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Government would do well to keep people informed about its actions on the East Sea conflict, prominent lawmaker asserts

The government stands to gain a lot, and lose nothing, if people know about the actions it is taking on the East Sea conflict, an outspoken legislator has said.

An informed public would help the government avert undesirable rifts and reinforce the belief that this regime is for the people and by the people, said Duong Trung Quoc, addressing the final session of the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, on August 6.

Quoc chided the government for failing to make public content of the most recent report on the East Sea situation.

Newly appointed foreign minister Pham Binh Minh presented the report to the 500-member National Assembly on August 4. The closed-door session held no debate on the report whose contents remain classified.

"Without a doubt, East Sea-related issues have been grabbing international attention. But the report failed to reflect a wider picture of the situation," Quoc said in his speech posted on the website of the National Assembly.

"The report only found its way to the agenda of the Assembly because of growing demand from the public and lawmakers," Quoc said. "It should have, in the first place, received greater attention from both the house and the government.

"We are not exaggerating anything. We are not instigating anyone. We are not making the public anxious. But we cannot treat the East Sea dispute as a normal matter," Quoc said.

"Basically, if the content of the report had been made public, it would have played a pivotal role in building up the people's confidence in what the government is doing, addressed their concerns, and enlisted their support."

He said the need to maintain "our soft diplomacy" in handling foreign affairs-related issues was understandable, but what mattered most to people was "confidence and a straightforward attitude.

"We need to tread carefully but we must also avoid creating any undesirable rifts or conflicts with the people."

Beijing has yet again violated Vietnam's sovereignty and jurisdiction by conducting geological exploration activity off the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelagoes, Vietnam's foreign ministry Nguyen Phuong Nga said Monday. On August 2, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that from June 13 and July 30, China's Geological Exploration Bureau cooperated with France on exploration activities west of Hoang Sa and north of Truong Sa.

Historian Duong Trung Quoc speaks at the final session of the National Assembly on August 6

Quoc said emulation of the nation's founding father, Ho Chi Minh, should be manifest in "how well we follow the principle he made famous "˜the people act when the people know.'" The approach to handling the most recent East Sea report should not be immune from that principle, he stressed.

"I don't think only lawmakers are privileged to"¦ be kept abreast of information that should have been publicly announced anyway."

Quoc's position has been backed by both the public and international analysts.

"He has seen through the people's mind and spoken out their aspirations," wrote Tran Thanh Hoan, a reader who responded to Quoc's speech on the website of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper. "I hope the National Assembly and the government will be able to find common ground soon in order to live up to people's expectations and defend the country's sovereignty."

"It is reasonable to tell the public what Vietnam claims and why and it has done so for the international audience many times," said Mark Valencia, a veteran analyst on the East Sea dispute at the National Bureau of Asian Research in the US.

"I think Vietnam is on the right track. It is pursuing its claims peacefully through diplomatic channels and cooperation with other like-minded claimants," Valencia said. "It may consider joining the Philippines or other claimants in pursuing dispute settlement through the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] mechanisms."

Adam Fforde, a Vietnam specialist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, drew upon the Vietnamese traditional wisdom and philosophy of "give power, get authority."

"Really, it is a triangle the King, the officials and the people. If the King is too far from the people, he will be too close to officialdom, therefore powerless, and his people will be tempestuous and his realm chaotic," Fforde said.

"Only if the"¦ King is near to his people will he be far from his officials and so keep them under control, and then his realm will be orderly and his people at peace."

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