In his address to the final session of this year's regional defense dialogue on Sunday, Vietnam's Defense Minister, Phung Quang Thanh highlighted friendship and coooperation.
He said maritime security continues to play an important role in the global context for inland and coastal countries alike.
Recent events in the East Sea have drawn attention to Vietnam's national defense policies and Thanh sought to clarify his nation's defense position.
"As a littoral state which is inflicted by wars, we deeply understand the values of peace and stability for our national construction and development," Thanh said during the final session in Singapore.
"Therefore, Vietnam's defense policies are directed at peace and self-defense. We hold the line of expanding cooperative relations to militaries both inside and outside the region for the sake of promoting mutual understanding and respect, collaborating in activities to respond to common security threats, including those from the sea.
"Vietnam considers its national security closely linked to regional and international security," the minister stressed.
According to Thanh, Vietnam wants "to be a trustworthy friend and partner of countries in the international community, further promoting confidence building, developing friendly and cooperative relationship with neighboring countries and those in the region and the world for peace, stability and development"
Stronger legal basis needed
Thanh described the situation in the East Sea as generally stable, but "clashing incidents have happened from time to time, giving rise to concerns for the littoral states."
He specifically mentioned the recent clash between Chinese ships and a ship of the state-owned Vietnam National Oil Group.
"The most recent one took place on 26 May 2011 when the Binh Minh 02 - a Vietnamese surveying ship conducting its normal oil and gas exploration activities well within Vietnam's 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone was interrupted with its surveying cables cut, which causes a considerable concern on the maintenance of peace and stability in the East Sea, in the region as well as the wider world," he said.
"Vietnam has exercised patience in managing the incident with peaceful means in accordance with the international laws and the principle of determinedly protecting our national sovereignty while preserving peace and stability in the East Sea, and maintaining the friendly relationship with neighboring countries.
"Certainly, we truly expect no repetition of similar incidents."
According to Thanh, every nation must strengthen the legal basis for its activities at sea in order to facilitate cooperation and deter actions that threaten common interests, regionally and nationally.
We must respect each other national sovereignty and territorial integrity while seeking for proper solutions to arising disputes in this respect," he said.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) must be fully respected, he said, adding that Southeast Asia, meanwhile, needs to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and work towards the conclusion of a Code of Conduct (COC) agreement between ASEAN and China.
He also cited the importance of recent international conferences, including the East Asia Summit, which included Russia and the US, and create new security partnerships like the recently-established ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+).
"Such mechanisms are very promising in bringing about a good future as long as ASEAN can thrive on its solidarity and unity, bringing into full play its central role and securing the harmony between rights and responsibilities with and among its dialogue partner countries."
Moreover, all countries need to further maritime cooperation via both bilateral and multilateral channels to gain mutual respect and understanding, Thanh said.
Defense cooperation, meanwhile, will help build and enhance trust among militaries, ensuring no use or threat to use of force, he added.
Questions and answers
Following the speech, Thanh took ten questions from military scholars, strategists, and diplomatists from 35 countries at the session. Most of the questions pertained to the East Sea and Vietnam's national defense policies.
Christopher Nelson, an American expert, asked for more information about the Binh Minh 02 incident, because in his 45-minute-plus speech, China's Defense Minister Liang Guanglie hadn't mentioned its clashes with Vietnam, Malaysia of the Philippines in the East Sea.
Liang attributed international concerns about China to "misunderstanding and misinterpretation of China's policies and good intentions."
In response to the question, the Vietnamese defense minister said he welcomed and appreciated Liang's speech, which clearly showed that China is pursuing a reasonable and peaceful approach to foreign affairs.
"We always consider China, which fosters peace, friendship, solidarity and cooperation in countries around the world, including Vietnam, as a facilitator for Vietnam and other countries in the region and the world," Thanh said.
He further expressed his hope that China would act in accordance with its stated diplomatic principals and fully disclose its actions and intentions.
However, he stressed that the Binh Minh 02's incident wasn't the first time such an incident had occurred in Vietnamese waters.
Last year while a Vietnamese vessel was collecting data along its continental shelf to submit to the United Nations, it was approached by Chinese patrols and had its cables cut.
Chinese patrols have also seized Vietnamese fishing boats, he added, and distrupted lawful oil and gas exploration inside Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone.
The acts violate international law and Vietnam's sovereignty, he said.
In addition, the actions have raised international concern about China's public claims to Vietnamese, Filipino and Malaysian waters, the minister said.
During the session, Thanh dismissed China's "nine-dashed line" claim to 80 percent of the East Sea as groundless. He also protested China's recent fishing ban, which specifically targets Vietnamese territorial waters.
The minister went on to field other questions, pertaining to coopertive oil and gas projects between Vietnam, China and the Philippines, and fisheries zoning, among others.