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Saturday, March 09, 2019, 20:02 (GMT+7)
A wise strategy for border protection

Preparing for national defense before any crisis occurs has always been a core principle throughout our history of building and protecting the country. That said, “Border protection relies on pre-made plans” is a unique and wise calculation and an invaluable lesson on safeguarding our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In Spring 1432, after pacifying the rebellion of Deo Cat Han, a Muong Le chieftain in Ninh Vien Prefecture (Lai Chau Province nowadays) and Kha Lai (an Ai Lao national), on the way back to Thang Long Capital, Le Loi, the first emperor of Later Le Dynasty, wrote a poem which was later carved on a mountain in Hoa Binh, the poem stated: “Border protection relies on pre-made plans – National defense needs long-term strategies.” This was a very insightful precept both in theory and reality; it demonstrated the strategic vision of Le Loi in shaping our grand strategy for national defense in general and border protection in particular.

During our thousand years of building and protecting the nation, since the foundation of the ancient state of Van Lang, our ancestors had always insisted on the idea that our border is the Motherland’s “barricade”, the security environment along our border had vital impacts on national security and stability, therefore the work of strengthening and protecting borderlines was heavily emphasized. Notably, all Vietnamese feudal dynasties in the past put a lot of efforts in enhancing frontier regions, connecting central government with remote communities to maintain the stability of our borderlands; and upheld the role of onsite minority ethnic militia forces in defending the frontier. Although each dynasty had different economic policies and political agenda, they generally maintained the same strategy for border protection which included the following principles.

First, implement tolerant and flexible policies on treating minority ethnic communities, especially those settled far away from the central government. Vietnam is basically a multi-racial country whose border regions are the living space of most minority ethnic communities; each of them has their own identity, traditions and customs. To fully utilize the strength of the “national great unity block”, all Vietnamese feudal dynasties consistently implemented tolerant policies on treating those who lived far away from the central government and especially inhabited border regions. In particular, most ruling dynasties granted certain degrees of autonomy to minority ethnic communities. The relationship between emperors and local chieftains was not like the one between the son of heaven and his vassals, it was simply the interrelationship between a senior position and its subordinates in a political system. Besides, political marriages were arranged, in which princesses were married off to local chieftains to merge bloodlines, securing the loyalty of tribal clans and minority ethnic communities to the court. Indeed, this strategy greatly contributed to the security and stability of our borderlands in the past. For example, under Ly dynasty only, there were 9 princesses were married off to tribal leaders. To show their gratitude and loyalty to the dynasty, all of the consort princes made great deeds in administrative tasks and military missions. For example, Than Thieu Thai and his son Than Dao Nguyen turned Lang Son into a strong border defense zone. Other tribal leaders and chieftains such as Nung Ton Dan, Than Canh Phuc, Luu Ky, Hoang Kim Man, Vi Thu An, Ly Ke Nguyen, etc. actively participated in battles against Song invaders (1076). This demonstrated the fact that the relationship among ethnic groups in Great Viet was equal, there was no oppressor and the oppressed, and no discrimination between majority and minority ethnic communities, there was only a strong and united collection of ethnic groups that shared a common cause of co-existence and the same struggle against foreign invaders.

Second, implement adept diplomatic strategies in dealing with neighboring states, thus preventing conflict and maintaining peace. Vietnam has a crucial position in the region’s geopolitical environment; it is also very rich in natural resources as Phan Huy Chu said: “…a great Southern land, good for rice farming, good for mulberry growing, and abundant gold in mountains, ample pearls in the sea, traders from everywhere are all prosper in this land”. Therefore, every feudal dynasty in the North always wanted to conquer our lands and enslave our people. In fact, due to Northern dynasties’ superior economic and military power, and their territorial ambitions, we consistently implemented flexible and adept diplomatic strategies to avoid conflicts. Even when the enemy forced our hands to fight back, we always tried to end the conflict as soon as possible and quickly send emissaries to reconcile with our Northern neighbor. This strategy was clearly demonstrated in historical accounts of Early Le, Ly, Tran, Later Le, and Tay Son era, etc. That said, for the cause of “peace for all people”, we were willing to sacrifice everything to preserve our national independence and freedom, but also eager to appease the defeated enemy, sending tribute and asking them for royal anointment to avoid any humiliation, thus maintaining benign relations while preserving our independence and right for self-determination.  

In the past, we also shared borders with Lan Xang (or Ai Lao), Champa, and Chenla. These were the countries that generally had good relations with us, but they also sometimes conducted raids and pillaging along our border. That said, in dealing with them, we tried to maintain stable and benign relations, but also determined to respond in kind by military actions if necessary. For example, under Tran dynasty, Champa was a vassal of Great Viet, so that Princess Huyen Tran was married off to Che Man, the King of Champa to strengthen the tie between the two countries. However, after the death of Che Man, his successor Che Chi ordered his troops to raid our border regions for plunders, killing many civilians; as a result, the court of Great Viet at that time decided to launch a campaign against Champa as a punitive action. After that, Champa capital, Cha Ban, was captured, Che Chi was imprisoned for the rest of his life, and his younger brother, Che Da A Ba, was installed to the throne and granted ruling power by our Tran Emperor.

That said, our feudal dynasties’ ability to maintain border defense and security, preserving our national sovereignty and territorial integrity was clearly demonstrated in flexible and adept foreign policies.

Third, place heavy emphasis on maintaining border stability and security. To maintain our border stability and assert our national sovereignty, besides implementing plans to improve the living standard of the people who lived in border regions, Vietnamese feudal dynasties were very interested in border delimitation, asserting our national sovereignty and authority in frontier areas. Notably, some dynasties even codified the task of border defense. In addition, they developed and implemented long-term strategies for border protection, actively sending elite military units to forward areas to strengthen defense perimeters. Also, many border fortifications were built and upgraded, especially those located in critical transportation hubs. For example, under Ly dynasty, many border areas and offshore islands were put under the direct control of the central government. Prefectures and municipalities which were militarily and economically important were administered by officials appointed by the emperor himself, other regions were managed by local chieftains. These officials and tribal leaders were all responsible for borderland economic development and strengthening border defense. Under Tran dynasty, the central government further enhanced defense in Northwest and Northeast borders. Besides granting autonomous authority for local chieftains like Ly dynasty did, emperors of Tran dynasty often sent capable and renowned nobles and officials who had a deep understanding of minority ethnic groups to command border defense contingents. Also, sometimes when there was a border crisis, the emperor himself led the troop to put down the rebellion and later issued policies to soon stabilize the situation. Besides, any act conducted by foreign enemies that violated our nation border was responded appropriately and in a timely manner by both military actions and diplomatic measures.

That said, after 600 years, Le Loi’s precept about the necessity of pre-made plan for border defense is still valuable. Notably, in present days of international integration, with many ever-changing challenges, this issue has become even more critical, especially in dealing with sabotaging acts conducted by adversary forces in remote areas and border regions. Therefore, we must stay vigilant more than ever and effectively implement 12th Politburo Resolution 33-NQ/TW on “National Border Protection Strategy” issued on September 28, 2018 to ensure economic growth, political stability and defense - security for our borders.

Major Pham Van Anh, Border Guard Film Company Vice Director

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