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Shangri-La Dialogue 2019 - the region’s security issues and Vietnam’s contributions

Asia’s Security Summit - the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue was held in Singapore from May 31st to June 2nd 2019 amidst the complex developments of the security situation in the world and the region, which necessitated the regional countries in particular, the international community in general discussing and seeking the solutions. At the Dialogue, Vietnam proposed many important initiatives which were highly appreciated by the international community.

The 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue (photo: mothership.sg)

Several security issues of the region

The 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue took place when the relations between China and America were very intense and negatively impacted on the region’s security. According to experts, in fact, tension between China and America has occurred since 2010, continuously grown in recent years, and reached its peak with the trade war between the two sides since early 2018. That tension was clearly expressed by the addresses of the two countries’ defence officials at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue. Notably, the Acting US Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan in his address entitled “US vision for Indo-Pacific security” at the plenary session on June 1st 2019 implied that China was putting more pressure on other countries in the region and even taking many actions in a bid to militarize the disputed areas, particularly the East Sea, deploying advanced weapons systems, threatening the use of force to compel rivals into conceding claims, and using influence operations to interfere in the domestic politics of other nations. However, to alleviate the tension, he said that “We (U.S.) cooperate with China where we have an alignment of interests, from military-to-military dialogue to develop risk reduction measures, to tackle transnational threats such as counter-piracy, to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea”, and that “we compete with China where we must”. As for China, after many Dialogues without the participation of the head of Chinese Defence Ministry, at the 18th Dialogue, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe led a delegation and delivered an address in strong response to the US criticisms. In addition to the trade issues, he emphasized the issues on Taiwan and the East Sea and bluntly alleged that it was America that had caused the tension in the region. He stated that China would be prepared for dialogue with America; however, if Washington pressured Beijing, it would not make any concession.

Experts in international security and politics believe that China’s rise is gradually changing the strategic balance across the world and leading to unavoidable competition between Beijing and other countries, especially America. Thus, to solve the differences between America and China, the two sides should build the strategic trust and cooperate with other countries in adjusting the global policies to build a world of peace, stability, and development. To do so, first of all, Washington and Beijing should hold talks with each other to seek the measures to deal with the issues, such as trade, cyber espionage, freedom of navigation, and human rights. Nevertheless, that is a big challenge for the two sides. If those issues are not resolved, the world will witness the deeper division, and the region’s current security issues will be even more complex.

Concerning the ASEAN and the East Sea, the countries taking part in the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue agreed to affirm the necessity of strengthening the multi-lateral mechanisms and upholding the ASEAN’s central role in managing the region’s security issues and particularly maintaining the peaceful, stable environment and security in the East Sea. However, some experts expressed their concern that the increasingly intense competition between America and China will pose a threat to the ASEAN. When ASEAN member states have to “take sides” or clearly demonstrate their attitude towards this competition, tension within the Bloc or between the Bloc and other countries will be created. In that context, the ASEAN’s independence and self-reliance will be affected, its central role in managing the region’s security and order will be undermined, and instabilities in the region will arise. The reason is that America and China could seek to “ignore” the ASEAN’s institutions and take steps without regard for the interest of the ASEAN and each member state. Thus, all ASEAN members believe that in spite of differences between America and China, the two countries should manage them by peaceful means and take the interest of regional countries into consideration so as to avoid threatening the region’s stability and other countries’ interest.

As for the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, a part from the remarks delivered by the Acting US Secretary of Defence and Chinese Defence Minister, a plenum session entitled “Korean Security: the Next Steps” was designed at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue, which attracted the attention of participants. Generally, countries all agreed to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula by peaceful means, diplomatic channels, and trust building, reaffirmed the importance of the two US-North Korea Summits to the process of denuclearization of Korean Peninsula, supported and highly appreciated the efforts made by South Korea and the role of relevant parties (China, Russia, and Japan) in the process.

Vietnam’s contributions

Since it first took part in the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2002, Vietnam has always acted as an active, responsible member of the international community and frequently clearly presented its viewpoints on the security challenges and disputes over sovereignty in the region. Being persistent with the diplomatic guidelines of independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation, and development and the diplomatic policy on multilateralizing and diversifying relations and respecting international law, at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue, Vietnam proactively introduced the formula for resolving disputes in accordance with the region’s situation, which was highly appreciated by other countries. That formula was clearly expressed in the remarks by General Ngo Xuan Lich - Vietnamese Defence Minister at the Dialogue’s 5th Plenary Session on June 2nd 2019: “Solving disputes in peaceful atmosphere, with the spirit of partnership, for community responsibility”. To resolve disputes in any field (sovereignty, political regime, trade, technology, and cyber space, etc.), first of all, relevant countries must adopt peaceful measures, or those disputes would lead to conflicts and even wars. Second, concerning the settlement of disputes, particularly the disputes over sovereignty, if countries do not have the spirit of cooperation or absolutely accept each other’s claims, those disputes could not be handled. Thus, parties should adopt the spirit of partnership and cooperation to solve the differences. Third, when resolving disputes, countries must be responsible for the international community and region and respect the benefit of all countries in the region. Vietnam hoped that it would work with China to settle the disputes in the East Sea by that formula and transform it into a good model for other countries to follow, thereby contributing to maintaining peace, stability, cooperation, and development in the region and the world.

It should be noted that in 2020, Vietnam will assume the ASEAN’s Chairmanship. Thus, at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue, the Vietnamese Defence Minister proactively introduced a comprehensive vision for the Asia-Pacific Region within the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), which would refer to all security issues of the Asia-Pacific Region within 10 years (2010-2020) and decades to come. Moreover, Vietnam would plan to build the Hanoi Statement for the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) on enhancing the effectiveness of defence cooperation and unity within the ASEAN in response to the region’s security challenges. Vietnam would propose the measures to realize cooperation within ADMM and ADMM-Plus, encourage the participation of major powers, improve their role and responsibility in the ASEAN’s multi-lateral mechanisms. It is clear to see that those are Vietnam’s important initiatives aimed at maintaining peace and stability in the region and fostering cooperation to settle cross-border security challenges. Those initiatives will be more significant when Vietnam is a non-permanent of the United Nations Security Council for 2020-2021.

To conclude, the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue makes a success as it has had the largest number of participants ever and attracted the attention of politicians and defence-security officials regionally and globally. In spite of several differences, particularly those between China and America, most of the countries agreed on the assessment of the defence-security situation, disputes, conflicts, and challenges, and the settlement of those issues on the basis of peace and international law for the sake of stability, cooperation, and co-development. And it is noteworthy that Vietnam made important contributions to the 18th Shangri-La Dialogue.

Maj. Gen. Vu Tien Trong

Head of the Institute for Defence International Relations

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