Remarks by General Ngo Xuan Lich, Minister of National Defense at the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue
June 2, 2019
Mr. Chairman, Dr. John Chipman,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the Government and the Ministry of Defense of Singapore for your kind invitation for me to attend and share my thoughts with you at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue. Over 17 consecutive years, Shangri-La Dialogue has been able to validate its role, proving its significance and gravity in the region and the wider world as a tier-1 forum for dialogue on regional and global security, providing a platform for participants to share viewpoints and to find ways toward regional peace, stability and prosperity.
I appreciate that the IISS has selected the theme for this plenary session as “Preventing conflict in contested domains”, representing both an urgent call and a fundamental requirement to narrow down differences and minimizing the risk of conflict, for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia-Pacific.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The panoramic landscape of security in the world and Asia-Pacific reveals to us that peace, cooperation and development remain the mainstream and of common interests of various countries. However, we are also faced with security challenges and complexities, including strategic competition, especially the strategic rivalry among major powers. As Asia-Pacific ascends in its geo-politic importance and gravity, the strategic interest contest also becomes more and more intensive. Fact is, competition is now unraveling with more complexity and at a higher level, globally and regionally alike, expanding to numerous domains, ranging from politics, diplomacy, economy, trade, resources, environment, sovereignty, territorial integrity, including sea and island, cyberspace to name just a few, involving both traditional and non-traditional issues.
Causes to such a situation mainly root in swift changes in the dynamic and balance of power; differences in strategic interests, as well as the mismatch between words and deeds, the behavior of power politics, the mentality of “might is right”, the pursuit of selfish goals without any weight given to others’ legitimate interests, the negligence to the regional and international common goods.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Competition exists as a matter of fact, functioning as a drive for social development. It has been and will be in its own objective existence. Having said that, rivalry in a zero-sum game for capitulation purposes, vying for self gains, or containing each other shall surely lead to tension or even conflict and war. These developments certainly embody significant risks. In a globalized world with stronger linkages and increased interdependence, conflict, if ever happened, would result in unpredictable consequences, affecting not only direct stakeholders but also the region and the wider world.
What matters the most is finding ways to handle competition. On the other hand, if countries having different interests learn to give priority to maintaining an environment of peace, security and stability on top of others, we could definitely work out the way forwards to cooperate, closing the gulf of differences and settling disputes. On the other hand, if countries employ coercion, force or threat of force for resolution we would indeed broaden the division, deepen the dispute, fuel the rivalry and finally and inevitably give rise to conflict. On that note, it is important for us to work together for an early prevention of conflict and effective management of competing issues that may entail conflict. The key is for parties to adhere to international law, to respect national independence, sovereignty and legitimate interests, to withstand the use of force or threat to use force, to refrain from activities that could further complicate the situation, to seek for alternatives and areas of cooperation for mutual benefit, to build confidence and trust, to step by step resolve differences and disputes. Surely, this is a long process that requires a high levels of political will and we cannot afford a passive approach.
Facing these complex security challenges, the behaviors and actions taken by major powers have a vital role to play. Any inconsistency between words and actions, any act of irresponsibility by them can invite doubt and even uncertainty to smaller countries, serving to inflame the situation rather than cooling it down, exacerbating differences and division, escalating confrontation and hotbeds into conflict. Given that, big powers must exercise bigger roles and bear bigger responsibility in regional affairs, setting good examples in international relations. It is good to have concerned parties to come to table and talk with each other for peaceful resolution of disputes and differences. We would support and welcome more of the like.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As a country experiencing wars, sufferings and losses so as to gain national liberation, independence and freedom, and in some cases not just for just for its own but upon the call of international duty, Viet Nam truly understands the value of peace. We always aspire to thrive in peace, stability, cooperation for co-development and shared prosperity. Viet Nam’s national defense policy is aimed to safeguard its independence, sovereignty, and national interest, to protect the country’s peace, to resolve disputes via peaceful means in accordance with international law, to take a positive and active role in international integration, to promote cooperation and relationship with countries in the world, to take part in protecting peace, stability and security in the region and the world. Those guidelines could be summarized as solving disputes in peaceful atmosphere, with the spirit of partnership, for community responsibility.
Over the years, Viet Nam has spared no effort in working with regional and international community to build and implement cooperation mechanisms, participating in multilateral fora, successfully organizing APEC and hosting the 2nd US-DPRK Summit, among others. We will continue to make further endeavor in contributing to regional multilateralism, promoting peace and reconciliation, and preventing conflict. In fact, this is also our goal and duty as Viet Nam assumes the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020 which coincides with our candidacy for the non-permanent United Nations Security Council membership in 2020-2021 term.
Such spirit is reflected in Viet Nam’s foreign policy, for which the Defense White Paper among others well captures our intents. Viet Nam continues to affirm that our national defense is self-defense in nature, the defense of peace. We also clearly point out the defense and security challenges facing us, and make it clear as of our adjustments in strategy, leadership mechanism, force posture, management and apparatus, and our resources for capability building. In all, we make our defense intent, policy and capability transparent to the public.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The East Sea (also known as South China Sea) is an area that harbors a wide range of disputes and strategic competition, from economy to military and diplomacy and there are certain latent risks of conflict. With a vital geo-political location and a huge potential of various benefits, the East Sea is where many countries place their strategic interests and goals in. But if we are bound to uphold the law and have sufficient willingness, the East Sea can surely be made a sea of peace, cooperation and development. We highly value the progress made by parties in the negotiation of the Code of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (COC). An early conclusion of a meaningful, substantive, abiding and effective COC would contribute significantly to preserving peace, stability, freedom, security and safety of navigation and overflight in the East Sea. What we really want is that concerned parties and stakeholders both inside and outside the region shall promote dialogue and consultation, working together for ways to manage risks and prevent conflict. Viet Nam has been and will be working with China and other countries, determinedly pursuing the resolution of disputes in the East Sea by peaceful means on the basis of international law. His Excellency, Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, State President of Viet Nam has eloquently pointed out “Viet Nam is determined and consistent in firmly defending its independence, sovereignty and legitimate national interests in accordance with international law”. The unwavering lines of our policy is: What involves two countries should be settled bilaterally, what involves many countries should be settled multilaterally, ensuring a harmonization of stakeholders’ individual interests and the region’s commonly shared interests. In other words, it is to find ways to solve disputes and differences in the East Sea while preserving the peaceful environment, the cooperative partnership attitude and commonly shared responsibilities for community.
So far, such an atmosphere and spirit has been mostly well maintained and upheld in the meetings and exchanges between defense leaders of Viet Nam and China. A few days ago in Ha Noi, I and General Wei Fenghe, Minister of National Defense of China met to agree that Viet Nam and China have differences in the East Sea issues but maintaining peace and cooperation is in common interest of the two nations and in fact the whole region. This is the solid foundation to transform the East Sea into the “Peace-Cooperation-Development” sea. Such a basis paves the way for narrowing differences, step-by-step settling the disputes, and above all not allowing conflict to happen. I am confident that China with its perpetual awareness of its big power roles in the region, evidently in its current initiative of building a “community of shared destiny”, should support and join Viet Nam and regional countries to turn our shared ideas into reality. In doing so and making it a success, China and Viet Nam could contribute and showcase “a good model” of “solving disputes in peaceful atmosphere, with partnership spirit and for community responsibility”.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the present time, there are a number of effective ASEAN-led cooperation mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF), the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), … and other dialogue fora as this Shangri-La Dialogue, Bejing Xiangshan Forum, Moscow Conference on International Security, … which in all significantly help manage uncertainty, competition and prevent conflict.
Established in 2010 in Ha Noi, the ADMM-Plus is primarily an important mechanism of defense cooperation between ASEAN and its external partner countries, providing a venue for defense leaders of member States to exchange and share viewpoints, discuss issues of common concern and interest, seek for a common voice, build confidence and trust, and prevent conflict. At the same time, ADMM-Plus is also a platform for militaries of member States to work together on practical cooperation projects, sharing their experience, coordinating their activities and helping each other in capacity building via Expert Working Groups (EWG). For nearly a decade, ADMM-Plus has been able to vindicate and bring into play its effective role in the emerging regional security architecture, bonding members, mobilizing collective strength to tackle common challenges, contributing to the maintenance of peace, stability in the region and beyond. In this regard, it is understandable to see many big powers now expressing their wishes to join ADMM-Plus. Such an application for participation should be supported as it matches the goal and suits the trend.
As ADMM-Plus is to commemorate its tenth anniversary, it is also a good opportunity for the member States to take stock of progress and lessons learnt as well as to map out future directions for development. In 2020 when Viet Nam assumes the ASEAN Chairmanship, it is expected that other ADMM-Plus countries would join hands to develop a comprehensive vision for regional defense-security cooperation in decades to come, so as for the ADMM-Plus to further elevate its positive role as an open and inclusive cooperation mechanism, a centerpiece in generating a secure and peaceful environment and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The region of Asia-Pacific is transforming in an uncertain world. Challenges are multiple while opportunities and potentials are but numerous. Resting upon our shoulders is the responsibility as to whether or not Asia-Pacific could sustain to continue to be the driver for global economic growth, whether it could become a region of peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity. All would depend on our actions today, especially “preventing conflict in contested domains”.
I am confident that with a high sense of community responsibility, with the willingness and sincerity from all of us in pursuit for promoting dialogue and cooperation, settling disagreements and differences by peaceful means in accordance with international law, all the upheavals and existing frictions could not and shall not be able to prevent us from advancing towards achieving the noble goal of peace, stability and prosperity for each and every nation and for the entire region at large.
Thank you very much./.
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