Vietnam's Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh reiterated on Saturday that Vietnam always pursues a policy of solving disputes through peaceful dialogue.
He laid out his position in an extended interview with Thanh Nien that day during the Shangri-La Dialogue, annual Asia-Pacific security forum, in Singapore.
Thanh Nien: The recent issues in the East Sea have been mentioned in every dialogue session. The discussions have consistently centered on China's unreasonableness. Do you think that China will make suitable adjustments following the forum?
Nguyen Chi Vinh: When it comes to the East Sea, people often think about disputes and conflicts. But, we need to look at the big picture to understand each individual problem. First of all, the East Sea provides valuable resources to a number of different countries, not just the countries along the coast. For example, maritime shipping lanes, inland resources, seafood, and many other vital commodities. Everyone wants to do what they can to get the most benefits for themselves. The different nations' involvement in this area has been further complicated by the compounding of shared interests, but there will also be conflicts and disputes over interests.
So, when we talk about the East Sea's disputes, they aren't related to Vietnam and China only, but all countries with interests in the region.
The international community here [the forum], as far as I understand it, is talking about the sea as a common thing. The East Sea is viewed as a common "playground," where people have to respect one another's sovereignty in accordance with international law. No one is allowed to maintain it as his own "playground," or rather, no one has the right to control the East Sea. No one has jurisdiction over these disputed areas.
The incident involving the Binh Minh No.02 [which was sabotaged by Chinese marine surveillance boats while engaged in oil exploration work in Vietnam's territorial waters on May 26] has raised a number of concerns.
Last year, China introduced its "U-shaped" line [a revisionist map that claims 80 percent of the East Sea as its own] and this year they officially submitted documents to the United Nations asking that their Exclusive Economic Zone be extended. People now wonder if the recent incident represents China's first step towards making the "U-shaped" line a new regional reality. This is the question being asked by the international community because if it is true it will harm the interests of related countries.
I expect China will make adjustments and exercise more proper awareness after hearing from the international community. These changes will also be made for China's sake. What does China need now? First, a peaceful and stable environment to develop. Second, and most important, is a good image in the world. China doesn't need to look good for vanity's sake, but to help develop its economy, build political relationships, and prestige.
Given the potential benefits, we fully expect China to make some adjustments.
As for the Binh Minh No.2 incident, an expert on international law in Singapore suggested that Vietnam should bring the case to the International Court of Arbitration. The court can solve the lawsuit whether China agrees to stand trial or not. What do you think about this idea?
I think it's an option. But, in my opinion, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) already established how to identify a nation's sovereignty and exclusive economic zone [the 200 mile marine border extending out from a country's coastline]. So, we don't need any court.
Firstly and lastly, this matter is being solved by Vietnam and China, together. We have already chosen to solve it with China, publicly and transparently. We have made our intentions clear to the international community like at this forum so people can have a voice and China can think about its acts.
The policies of our Party and government are very firm, righteous, smart and flexible. In protecting our nation's borders for thousands of years, we have developed a distinct defense culture. What is it? To enhance cooperation, cultivate shared interests, and decrease conflicts, while still protecting territorial sovereignty.
Vietnam always exercises restraint and won't let problems get out of control. We need to be very determined determined to protect our territorial sovereignty; determined to keep peace and friendship with neighboring countries. We have no other choice.
I'd like to say it again: we would be well within our rights to bring this case to an international court. But first of all and after all, we have to solve it with China. Our Party and government will solve the problem, even though it will take time.
At the moment, people are outraged over the May 26 incident. I agree.
But, let's consider the results, so far: First of all, China cut our ship's cables. We protested, asking for compensation. After repairing the damage, we resumed work there--we have not abandoned the area! Secondly, we widely promoted the incident to the international community so they could determine who was right, and who was wrong; which one is good, and which one is bad. It's a clear cut case and everyone knows about it at this point.
As for China, once again we told them: "You have, firstly, violated international law; secondly, violated Vietnam's sovereignty; thirdly, violated the articles of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea that you signed with ASEAN." We also told them: "We have followed the common understanding of the two countries' leaders which is to exercise restraint, seek bilateral solutions, be public and clear, and definitely 'not to use violence."
At the same time, we have proved our determination to protect the country's sovereignty. In short, I'd like to ask everyone to look at the May 26 incident positively from Vietnam's side.
Some people asked why our forces didn't detect Chinese marine surveillance ships early and intercept them. By failing to do so, didn't we let them deep into our exclusive economic zone?
First of all, the exclusive economic zone is ours, and we have rights to manage, exploit resources and conduct construction"¦ and protect our sovereignty there.
But, according to UNCLOS, other countries' ships can navigate freely within the zone. So we don't have a right to stop them, and we even have responsibility to protect them.
The problem arose when they launched this act of aggression. By cutting the cables of our Binh Minh No.2 ship, they violated Vietnamese and international laws.
The military is obviously in charge of protecting the nation's sea, sky and sovereignty. However, this was a clash between civil ships, so related parties in the clash have to solve it in accordance with international laws and report the matter to the countries' legal and management agencies.
However, the Navy will keep close watch on the situation and not let it get out of control.
In the event of an action that constitutes armed violence, the Navy will certainly interfere to protect [Vietnamese ships].