The People’s Army Newspaper would like to introduce a number of articles on General Phung Quang Thanh and his dedication to enhancing the defense diplomacy written by officers who worked side by side with the general.

In realizing the Party’s and State’s guideline on proactive integration and deep participation in the process of shaping regional security structure, since 2006, after the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) mechanism was set up, the military has actively, proactively, and responsibly engaged in and contributed its part to consolidating ASEAN’s central role in the regional security mechanism under the leadership of the Central Military Commission and the Ministry of National Defense. These firm, durable, effective steps had created an important premise for Vietnam to successfully host the fourth ADMM and the first ADMM Plus (ADMM+) in 2010. In his capacity as Chairman of ADMM/ADMM+ in 2010, General Thanh successfully chaired discussions, contributing to the overall success of Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2010.

Gen. Phung Quang Thanh (in suit) at Thailand Defense Expo in 2009

Acknowledging the importance of organizing ADMM+ to the position of Vietnam in particular and ASEAN in general, the Central Military Commission and General Thanh himself regularly and closely developed orientations and issued timely directions on the preparation for and specific organization of the event. The general also paid due attention to every detail, even the smallest one to make thorough preparation for the first ADMM+ to ensure it a success. So far, ADMM+ has entered its eighth edition, and Vietnam hosted the event the second time in 2020.  However, the development marks of ADMM+ mechanism are always associated with the success of the first ADMM+.

It, therefore, can be affirmed that General Thanh made important contribution to and left strong impression on Vietnam’s external affairs in general and defense diplomacy in particular, raising the position and role of Vietnam in the international arena, especially in the process of shaping regional security structure, thereby driving us to effectively achieve the strategic missions of national construction and safeguarding.

Personally, I learnt about General Thanh through conversations with then Chief of the General Staff Dao Trong Lich. Later, by chance, I received a phone call from him who had replaced Chief of the General Staff Le Van Dung. At that time, I headed an external affairs-related unit. I myself was both happy and worried because I did not know what he wished me to report. I boldly asked him, and he calmly said that, “Knowing that you are knowledgeable about foreign relations, I just want to meet.”

He received me at his office and happily said, “The Party’s foreign policy is defined in national party congresses’ documents and resolutions. The question is that which issues defense diplomacy should focus on.” He raised a series of issues, named countries, talked about their relations with Vietnam and what the next step was. At that time, I was really happy because this general growing up from the war had strong command of foreign relations. I just added to the ideas he was interested in such as what the defense diplomacy did well was to early safeguard the Fatherland from afar and how to treat major powers and friend countries. After the nearly three-hour-long conversation, I did believe that he would be a wise leader, commander in his capacity as Chief of the General Staff and higher positions.

In 2003, I was promoted as Director of the Department of Foreign Relations under the Ministry of National Defense. In this position, I had more chances to directly work with him, so I could be aware of his strategic vision and specific directions. I still remember that I accompanied him during the visits to Southeast Asian countries with Singapore as the first stop. Apart from the contents of the plans which were reported two to three times and approved by the Standing Board of the Central Military Commission and higher levels, he actively and carefully paid attention to how to walk, to speak, and to dress.

In 2006, he was Vice Secretary of the Party Committee of the Central Military Commission, Ministry of National Defense, replacing General Pham Van Tra. Also in this year, Gen. Thanh visited China in his capacity as Minister of National Defense. The visit’s contents focused on border cooperation and exchanges at sea between the two navies. I remember vividly that to prepare for the first ADMM+ to be held in the next four years in Vietnam under the chair of the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, he tasked us with developing plans, working with agencies inside and outside the Ministry of National Defense to prepare contents, protocol, guarantee and security work, and more. He pointed out specific contents to be reached each time I reported to him, from skillfully handling with major and regional countries to reach consensus to the safety and protocol for the meeting. He also came up with the idea of a souvenir with blue background, in S-shape, and including the flags of eighteen countries to present to participating defense ministers. After consideration, I recommended him to allow to make use of that idea to create a symbol and a souvenir for ministers participating in ADMM+ in 2010 hosted by Vietnam.

Gen. Thanh visits his old friend Haji Mohammad Yussof, former Chief of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, during his visit to Brunei to participate in the ADMM in 2013.

It was his meticulosity, thoughtfulness, sincerity, straightforwardness that helped us organize the meeting successfully. Not only domestic leaders, but also international friends and participating defense leaders at the first ADMM+ highly valued General Phung Quang Thanh’s role and position in the success of the meeting.

During overseas trips, apart from foreign relations-related contents, he also spent time learning more about defense industry, such as features and effects of each weapon and equipment of partners and organization, equipment, training, and corps of the militaries of other countries to draw lessons to build, equip, and train our military.

General Phung Quang Thanh was a defense leader, a senior commander with profound strategic vision, calm, specific, and thoughtful commanding style, which created confidence for juniors. He was also an elder brother, a comrade for diplomats like us to follow, strive, and grow.

By Lt. Gen. Pham Thanh Lan, former Director of the Department of Foreign Relations under the Ministry of National Defense

Translated by Mai Huong