During the 16th Shangri-La Dialogue, which is being held from June 2-4 in Singapore, the South China Sea (SCS) conundrum will be one of the main topics to be discussed by top military professionals and defense ministers from more than 50 countries.
Vietnam is the second-biggest claimant country in the South China Sea, which it calls the East Sea, issue. To learn more about Vietnam’s views on the East Sea, Code of Conduct, regional peace and security and many other aspects, senior Indonesian journalist Veeramalla Anjaiah interviewed Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Bui Van Nam in Singapore.
The following are excerpts of the interview.
Question: ASEAN and China on May 18 reached their framework agreement on the Code of Conduct (CoC) in the South China Sea in the Chinese town of Guying. Though many details are not yet available, many analysts are already hailing it as a major step toward cooling down tensions. How do you see this framework agreement?
Bui Van Nam: Vietnam welcomes any activities that contribute to maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight in the East Sea in particular and in the region as a whole, including strict compliance with the DOC [Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea] document and pushing forward the conclusion of the CoC.
Over the past few years, much progress has been made in the process of building the CoC. Vietnam and other ASEAN members and China have been making efforts to speed up the finalization of a legally binding, comprehensive and substantive CoC.
It is the common interest of all countries to maintain peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight in the East Sea. Therefore, ASEAN always agrees to the early completion of a legally binding, comprehensive and effective CoC, which will contribute to ensuring peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight in the East Sea; creating a favorable environment to resolve the disputes by peaceful means and in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS].
Question: Mass construction that changes the status quo, as well as the militarization and the deployment of weapons systems in the South China Sea have been creating tensions and uneasiness in the region. What specific measures, according to you, should be taken to avoid conflict in the South China Sea?
Bui Van Nam: Mass construction changing the status quo, militarization and deploying weapons systems in the South China Sea may complicate the situation and escalate tensions, which seriously affect safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight and also threaten peace and stability in the region. These activities violate international law and the DOC.
Vietnam is a peace-loving country. We understand the consequences of conflict and wars; we believe that all progressive nations in the world love peace. So, to avoid conflict in the East Sea, I think we should focus on the following measures:
– First, all the countries must keep calm and exercise self-restraint; stop unilateral activities that lead to complex situations and changes in the status quo; demilitarize and not use or threaten to use force; strengthen dialogue to build up mutual trust and solve differences.
– Second, enhance cooperation and effectively implement existing preventive measures such as the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea [CUES], the ASEAN-China diplomatic hotline to address unexpected maritime incidents at sea and cooperation mechanisms between law-enforcement agencies.
– Third, ASEAN and China must finalize a legally binding, comprehensive and substantive CoC as soon as possible. As this will contribute to ensuring peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight in the East Sea; create a favorable environment to solve the disputes by peaceful means and in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS. And, while waiting for the CoC, all countries must comply with the DOC.
– Fourth, promote maritime cooperation in such areas as scientific research, marine and environmental protection, natural-disaster management, rescue and response to terrorism, piracy, human trafficking and illegal migration and so on. These activities will enhance understanding and limit spontaneous actions that may cause misunderstandings and ultimately conflict.
Besides these comprehensive and long-term measures to avoid conflict at sea are complying with international law, especially the principles of the UN Charter, the UNCLOS, the TAC [Treaty of Amity and Cooperation] and the five principles of coexisting in peace.
Vietnam supports any initiatives or cooperation mechanisms that are conducive to the maintenance of peace, stability and the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes based on international law, including the UNCLOS.
Question: What should ASEAN do to reduce tensions on the issue of the South China Sea?
Bui Van Nam: ASEAN must play a key role in maintaining regional peace and should be in the driving seat at regional and global forums. In term of the East Sea, ASEAN must unite since unity is the power and success of the association. Besides, ASEAN members should regularly exchange information, share experience and coordinate stances; respect the spirit of the law, encourage the active implementation of the DOC and push forward the signing of the CoC with China.
Question: What is Vietnam’s approach toward the South China Sea and regional peace and security?
Bui Van Nam: Our position on the East Sea issues is consistent in that, while waiting for a long term and fundamental solution, all parties concerned must exercise restraint and refrain from actions that could complicate or expand disputes; solve all the disputes on territory and jurisdiction rights by peaceful means and refrain from the use or the threat of use of force in accordance with international law, including the UNCLOS.
With regard to regional peace, security and stability, Vietnam supports cooperation mechanisms and initiatives contributing to the maintenance of peace, stability and settlement of disputes, differences and security conflicts through peaceful measures in accordance with international law. The mechanisms, in which ASEAN plays a central role, such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM), the ADMM Plus and the ASEAN Regional Forum, have contributed greatly to the process of building confidence and minimizing the risk of collisions and conflicts at sea.
By these efforts, Vietnam has always committed to actively cooperating with other members of ASEAN and out-of-region countries to maintain security, peace and stability in the region. Vietnam is willing to exchange information, cooperate and participate in mechanisms for regional peace and stability.
Question: What is your impression of the Shangri-La Dialogue?
Bui Van Nam: Over 16 years the Shangri La Dialogue has not only attracted more and more attention from senior officials but also the international media.
The Shangri La Dialogue is a forum for participants to exchange views and share experiences for a common goal and contributes to the maintenance of security, peace and stability in the region and the world.
In recent years, the Shangri-La Dialogue has been discussing hotspot security issues and challenges in the region; many ideas and initiatives produced from the Dialogue have been put into implementation, contributing to strengthening security cooperation, maintaining stability and peace in the region.