White paper makes military spending public for first time

By Huong Giang, Thanh Nien News

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A Vietnamese Airforce Su-27 Flanker A Vietnamese Airforce Su-27 Flanker
A newly released white paper details Vietnam's military budget for first time as the country continues to modernize its military.
Vietnam is determined to maintain its territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction under international law, as well as to build friendship, solidarity and mutual understanding with neighboring countries, said Vietnam People's Army lieutenant-general and deputy defense minister Nguyen Chi Vinh while speaking about East Sea issues at a press conference announcing the new white paper Tuesday.
The paper is the third defense document released to the public by Vietnam since 1998. The paper stresses the need for international cooperation on security issues and for the first time includes details on the nation's military budget and the strength of its armed forces.
"This [territorial disputes in the East Sea] is a matter that concerns Vietnamese national defense but the complications over the East Sea will not lead to conflicts," said Vinh when asked whether tensions in the East Sea could ignite an arms race in the region.
"It is the policy of the party, the central government and the Vietnamese national defense to ensure that all issues are settled via peaceful means," he told an audience that included journalists, foreign military attachés and other diplomats.
Vinh said Vietnam's peaceful self-defense policy had not changed since previous white papers. He said the country wanted to step up international security cooperation to help build regional stability.
But he also said Vietnam faced challenges from hostile forces disguising themselves as"democracy" and "human rights" activists to oppose the party and the country.
The impacts of the global economic crisis also posed a major problem, he said, adding that newer challenges for the country's national defense networks were the increase in natural disasters and the trafficking of humans and weapons.
$1.46 billion defense budget
The White Paper said Vietnam's defense budget in 2008 was VND27 trillion (US$1.46 billion), or 1.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
Vinh said the rate of defense budget over GDP had changed little over the past five years and would be a "suitable rate" for the next five years.
"Vietnam will have better conditions to improve its military and national defense if national economic growth increases," he added.
According to the White Paper, the Vietnam People's Army has 450,000 active personnel and five million reservists. Vietnam's population is about 85.8 million people, the third most populous country in Southeast Asia and the thirteenth in the world.
Modernization
"We think the global economic downturn will not have a significant impact on the modernization of the Vietnamese army," Vinh said.
The most basic issue in modernizing the army was improving the skills and spirit of the soldiers and increasing their ability to respond to a diversity of situations, he said.
Asked about Russian media reports that said Vietnam may order fighter jets and submarines from Russia, Vinh said Vietnam had used "a significant volume of Russian weapons" both in war and peacetime. He said that in order to modernize the Vietnamese military, the country was considering many sources including Russia.
According to the White Paper, Vietnam - a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council - was training its military personnel for United Nations peacekeeping missions.
"When conditions are right, we'll participate," Vinh said.

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