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Asean must develop single voice to confront challenges of changing world: Vietnam PM

Jun 23. 2019
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Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc spoke to The Nation’s Supalak Ganjanakhundee as regional leaders gathered in Bangkok for the weekend’s Asean Summit. Excerpts:

What is the key message that Vietnam wanted to deliver at this summit?

First, we welcome efforts by Asean Chair Thailand to promote cooperation under this year’s theme of “Advancing Partnership for Sustainability”, so as to foster a strong Asean Community which is people-oriented, people-centred across all the three pillars. Vietnam endorses Thailand-sponsored initiatives, including those on strengthening social welfare for the elderly, enhancing complementarities between the Asean Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and combating marine debris and the illegal wildlife trade, among others.

Vietnam would like to join hands with other member states to build an Asean that is strong, resilient, and plays the central role in the region. To this end, Asean needs to strengthen its solidarity, unity, sincerity and candidness, and develop a single voice on regional and global issues. 

how is Vietnam approaching regional security issues, including in the South China Sea?

Maintaining peace, security and stability in the region is the pre-requisite for sustainable development and prosperity of all nations. In the meantime, we are witnessing the strong emergence of both traditional and non-traditional security challenges, alongside multiple hotspots that pose serious threats to peace and stability in the region and the world. These have caused major concerns for all of us. 

It is Vietnam’s position that security issues must be satisfactorily resolved by peaceful means on the basis of international law, so as to avoid their escalation into conflict hotspots, which may pose a threat to peace, stability and prosperity in the region. In recent years, Asean has made efforts to contribute to addressing regional security issues, including in the South China Sea, Rakhine state in Myanmar, denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, terrorism and transnational crimes, among others. Vienam will continue contributing actively to these joint efforts.

Regarding the South China Sea issue, there have been certain initial positive developments in the COC (maritime Code of Conduct) negotiations between Asean and China. Nevertheless, developments on the ground remain complicated. Unlawful unilateral activities, including land reclamation to change the status quo, militarisation, and collisions putting fishermen in danger are worrisome. These behaviours have eroded trust and are not conducive to promotion of dialogue and maintenance of peace and stability in the region. Against that backdrop, Asean needs to firmly adhere to its fundamental position on the South China Sea, in which the parties concerned should exercise restraint, refrain from any action which may further complicate the situation, refrain from militarisation and seek to resolve disputes by peaceful means on the basis of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), strictly and fully implement the DOC (Conduct of Parties), and strive to formulate a Code of Conduct that is effective and substantive in line with international law and endorsed by the international community.

You say the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership could be ratified this year. Can you elaborate? 

Trade tension and protectionism are escalating. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which four Asean member states are signatories, took effect in early 2019. In that context, the promotion of RCEP negotiations shall be of great significance so as to create new drivers for rules-based multilateral economic integration and trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific, thereby contributing to maintaining the role of the Asia-Pacific as the engine of global economic growth and integration.

At the second RCEP Summit held in Singapore in November 2018, I joined other RCEP leaders in reaffirming our determination to conclude the negotiations within 2019. 

In October, Vietnam will host the 28th RCEP round of negotiations, which is also expected to be the final round this year before the third RCEP Summit in Bangkok in November. 

What can Vietnam and Thailand do to promote beneficial cooperation?

Vietnam-Thailand relations have witnessed continuous growth, particularly since the two countries established the Strategic Partnership in 2013. We would like to congratulate the Thai people on the success of the recent general elections. The stable continuation of the Thai government facilitates the growth of the bilateral relations in the years ahead, especially in the following four key dimensions:

First, there remain immense room and potential for both sides to continue fostering trade and investment cooperation. Currently, Thailand is Vietnam’s largest trade partner in Asean. To attain bilateral trade turnover of US$20 billion by 2020, both sides need to further facilitate the two-way flow of goods and services, while encouraging Thai businesses to increase investment into Vietnam. 

Second, both countries need to maximise our cultural, religious, geo-economic similarities so as to align our national development strategies in line with our respective priorities, expand and deepen connectivity in the Mekong sub-region, and make good use of the existing cooperative frameworks, while promoting physical and soft infrastructure connectivity to keep pace with the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Third, we need to make cultural, sports, tourism cooperation and people-to-people exchanges a key pillar of bilateral cooperation.

Fourth, we should continue the tradition of close coordination and mutual support at multilateral frameworks, especially in Asean. Thailand’s Asean chairmanship in 2019 facilitates our coordination into 2020 when Vietnam takes over, aiming towards a resilient, cohesive and adaptive Asean Community. 

To this end, I believe that, in the immediate future, both sides should focus our efforts to (a) soon finalise the Plan of Action on Implementing the Vietnam-Thailand Strategic Partnership for 2019-2024; (b) increase mutual visits, especially at high level; (c) implement the MoU on labour cooperation and the agreement on sending and receiving labour signed in 2015; (d) coordinate our policies on Mekong sub-region cooperation so as to foster land, maritime and air links between the continental Southeast Asia and the rest of the region and the world; (e) coordinate to step up international economic integration for the common interest of both countries and the region; and (f) bolster cultural, sports and tourism cooperation and people-to-people exchange.

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