Vietnam denies participation in joint military drills

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A senior military official squashes rumors that Vietnam participated in a US-Thai military exercise

Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Chi Vinh says Vietnam has no intention of joining the Cobra Gold joint military exercise in Thailand. Meanwhile, he said that Vietnam will reinforce defense cooperation and is preparing to join the United Nations Peacekeeping Commission.

Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh has rejected claims about Vietnam's participation in the Cobra Gold 2011 military drill in Thailand (from February 7-18). Vinh has said that Vietnam doesn't have any intention of joining another military exercise.

"This year, Vietnam didn't send participants to the [Cobra Gold] military exercise," Defense Ministry-owned Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army) newspaper quoted Lieutenant General Vinh as saying on Wednesday (February 16). "It is wrong to say Vietnam sent its people to prepare battle strategies [in the exercise]," he was quoted as saying. "I wonder where it came from. This incorrect information could mislead the public about Vietnam's policy."

Vinh was denying rumors that had surfaced suggesting Vietnam would join the other participating nations in formulating a regional battle plan.   

Count us out

The Cobra Gold exercise, hosted annually by Thailand, was launched in 1982 as a bilateral effort between the US and Thai militaries. It was promoted as a multi-national exercise in 2000, when Singapore joined, and has since grown to become one of the largest land-based, combined military training exercises in the world.

Cobra Gold 2011 was officially kicked off on February 7 in Thailand's north-eastern province of Chiang Mai.

Besides hosts US and Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Singapore are participating in the exercise that will be observed by military teams from China, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Brunei, Russia, Mongolia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand.

Vinh said Vietnam joined the exercise for the first time in 2003, as an observer, but has not regularly participated in the annual event since then.

"The purpose of Vietnam's participation was to observe military exercises of other countries," he said.

Recently, speaking in Malaysia, US Navy Adm., Patrick Walsh, Commander of the US Pacific Command, expressed the intention of inviting Vietnam to join the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) military exercise with the US and some other countries in the region.

However, Vinh said that Vietnam has not received an official invitation nor studied the military exercise.

"I want to stress again that Vietnam is not participating in any [joint] military exercise," he said. "In the near future, Vietnam will only join joint humanitarian exercises like deactivating landmines."

Peacekeepers to be

Vinh confirmed that the country has "actively" prepared to become a member of the United Nations Peacekeeping Commission as well as integrating with the international defense community.

He said that Vietnam has expressed its willingness to join the UN peacekeeping force at the right time and this would help the country improve its position and study various issues around the world.

Vinh said that Vietnam began preparing to join the UN force some four years ago, by training personnel, securing government approval and seeking for investment, "because the country is still poor."

Any international military participation will be purely humanitarian, he stressed.

"Vietnam's policy is not to send its peacekeepers to places where there are conflicts," he said.

Vinh said that a new "security structure" was formed during the first ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (Plus Eight) in 2010 when many countries from outside the region joined the bloc. The Vietnamese army has participated in the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) and other defense conferences of the Southeast Asian bloc, he added.

In defense cooperation, Vietnam will boost current bilateral and multilateral relations, especially defense forums like the ADMMs, Vinh said.

"Vietnam will actively contribute to ASEAN, first and foremost for its own benefit," he said. Vinh claimed that Vietnam's participation would improve its international image, help modernize its army and help protect its sovereignty in the region and the world.

Asked about how Vietnam would contribute to ASEAN in solving the conflict between two members in the bloc - Thailand and Cambodia - that has recently flared up near the disputed Preah Vihear temple, Vinh said Indonesia (ASEAN's 2011 Chair) and all members should help find solutions to maintain peace and stability in the region.

The disputes should be solved through peaceful negotiations that comply with international laws, he said.

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