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Wednesday, April 10, 2019, 07:48 (GMT+7)
Forming a protective shield in the “between-wind-and-water” region

The series of articles entitled “Building “solid milestones in the people’s hearts and minds” in the thickly forested Central Highlands” co-authored by Dinh Khang, Ho Dang and Dang Bay have provided readers with further insight into the land and people of the Central Highlands as well as the important role played by the Border Guard Force (BGF) in the building of “the people’s hearts and minds” posture. The National Defence Journal would like to introduce another series of articles by those authors entitled “Forming a protective shield in the between-wind-and-water region”, painting a realistic picture of the BGF’s roles in the building of “the people’s hearts and minds” posture in the beautiful and rich Southwest region of Vietnam.

 I. Sea and island territories in the Southwest region - potential and advantages

Southwestern waters, which span an area of over 300,000 km2, are adjacent to Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are approximately 200 islands in Southwestern waters, including Phu Quoc, Hon Rai, Hon Tre, Tho Chu, Nam Du, Hon Chuoi, Hon Khoai, to name but a few. Phu Quoc is the largest island covering an area of 589.23km², approximately the size of Singapore. Some islands are close to the maritime shipping route to the Gulf of Thailand, which is conducive to the building of seaports and regional and international connectivity. Seas and islands in the Southwest region serve as outposts in accordance with the Strategy for Defence of the Vietnamese Homeland while acting as the gateway to Vietnam’s international integration.

With a coastline of 734 km deposited primarily by river estuaries and fertile alluvial soils, the Southwest region is well placed for the development of mangrove forests and aquaculture. It has a unique ecosystem, including coral reefs, seagrass and intertidal zones.  Its aquatic resources are diverse in species and rich in reserves. This is one of the country’s key fishing grounds with aquatic resources of high economic value and the 300,000-ton annual exploitation reserve. In recent years, local fishermen have paid due attention to offshore fishing, aquaculture and processing of aquatic products whereby those products have seen annual increases of 7-15% in value. Its spearhead exports include frozen shrimps and prawns, basa fish, Phu Quoc fish sauce, to name but a few.

The region has a mild climate, beautiful beaches with crystal-clear and blue water, and pristine islands (75% of which are covered in 47,000 ha of primary forests). Together with the Phu Quoc National Park, it is also home to such mangrove forests as Ca Mau Cape and U Minh Ha recognized by the UNESCO as part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Forests on islands play an important role in conserving freshwater resources, protecting ecosystems, preserving flora and fauna genetic resources, developing ecotourism, etc. Moreover, archipelagoes and coastal forests facilitate the establishment of security and military bases for the sake of firmly defending the country’s territorial sovereignty.

In addition to its magnificent scenery and honest, friendly and hospitable inhabitants, the region is home to unique cultural and historic relic sites, especially the legendary Ho Chi Minh Sea Trail wending its way through such communes as Thanh Phong (Ben Tre province), Truong Long Hoa (Tra Vinh province) and Rach Goc (Ca Mau province). If its natural, human, cultural and historical values are upheld, the Southwest region will likely become a popular maritime tourist destination for domestic and foreign tourists, greatly contributing to its socio-economic development and its inhabitants’ heightened senses of responsibility for defending the country’s sovereignty over sea and island territories. 

The Southwest region is also rich in natural resources, particularly oil and gas. The Malay-Tho Chu sedimentary basin off the coast of Ca Mau – Ha Tien covers an area of 80,000 km2 where many oil and gas fields were discovered, including Kim Long, Ac Quy, Ca Voi, Song Doc – Nam Can (with a total of bn 138.2 m3 in gas reserves, accounting for 35% of the country’s gas reserves). Vietnam’s gas exploitation volume reaches over 2 bn m3 on a yearly basis.  Endowed by nature, the Southwest region is rich in solar and wind energy. It is also the place which the international maritime shipping route passes through, facilitating the establishment of modern seaports. All of these are conducive to the development of maritime transport and logistics services and the building of coastal industrial zones and urban areas, contributing to promoting the region’s industrialization and modernization.

Significant initial preliminary

Over the past years, thoroughly grasping the Party’s line and the State’s policies, local administrations in the Southwest region have been made fully aware of sustainable economic development in combination with enhanced defence capability and heightened security of sea and island territories. Their tireless efforts have yielded encouraging preliminary results. First, local administrations have focused on the rearrangement of residential areas in coastal and island areas. A lot of preferential policies have been adopted to encourage local residents to relocate to coastal and island areas in line with the combination of socio-economic development and national defence. Emphasis has been placed on the creation of basic living conditions and steady jobs for those residents. Islands in the Southwest region have now a population of over 200,000 compared to 8,000 in 1980. So far, 46 out of 200 islands or so in the region have been inhabited. Notably, considerable resources have been invested in order to make it possible for Phu Quoc island to become a modern urban area – a magnet for tourists and regional and international conferences. All of these create favourable conditions for socio-economic development and national defence.

Furthermore, local administrations have made significant investments in infrastructure via different sources of capital. Phu Quoc Island alone has attracted about VND 30 trillion in investments. A series of seaports and fish ports have been built, upgraded and expanded, including An Thoi, Tho Chu, Nam Du, Hon Ngang. Much importance has been attached to the construction of dikes for salinity intrusion prevention and land reclamation from the ocean as well as the establishment of new residential, urban and maritime industrial zones. The Phu Quoc international airport, with a total investment of VND16 trillion, has significantly contributed to local socio-economic development and intra-regional connectivity. Electricity supply systems and information and communication infrastructure have also been heavily invested. So far, most of the Southwest region’s inhabited islands have been provided with mobile coverage, internet, postal and telecommunications services, meeting the requirements of economic development, disaster response, search and rescue and national defence.

Localities in the Southwest region have tapped those potential and advantages to sustainably develop spearhead maritime economic sectors, including aquaculture and exploitation of aquatic resources, maritime services, the exploitation of oil and gas, minerals and renewable energy. Emphasis has been placed on the exploitation and processing of aquatic resources, offshore fishing, and concentrated aquaculture. At the same time, modern processing and preserving technologies have been applied to raise the quality and added value of aquatic produce. To serve the fishing industry, a network of processing and logistics facilities have been developed on major islands, including Rach Gia, Phu Quoc, Tho Chu, Nam Du, Nam Can, Ganh Hao, Hon Khoai. Meanwhile, socio-economic infrastructure has been increasingly improved; locals’ living standards have been raised; social welfare policies have been adopted with due care and attention. Those preliminary results have facilitated the Southwest region’s sustainable development as well as its economic development in combination with cultural and historical relics conservation, environmental protection and enhanced defence capability.

Shortcomings and Challenges

Despite the above-mentioned significant preliminary results, the exploitation and use of natural resources in the Southwest region have yet to be effective and sustainable while technologies and facilities for the fisheries and aquaculture sectors remain outdated and poor. With their overfishing, local fishermen have yet to pay due attention to protecting ecosystems and maritime environment. Furthermore, functional agencies have not promoted their sense of responsibility yet for managing and protecting aquatic resources and fishing grounds. There have been signs of the depletion of fish stocks in some fishing grounds, forcing local fishermen into illegal fishing in foreign waters, violating Vietnam’s Law of the Sea and Law on Fisheries, as well as the European Commission’s Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) fishing.

Only by adopting various and synchronous measures to maximize the above-mentioned potential and advantages as well as to overcome shortcomings and challenges can the Southwest region truly become a protective shield of the country. (To be continued)

Dinh Khang - Ho Dang - Dang Bay

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