Mr. Tran Viet Thai
Commenting on the content of the 29th National Diplomatic Conference, Mr. Tran Viet Thai said: Everyone agreed that the face of the world is developing in an extremely complicated way, at a very high level, and it makes a very strong impact on the peaceful environment of Vietnam. Many crises have occurred in the Middle East, Europe …, and especially in the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea). Secondly, the global face is now in the transition period before the new one is formed.
Could we identify the new face of the world?
The new face of the world is more likely to be multi-polar, because Group 2 (G2) (the US and China) will not be formed as China is not strong enough to influence the face of the world.
Thirdly, the Asia – Pacific region is witnessing many shifts in power, the market economy, growth … And in these shifts, Vietnam must find an appropriate position for more deeply integrating into the world, exploiting advantages and avoiding “toxic winds”.
Vietnam is actively integrating into the world but global developments are very complicated. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Vietnam signed recently is facing opposition from many US congressmen and even two presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Negotiation for the Vietnam-EU Free Trade Agreement has finished but the UK has just announced its withdrawal from the EU. How did the 29th National Diplomatic Conference acknowledge these difficulties?
It is true that there are difficulties in the approval process of the TPP in the US, but we have to recognize it is a long-term problem and it is the US administration’s commitment to the region. The conference said that the TPP will be approved, but it will last longer than initially expected, and the failure is unlikely.
For the trade agreement with the EU (EVFTA), the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not make much impact on other countries, and the commitments with these countries will be still effective as originally planned.
Vietnam may sign an FTA with the UK alone and the US has already proposed that idea. When they officially withdraw from the EU, we may have to launch another round of negotiations with the UK. Thus, the implementation process will be slowed down, and create more issues that the government of Vietnam has to handle.
Fortunately, Vietnam has taken the initiative to negotiate the EVFTA early so it was already signed. Other ASEAN countries such as Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines are still in the stage of negotiations.
Overall, the conference said that Europe is experiencing some internal problems and it will have to focus on internal consolidation before taking into account other issues.
The diplomatic strategy of Vietnam in recent years has always given priority to setting strategic partnerships with major and regional partners. Vietnam has established strategic partnerships with the P5 (the US is comprehensive partnership but in fact it is a strategic partner) and the key countries in the region such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines. So what is the difference of the new diplomatic strategy of Vietnam?
We have basically built the comprehensive and strategic partnership with key partners around the world and in the region, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, most of the major countries in the G7, G20 and Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in the ASEAN.
According to the action plan adopted at the conference, Vietnam will develop these relations in an effective way and maximally take advantage of outside resources from these relations to contribute to development diplomacy and the building of the creating government.
Foreign Deputy Minister Le Hoai Trung, after the ASEAN foreign ministerial conference in Vientiane (Laos), told the media that Vietnam attaches great importance to bilateral negotiations with China on the East Sea dispute. In bilateral talks with China, one of the key issues is the Hoang Sa (Paracels Islands), and this is also a major obstacle because in 2002 ASEAN and China could not sign the Code of Conducts (COC) and they had to accept the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), because China did not agree to add the Paracel Islands to the COC. Will Vietnam consider another option when negotiating with China about the Paracel?
Vietnam’s viewpoint is very clear that we advocate resolving disputes by peaceful means, based on international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), in finding the final solution; the parties do not use force, or threaten to use force; do not take actions that make the situation more complicated; strictly implementing the DOC to proceed to the COC.
Our policy is also very clear that for bilateral territorial dispute, the two sides must solve the dispute together and for multilateral disputes, all related parties must be involved. For security issues, maritime safety, we have to facilitate the countries that have interest in this issue to raise their voices.
We also reject the legality of the U-shaped line, as in the 8-point statement submitted to the International Arbitration Court dated December 5th 2014.
Foreign Deputy Minister Le Hoai Trung’s statement means that Vietnam attaches importance to this issue in the relations with China, focusing on negotiation channels to ensure a stable environment.
What is the viewpoint of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the outcome of the lawsuit against China of the Philippines? Will Vietnam follow that legal path?
The spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling and asked the parties’ restraint and respect of the verdict.
You mean that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has just supported the PCA’s action, not the result?
Yes. Vietnam is studying carefully the content of the ruling and there will be a different statement. The research has basic been completed, and we have made recommendations to senior leaders, and we hope to soon have a statement from Vietnam.
Regarding the use of legal path, in the aforementioned 8-point statement, the 7th point clearly points out that Vietnam reserves the right to use peaceful measures to protect the legal and legitimate rights of Vietnam in the East Sea. Peaceful means include various meanings, with diplomatic negotiation, mediation and arbitration courts.
Vietnam also recognizes that the use of the arbitration court is a civilized behavior in dispute resolution.
Vietnam will have to consider using this measure or not, and many factors, taking into account national interests and the friendship between the disputing parties.
With an ASEAN with signs of dissension, especially on the East Sea dispute, what will Vietnam do, as a responsible member?
It is true that building consensus on the East Sea issue within ASEAN is increasingly difficult, due to a number of countries that are not directly involved in the dispute are influenced or affected, and have their own calculations.
At the 29th national diplomatic conference, delegates also agreed to promote the role of Vietnam in the framework of ASEAN activities, contributing further to building ASEAN into a strong, united organization with a common voice in all matters, including the East Sea disputes.
The most important thing in this diplomatic conference is to increase the level of multilateral diplomacy, which puts priority on the United Nations and ASEAN.
Did the conference outline specific measures for multilateral diplomacy, particularly ASEAN?
In ASEAN, there are several groups of measures, including the group of political and security measures, which emphasizes in the building of consensus to strengthen the unity and institutions in the ASEAN framework. The second group is the propagation, promotion of ASEAN. The third group of measures is to actively exploit the advantages of the construction of three ASEAN Communities.
It is said that that the application of ASEAN’s principle of consensus is very difficult, when the interests of the member states on many issues are not the same. Should ASEAN apply the principle of majority as the EU does?
ASEAN has discussed the ASEAN-X, ie this issued has been discussed within ASEAN. However, at this moment ASEAN is still trying to maintain the unity, because we must understand that consensus in ASEAN is the consensus on each specific issue, not all issues. Currently, ASEAN still retains its principles, but has measures to ensure that it can make the decisions that the majority wait for.
For example, the statement of the recent AMM was issued a few days late. The United States, Japan and Australia quickly built a declaration to replace that one, with a very clear message: If you cannot do it, let’s us. It is a negative signal, indicating that if ASEAN does not reach consensus, the matters of ASEAN will be controlled by the big countries.
Therefore, ASEAN countries tried to promote it and one or two days later they issued a joint statement. Although a bit late, this joint declaration passed a strong message that ASEAN could solve its matters, although it had difficulty.
To maintain its central role and ensure its security role, ASEAN has to achieve consensus, and it is an order with the responsibility of each country and the whole community.