During my 30-year career as a journalist, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on business trips with him many times, sometimes listen to his sharing about his life, and witness his activities both domestically and internationally. When talking about Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, I remember his trips the most.

Young officer with promise not to return until becoming experienced

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh told me about his first overseas business trip which took place right after he graduated from the Signal Officers' Training School in Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa province. That first trip abroad lasted... 5 years! At that time, although he is a son of a high-ranking officer, he was annoyed whenever hearing stories about young people receiving special treatment because they were children of senior officials. As a young man who loves challenges, after graduating, he met comrade Le Duc Anh, the then Deputy Minister of National Defense and Commander of the Vietnamese Volunteer Soldiers Corps in Cambodia, and volunteered to carry out international service in Cambodia. He promised not to return until becoming an experienced man.

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh at the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue in 2013

Before the trip, his lecturer at the Signal Officers' Training School implied that high-ranking officers’ children like him were used to live in a clover. He could go there for six months, and if he could not endure difficulties and hardship, he could ask superiors, and they would definitely let him return. And then the young man decided to stay in Cambodia for five consecutive years without returning home once. His sisters and brothers-in-law were so worried that they came to superiors and ask them to "persuade" him to come home.

First Lieutenant Nguyen Chi Vinh arrived at Pochentong Airport in a summer day in 1984 when the situation in Cambodia was complicated. The Khmer Rouge force conducted assassination and sabotage activities everywhere, including Phnom Penh. It was called a "trip abroad," but actually it was a fierce battlefield, where the distance between life and death was close.

Years fighting in Cambodia, from a soldier to an intelligence officer, gave him valuable experience and the ability to work hard for a common goal. He held different positions, from a combat officer to leadership. He once proudly told me, "All four intelligence units that I have commanded were awarded with the title of Hero of the People's Armed Forces.”

An intelligent and steadfast interlocutor

As Deputy Minister of National Defense in charge of foreign relations, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh traveled a lot. We used to joke that he was qualified to be a level-1 pilot in terms of flight time. He directly participated in directing and promoting changes in perception of defense relations of both protecting the territorial integrity and national sovereignty and preserving peace, friendship, and building cooperative relations with neighbors and countries in the region and the world. According to him, defense relations is the "compass" that helps the country's senior leaders properly navigate in the ocean of globalization, helping Vietnam integrate strongly into international community.

One of the special mechanisms in defense relations activities that Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh participated in with a prominent role was the defense strategy/policy dialogues at the deputy ministerial level, the working level after the ministerial level. During the time, Vietnam held deputy ministerial level defense strategy/policy dialogues with a series of countries such as Laos, Cambodia, China, Russia, the United States, India, the Republic of Korea, and Japan. Notably, Vietnam had a diplomatic-defense strategy dialogue with Australia. 

These dialogues were not only held with countries that share common interests with Vietnam, but also with partners that have differences. At many times, disputes over sovereignty became extremely complicated, threatening peace and stability in the region and the world. It required the head of the delegation to have strong will, wisdom, and acumen to respond to unexpected situations while conducting defense strategy/policy dialogues. 

Many times, in Beijing, Tokyo, Washington, Seoul, Phnom Penh, I witnessed Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh’s accurate, flexible but steadfast response to resolve complex situations, contributing to maintaining a peaceful environment, taking advantage of favorable international conditions for socio-economic development, maintaining national security, firmly protecting independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and enhancing the position of the military and the country in the region and the world.

The one who promotes “strategic trust”

Another activity that Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh participated in and made either silent or prominent contribution was international forums.

In 2013, the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue took place in Singapore. The open forum brought together policymakers, strategists, scholars, former government officials, journalists... from around the world to discuss issues related to international security and politics. The organizing panel invited the Vietnamese leader to give an introductory speech. On the evening of May 31, 2013, from the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue, the world listened to the message from Vietnamese leader that to sustainably maintain regional peace and security, countries in the region should build "strategic trust." Few people knew that the person shaping the concept of "strategic trust" was Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh.

I once asked him what exactly "strategic trust" is? He thought for a moment and replied, "It is through cooperation to build trust in terms of security and defense at the strategic level, but not just in words. Cooperation begins on each field and from the cooperation results, trust is strengthened, leading to deeper cooperation, on many aspects and fields. To do so, countries, especially major powers, must sincerely cooperate, clearly show determination, make appropriate investments, carry out commitments along with actions, and use actual actions to prove their responsibilities."

Three years later, in 2016, I saw Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, head of the Vietnamese delegation, calmly handling the situation at the 15th Shangri-La Dialogue.

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh (center) attending a seminar in Washington, the U.S. in 2019

While on the way from the bilateral meeting room with the Chinese delegation to the Shangri-La Hotel lobby, international reporters "forced" Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh and other delegation members into a crowded group. Reporters surrounded the Vietnamese delegation since they wanted to hear the point of view of the head of the Vietnamese delegation. While moving in the circle of international reporters, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh calmly answered all questions about Vietnam's consistent views and stance on issues related to regional and international security. That is, all countries need to cooperate and fight to resolve differences, prevent conflicts, strengthen cooperation for mutual development, build trust, and respect each other's legitimate interests. At the same time, countries should frankly struggle to find a common voice and common interests in resolving disputes and disagreements.

For his brothers and sisters, friends or assistants, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh is called with a close nickname, "Brother Nam;" for international reporters, he is "General Vinh,” who has for many years conveyed the voice of the Vietnam People's Army at international forums. 

Living a busy life to feel useful

During the time holding the position as Deputy Minister of National Defense in charge of foreign relations, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh made great contribution to promoting cooperative activities between Vietnam and the U.S. to settle war legacy in Vietnam.

Through official diplomatic activities and "people's diplomacy" through relationship with prominent figures in the U.S. political circle such as Senator Patrick Leahy and Senator John McCain, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh played an important role in successfully implementing the "Environmental Remediation of Dioxin Contamination at Da Nang Airport” project and promoting the dioxin remediation at Bien Hoa Airbase. He was also the person who directed the implementation of media activities as a bridge and promoted the search for information and remains of American soldiers missing in action, a focus of Vietnam's foreign policy in relations with the U.S.

He was also a person who made a lot of effort to the development and implementation of Vietnam's outstanding defense relations initiatives, the successful implementation of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM+) mechanism, as well as Vietnam’s first participation in the U.N. peacekeeping operations, contributing to affirming the role and position of the country which is deeply integrating into regional and global activities.

Now when he's gone, that work continue, bringing great benefits to the country.

Once, he told me about the terrible feeling of waking up at 10 o'clock in the morning and not knowing what to do, feeling like being a redundant, worthless person. That was why he chose a busy life to feel useful. Even when he was retired and struggled with his serious illness, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh still devoted himself to completing two tasks of great significance in his life: Writing and publishing a book about his teacher in the field of intelligence, Major General Dang Tran Duc and opening the Museum of General Nguyen Chi Thanh, his father with a gentle smile.

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh lived a quiet and brilliant life. As an intelligence officer and once in the highest position in charge of the defense intelligence sector, he lived a closed life, but as Deputy Minister of National Defense in charge of foreign relations, he played a prominent role in defense relations activities or at international forums. In any positions, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh worked tirelessly to realize his ambitions and ideals of serving the military, serving the people, and serving the country. 

Now he can rest in peace.

I bow in deep respect to bid last farewell to Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh!

By Yen Ba (former journalist of the People’s Army Newspaper)

Translated by Tran Hoai