Vietnam modernizing military for self-defense, says general

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General Le Van Dung rules out an arms race or abandonment of the country’s traditional peaceful diplomacy.

Vietnam’s efforts to bolster its military strength go hand in hand with the peaceful diplomatic approach it consistently adopts for resolving international disputes, a senior military official has said.

Peacetime would be the best moment for the country to build up its military to guarantee its security, said General Le Van Dung, chief of the People’s Army’s Political General Bureau, clarifying it is not for war purposes.

“Our biggest challenge at the moment is to develop a high-caliber, modern, well-trained military,” Dung told the media Monday on the sidelines of celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the People’s Army.

“We have to do this to fulfill the task of protecting the country in case of any upheaval,” he said.

But he shrugged off concerns that Vietnam would be involved in any major wars during the next two decades.

The modernization of the military would go along with economic development, he said, pointing out that the better the economy performs, the better the conditions would be to improve the military and national defense.

Last year, the defense budget was VND27 trillion (US$1.46 billion), or 1.8 percent of the gross domestic product, according to a White Paper released on December 8.

“Our military is being modernized with a lot of advanced weaponry, some of which can equal the very best in the world,” Dung said.

Recent visits by senior Vietnamese officials to several countries have focused on reinforcing military ties with them as the White Paper stresses international cooperation, he explained.

“There are no grounds to say that Vietnam plays off one country against another. The international community must understand one another in terms of military and national defense to contribute to stabilizing peace in the region and the world.”

Peaceful diplomacy

Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh visited France on December 17 where he asked his counterpart Herve Morin to help Vietnam train its army medical personnel and sell helicopters, transport aircraft, and other modern military equipment.

He traveled to France from the US, where he held talks with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

On December 15, Vietnam and Russia signed a long-planned arms deal during a visit by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Moscow.

Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Vietnam had agreed to buy six ultra-quiet Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines for around $2 billion.

The fact that Vietnam is seeking to bolster military ties with other countries signals the country’s emergence as a major power in the region but the move would not compromise its commitment to peaceful diplomacy, some international experts have said.

“Buying or possessing military equipment does not negate diplomacy; in some cases it can run parallel and complement it,” Richard Bitzinger, Senior Fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told Thanh Nien Weekly.

‘Any way possible’

General Dung also told the media on Monday that during his recent visit to China the two sides had discussed solutions to the East Sea issues.

“We have tried to resolve in whatever way possible to settle the issues. In the near future we will discuss with the Chinese on demarcation of maritime boundaries between the two countries and I am convinced the situation will gradually become stable.”

Carl Thayer of the Australian Defense Force Academy told Thanh Nien Weekly that Vietnam should try to take advantage of its roles in the ASEAN and the United Nations Security Council to find a solution.

In 1995, China declared that the settlement of territorial disputes in the East Sea would be on the basis of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and international law, leading to protracted negotiations on a Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the [East] Sea in 2002.

“This was seen as the first step toward a more legally binding Code of Conduct,” Thayer said.

“Now that Vietnam will chair ASEAN it would be useful to revive this initiative and engage China on discussions on a Code of Conduct.

“China prefers to deal with this issue on a bilateral level; but China will also respond to ASEAN if it can present a united front. A coordinated ASEAN approach would increase pressure on China to act less assertively.”

Given the international prestige Vietnam has attained as a nonpermanent member and rotating president of the UN Security Council, it can also lobby friendly states on this issue to increase diplomatic pressure on China to be more restrained, Thayer said.

Reported by Kap Thanh Long â€" An Dien

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