During the past decade or so, Vietnam has emerged in the Indo-Pacific region as a responsible power by fostering economic engagement strategy with other nations in the region by market economy as well as becoming a stakeholder in regional security issues with the aim to secure peace and security. Besides engaging economically and politically with other members of the regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and other regional forums, Vietnam has built strong partnerships with India and Japan as well. Its relations with the US has also warmed.
Vietnam’s integration with the world marked a new milestone when the country hosted the 132nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly (IPU-132) from 31 March to 1 April, 2015 where a number of ideas and proposals were crystallized and consensus reached from other member countries. As a sort of diplomatic coup, Vietnam used the opportunity as the host to mark this occasion as a significant diplomatic event.
On the suggestion of the Vietnamese representatives, the IPU issued a joint statement calling for stronger commitment from all nations to avoid the use of cyber warfare, and called on the United Nations to promptly build an international convention ensuring cyber security and safety. Vietnam also actively contributed to the adoption of the draft resolution on international law relating to national sovereignty and non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and human rights during the meeting of the IPU Standing Committee on Democracy and Human Rights.
Pursuant to this, the members of the IPU committed to take the necessary action to carry forward proposed new sustainable development goals (SDGs) due to be adopted later this year. The success of the SDGs would transform the world and the lives of its people. Dubbed as the Hanoi Declaration, Parliamentarians from across the world reaffirmed their vision of sustainable development based on human rights, poverty eradication, peace and security. The debate on “The Sustainable Development Goals: Turning Words into Action” that resulted in the Hanoi Declaration highlighted the need for institutions such as parliaments, and decision-making processes to be strengthened so they are fit for purpose in realizing the new SDGs. The IPU adopted several resolutions that could impact on global peace and security.
In recent times, some countries are flexing their newly acquired military muscle and trying to rewrite global norms that define international laws on their own terms. This has posed a new threat to regional security. Maritime security is at the core of global concern as the bulk of global trade across continent takes place on open seas and securing this by respecting the United Nations Laws of the Sea is the need of the day and this should be binding on all countries. Unfortunately, what one witnesses in recent times that this is being violated by some countries without concern for other nations’ interests.
It was therefore appropriate that the Declaration called upon national parliaments to implement international treaties and resolutions on water management and the human right to water and sanitation through laws and budget allocations. Besides the issue of maritime commerce, water scarcity also demands urgent attention. This issue is already affecting one in every three people on the planet and in the absence of effective management of this critical resource, two thirds of the world’s population will be facing water shortages by 2025. Urbanization, population growth, climate change and environmental degradation are just some of the many factors putting enormous stress on water supplies around the world.
Water is likely to emerge as a major issue of dispute and conflict among nations soon. Already India and China are already engaged in a virtual water war as China continues to build dams in river Brahamputra, denying the riparian states their legitimate shares. Historical records reveal that civilizations have flourished across rivers as the case of Niles, Nilgris, Thames, etc would prove.
Therefore water management is not just an issue between two countries but a global issue now. Therefore the IPU resolution called on parliaments to advocate a dedicated and comprehensive water and sanitation goal in the new SDGs as access to clean water and sanitation remains part of the “unfinished business” of the Millennium Development Goals. Nearly 750 million people lack access to cleaner water and 2.5 billion are without improved sanitation. Effective water governance is required to make sure conflicts between communities and States are avoided.
Like water and maritime security, cyber security is another issue that is in global agenda to deal with. Countering the growing threat of cyber warfare to peace and global security by comprehensive measures is the need of the hour. The resolution suggested defining an international convention that would provide a united position on preventing cyber warfare. But the most significant resolution that emerged from the declaration was that member countries reaffirmed their commitment to democracy and an equitable international order based on the rule of law, while committing to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States and human rights.
The parliamentarians from across the world took note of the growing tide of terrorism sweeping the world and resolved to remain united by adopting a series of measures to combat the menace. In an emergency resolution adopted at the IPU-132, the member strongly condemned all terrorist acts and the steady escalation in such violence. Indeed, terrorism is not limited to any one region, nationality, or ethnic group. The members expressed concern that the on-going threat terrorism poses to international peace and security. Specific incidents such as in which organizations like Boko Haram and the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as Daesh, who are involved in targeting civilians, particularly women and girls, were raised as issues of concern. There were other issues of concern as looting and destruction of cultural property are happening in many places and should be stopped and perpetrators be brought to justice.
Because of the gravity of such issues, parliaments were urged to enact laws to implement UN Security Council resolutions, and to pressure governments on taking punitive action on those financing the Islamic State and Boko Haram. The IPU resolution, therefore, called for inter-State cooperation between intelligence and security forces to be developed so as to facilitate the exchange of information. The United Nations entities need to adopt emergency measures to support West and Central African countries fighting Boko Haram.
Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly Law Committee Le Minh Thong represented Vietnam at the function. Participating representatives debated the resolution during the previous IPU Assembly but could not be passed as no consensus could be arrived at. A number of recommendations from Vietnamese delegates were introduced at a series of other functions, such as the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians, the forum of young parliamentarians, the conference of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments, and the conference on achieving the Beijing vision.
Vietnam pledged to maximise its efforts to increase the female involvement in political spheres, combat gender inequality and violence against women and children and integrate gender-based issues into the legal system. The IPU-132 Assembly was the biggest multi-lateral diplomatic event ever hosted in Vietnam, offering an opportunity for the country to introduce Vietnamese people, culture and new developments to international friends.
India was represented by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Using the occasion, Vietnamese Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong reaffirmed Vietnam’s commitment to forge and strengthen the strategic partnership and take the same to a higher level. Vietnam also backed India’s Act East policy and comprehensive connectivity with Southeast Asia. Vietnam appreciated the contribution of constructive ideas to the IPU-123, and hoped that the traditional friendship between India and Vietnam will be more robust in the coming years.
For her part, Mahajan reaffirmed India’s strategic partnership with Vietnam and the broader region. Indeed, Vietnam plays a key role in furthering India’s Look East policy, rechristened during the Modi government as Act East policy. Apart from unearthing the potentials for mutual benefits, India and Vietnam share common perspective on the South China Sea, a hotspot in the region which is claimed partially or wholly by nine countries. By a series of unilateral measures, China is trying to impose its policy on the South China Sea on others. Vietnam and the Philippines are the only two countries which have stood to the Chinese challenge. Vietnam has invited India’s ONGC to undertake oil exploration activities in areas that it claims its own. This annoys China. This also increases the stake for Indian Navy to protect and defend Indian assets in the South China Sea from possible external threat. This also draws both India and Vietnam closer.
Indeed, there are enormous potentials for both the countries to explore new frontiers. Rightly, therefore, Vietnamese government urged the Indian legislature to back stronger partnerships across economics, trade, investment, tourism, science, technology, education and training, national defence/security, people-to-people exchange, and multilateral forum cooperation. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung expressed the commitment of the Vietnamese government to strengthen ties between the legislatures of the two countries. India’s Defence Minister’s recent visit to Vietnam underlined the common interests by both to cooperate in the defence domain. A direct flight service between New Delhi and Hanoi is already agreed upon and soon to start. This shall mark a new milestone in the bilateral relationship.
In short, Vietnam used the occasion to host the IPU-132 most meaningfully and this elevates Vietnam’s status in the comity of nations as a matured and responsible stakeholder on regional and global issues that need to be collectively addressed for peace and stability to prevail not only in the Indo-Pacific region but also in the world.