PANO – At this point, the 14th Shangri La Dialogue is still echoed across social networks. Complex geo-political issues and Vietnam’s strategy on defending national sovereignty over its seas and islands remain hot topics for hostile forces to make use of in an attempt to distort Vietnam’s political, security and defense policy and strategy. Some have even asked whether it was time for Vietnam to abandon the “three no” policy: “No joining any military alliance, no allying its self with any country in military terms, no allowing any country to set up a military base in Vietnam, and no relying on one country to oppose a third party.”

From Vietnam’s theory, historical experiences and geo-political conditions, the Vietnamese people continue to uphold its unchanged principles of independence, self-reliance on making political policy and defence strategy in order to firmly protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In doing so, Vietnam is also trying to define good and effective directions to resolve the differences and disputes over seas and islands with involved nations on the basis of international law and its principles while preserving peace and independence for the nation.

For Vietnam, its seas and islands have been a key part of the Vietnamese people’s living and development space. Its seas and islands, including Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly), in the East Sea (South China Sea) have for centuries been an inseparable part of the country, and multiple generations of Vietnamese have depended on the seas and islands. In fact, Vietnam is a marine country, which possesses 3,260 km of coastline and some 1 million of sea with rich natural resources. It can be said that national seas and islands are a very valuable gift that nature has granted to the Vietnamese people.

Minister of National Defence General Phung Quang Thanh talks with troops of Division 312, Military Zone 1. Photo:

For regional nations and the world as a whole, the East Sea, which surrounds the two Vietnamese archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, serves as the second busiest maritime lane in the world. So it plays a very important role in regional and international sea transportation.

For the USA, the East Sea is the major operational area of the 7th Fleet. According to statistics, some 90% of goods of the USA and its allies goes via the East Sea. For China, some 50% of its oil imports and 70% of its exports are transported on the East Sea; for Japan, it is 70% and 42%, respectively. It is the reason why major powers define freedom of navigation and security in the East Sea as being in their national interests, and that is why the USA has adopted the “pivot strategy” toward the East Sea amid tensions and destabilizing incidents in the region.

Many observers hold that China’s illegal ongoing reclamation of sub-water features and possible establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East Sea in the future are to make “blood clots” in the regional and world bloodline, which will cause a "stroke" to a number of major economies. Political, economic and military crises in both regional and world scales will loom large if the abovementioned moves are not immediately halted and the situation does not improve.

Vietnam are resolutely struggling for justice and firmly protecting its territorial integrity but it should rely on itself and have its own policy and strategy. Many historical documents show that during the two recent national resistance wars in the 20th century, major powers sometimes supported Vietnam but they also shook hands with the enemies of Vietnam in other times, sacrificing the bilateral friendship for their national interests. As a nation with its tradition of leniency, although we never forget the past, we still want to make friends with all nations in the world provided they honor the Vietnamese principles. These include: respecting the Vietnamese self-determination, including the Vietnamese self-determination over the country’s political regime; respecting national sovereignty, territorial integrity; respecting UN Charter, international law, especially the UN 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In bilateral and international relations, Vietnam wishes to bring into full play good traditions and positive results, and it always remembers the support and assistance of nations during its national liberation and unification wars. However, Vietnam publically denounces distortions of history made by a number of international media agencies, aiming to damage the Vietnamese effort to establish and promote new relations for its national interests as well as for international peace and prosperity. As the two major powers in the region and world, the USA and China should share the Vietnamese view and good deed.

Nevertheless, there is still a question of how to minimize political differences and disputes over national interests, and expand relations between Vietnam and other countries.

First, everyone should completely change the Cold War era’s political thinking. In other words, people should stop thinking that differences in political regime and ideology can generate dispute over interests and/or armed conflicts. Facts show that contests on national interests was the cause of most of the wars in the 20th century. That origin of war still remains right but its concept has been extended to action of (a) nation(s) breaching common interests of the international community, such as peace, security and respect of international law.

Regarding the bilateral relations between Vietnam and the USA, the road to cooperation for mutual benefits despite the political differences was opened in July 1995 when the two sides announced to normalize their relations. So far, the bilateral cooperative relations have continued for 20 years. The bilateral relations were really brought to a higher level when the two state leaders signed an agreement on comprehensive partnership during the official visit of the Vietnamese President to the USA in July 2013. The comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and the USA covers all areas, including defense and security. In particular, the two sides are also trying to wrap up bilateral negotiations on the transpacific partnership (TPP), a new and high-level economic cooperation.

With mutual trust and respect, the comprehensive partnership is based on such fundamental principles as: respecting each other and common interests; respecting the UN Charter and international law; respecting each other’s political system, independence and territorial integrity. In Vietnam’s view, any differences in political system, legislation and other areas, including human rights, between Vietnam and the USA must be addressed via open dialogues and talks on the basis of respecting each other’s political institutions and avoiding taking some difference in institution or law as a condition for the development of the bilateral relations.

In the East Sea issue, Vietnam’s view is clear: Vietnam’s seas and islands, including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, belong to the country. Vietnam resolutely protests any breach of its national sovereignty, any activity to change the status quo, especially the reclamation of islets and features and building of man-made islands serving an illegal claim for sovereignty and controlling freedom of navigation in the East Sea. To deal with sovereign disputes, Vietnam reconfirms that peaceful solutions on the basis of respecting international law must be applied. Vietnam strongly opposes the use of force or threat to the use of force in order to gain sovereignty in the East Sea.

As mentioned above, the East Sea is important to regional nations and international community. Vietnam welcomes the participation of countries in dealing with differences in the East Sea via peaceful approaches, on the basis of international law, ensuring freedom of navigation and aviation in and above the East Sea. Vietnam is calling on parties to restrain themselves to avoid risks while operating in the East Sea. Vietnam also reconfirms its agreement on the ASEAN Summit’s Statement and sees an important need for a code of conduct (COC) in the East Sea.

In its long-standing history, the Vietnamese people have undergone many national protection wars. Perceiving the past lessons and experiences, which have been cumulated by multi-generations of the Vietnamese people, we have drawn up our abovementioned basic principles for the current national defense cause. And these principles orient all Vietnam’s relations with other countries and the rest of the world.

Written by Bac Ha

Translated by Thu Nguyen