Reporter: What messages do you want to convey to the People’s Army Newspaper and its readers on the occasion of the Lunar New Year?

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh: I would like to send complements to all staff members of the People’s Army Newspaper who have contributed significantly to the country’s achievements in external affairs. I hope more readers at home and overseas would be keen on reading the newspaper’s publications.

On the occasion of the Lunar New Year, I would like to wish the newspaper and its readers at home and overseas a successful and happy Lunar New Year.

Reporter: Thank you very much, the Deputy Defense Minister!

Translated by Thu Nguyen