Last update: 20:36 | 29/10/2016
VietNamNet introduces the first part of round table talks with Mr. Bui The Giang, Director of the Department of Western Europe and North American Affairs of the Foreign Relations Committee of Central Party Committee, and Dr. Anders Corr (Harvard), an international political analyst.
VietNamNet: Hello VietNamNet readers! A new year is coming. Join us today to review the highlights of the Asia Pacific and to predict what will happen in coming years. Here are our guests: Mr. Bui The Giang, Director of the Department of Western Europe and North American Affairs of the Foreign Relations Committee of Central Party Committee, and Dr. Anders Corr, an international political analyst and a familiar commentator of Bloomberg and the Financial Times.
Looking back at many events that took place in Asia-Pacific last year, what are the most important events that have had a profound impact on regional politics?
Dr. Anders Corr: I think the two most important events in regional politics last year were the fact that China pulled the HD981 rig into Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and their continued occupation of Scarborough area of the Philippines. These are also prominent events in international relations around the globe, besides what is happening in Ukraine.
Bui The Giang: I want to answer this question in a broader perspective. I would not choose a single event but I think of a group of events of the same nature. In my opinion, it is a group of issues related to the disputants at sea, such as the East China Sea and the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea). In this respect, I fully agree with Dr. Corr.
The second group of events is the summits on regional economic issues, particularly the APEC Summit that was held in Beijing in November; the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia; The meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Greater Mekong Subregion Conference in Bangkok. These are the events that have the same nature and make profound impact on countries like Vietnam.
VietNamNet: Now we will go to a specific event that you both think to be the most prominent event in the region last year: China pulled its oil rig into the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam. It has been several months since China withdrew its rig, so how do you see the impact of this event?
Bui The Giang: Officially, the position of Vietnam has been clearly stated in bilateral meetings as well as multilateral forums. These views are also very consistent with Vietnam's long-standing policy when it responds to issues relating to maritime sovereignty, or emerging issues in bilateral relations between Vietnam and China.
A decade ago, I had a discussion with Ernest Bower, then president of the US-ASEAN Business Council, now the Chair of Southeast Asian Studies Division at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CSIS).
We discussed activities to celebrate the 10th anniversary of normalization of US-Vietnam relations. Ernest asked me some questions related to Vietnam-US relations.
Then he asked me: "Giang, what do you think about the relationship between China and Vietnam?" I replied: "Oh, in the years of Doi Moi, opening its door to the world, Vietnam has had many more new friends, new partners. But we have never and will never have a new neighbor."
“That is a fact. China is not just a neighbor but a big country. We have had a very long history with this country. Many outsiders think that Vietnam understands them better than anyone else. We will not dare to receive this honor. What I can only say is that we know about China, from our own experience in bilateral relations with China.”
“And from that point of view and from that process, I would say that we have a rather complex picture of China as a big country with a lot of ambition, in which the most recent ambition that General Secretary, President Xi Jinping declared publicly - the Chinese Dream. The ‘Chinese dream’ should be studied, deciphered and understood thoroughly. I met many Chinese people who explained the Chinese dream in a variety of ways, not to mention foreign scholars.”
Returning to the Oil Rig 981 incident and its impact, as soon as they pulled the rig into the EEZ of Vietnam on May 2, I told my friends: "Wait and see, they will pull out the rig. They will not be there long, at least at this point. They will resort to a lot of excuses to withdraw the rig."
However, when your country, your territory is infringed upon, you demand that the intruder withdraw immediately and unconditionally. That is the principle of immutability, with no doubt. But at the same time, we also know how to behave smartly to solve the problem.
I want to reiterate this point. We are in a relationship with such a big neighbor. We do everything we can but we will never provoke military conflict. We have done all we can, except that.
I would also like to reiterate what I said five months ago, that they would pull out their oil rig of the waters of Vietnam, but the pits were still there. Nobody pays more than $1 billion to build this rig just to perform for fun.
Therefore, we are always on guard. And the fact is, look at what they are doing on some of the rocks in the East Sea. They not only maintain their presence there, they are also looking for ways to upgrade, embellish and expand them.
VietNamNet: How about Dr. Corr, do you think that the 981 rig incident has changed somewhat the view of US scholars as well as the American people about China?
Dr. Corr: Yes, I think. But I have a question for Mr. Giang. Can you explain more about the drills that China has left? Is it a big hole and will that pit be useful when they need it?
Bui The Giang: I do not know but they have made the drills there.
As you know, they claimed that they had collected some specimens there and concluded that they had a better understanding of the oil reserves at the bottom of the sea there. But I think of an assumption, a bigger possibility that someday they will say: Here, look, here are the proofs of China's territorial sovereignty!
Dr. Corr: That's a possibility that could happen if we see what China did. Go back to your question about my comment on the oil rig event. I think that there is nothing more serious in international relations than a nation infringing on the territory of another country. The reaction of Vietnam is absolutely correct.
Frankly, I am very impressed with Vietnam's approach, a non-violent, moderate but resolute approach. You have been steadfastly opposed to China's actions. I believe that the international community sees Vietnam's response to be careful and cautious.
Most people are impressed with this reaction and I think it is a wise, strategic decision. Vietnam’s reaction has also highlighted China's behavior in the eyes of the world. It shows that Beijing is illegally and unfairly violating the interests of other countries.
I think the oil rig incident, in some way, has "opened the eyes" to many people in the US, around the world and perhaps even in Vietnam.
On the other hand, in my opinion, the 981 rig incident also paves the way for closer cooperation between Vietnam and the Philippines. Obviously, Vietnam and the Philippines have mutual benefit in this regard, and I think it will not be difficult for the two countries to reach an agreement that resolves the existing territorial disputes in the East Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines have overlapping claims in the East Sea but the two sides can clearly delineate their EEZ.
Back to the 9-dotted, 10-dotted or 11-dotted line that China claims in the East Sea, this U-shaped line has been constantly changing but it only proves that it is an extremely unreasonable claim.
When it comes to international law, it does not have a legal basis at all. Beijing claims sovereignty based on what it calls "historic waters." If their claim is legitimate, they do not have to make the effort to produce evidence in the field as they are doing, as they support fishing boats of their fishermen to go deep into the East Sea.
I believe that over time, a series of measures that Vietnam is implementing will intensify China's provocative behavior and I hope that finally, pressure from international public opinion will force them to behave in a peaceful manner and even have to accept litigation in the international court.
Bui The Giang: I want to emphasize one of the two points that Mr. Corr just stated. Firstly, Corr said that the 981 rig incident has opened the eyes for many Americans as well as Vietnam about China.
As for the Vietnamese, at least myself, because I cannot speak for all Vietnamese people, what amazed me is: After so many ups and downs in bilateral relations between Vietnam and China in the modern time, and after the two countries normalized their relations in November 1991, both countries, especially the Vietnamese side, tried the best to make relations between the two countries to be really normal, for example enhancing trade, economic exchanges between the peoples and the governments, and the two parties. Things were going well and last year Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited Vietnam.
Both sides were pleased and many Vietnamese people thought this was a good time for bilateral relations between Vietnam and China. But the joyous days did not last long, as they pulled the rig into our waters. That made me really surprised.
But let me just say that the oil rig event did not open my eyes. Because as I mentioned earlier when you said that Vietnam understands China more than anyone in the world, let me recall that we know little about the Chinese people and especially understand the bilateral relations between Vietnam and China.
And if from this perspective, the oil rig event is nothing new. For me, it is understandable if we think of a long history of Vietnam's relationship with China. The oil rig event just proves what Vietnam understands about China is right. The only thing that surprised me was the timing of the event.
Your opinion about the Philippines is very interesting. Vietnam has territorial issues with the Philippines in the Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands. The two sides have overlapping claims. But we have never and will never have problems like in our relations with China.
In other words, we have never dealt with the Philippines and vice versa, the Philippines have never dealt with us like the Chinese did. Even if the two sides have a sovereignty dispute in the East Sea, the two navies are happy to play football and volleyball together in a friendly way. So, how to approach the sovereignty dispute is very important.
Dr. Corr: I totally agree with you. If other countries in the region have the same approach as Vietnam with the Philippines, I believe the region will be much more peaceful. I hope that at least in the near future, China will express its good will in return.
I have suggested that the United States and the international community should consider stronger reactions once China goes too far, continuing its provocative behavior in the East Sea.
I know it is hard for Americans to imagine themselves to be able to place economic embargo on China because of the enormous size of the US-China economic relationship, and then Beijing holds a trillions of dollars of the US government’s debt.
The US investors have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into China. This economic relationship has a profound effect on American politics, scholars, and the American public.
However, I still believe that once the American people understand China's international law violations, they will begin to consider stronger responses. Hopefully, it will be a peaceful way to bring China back to the community of nations with a peaceful approach to settling disputes at sea. I think my hope has a good ground because China is a power that is fairly cautious in its strategic intentions.
Bui The Giang: I hope so. But I have a comment, or a question like this. It is almost evident that every nation in the international community has spoken out against China’s pulling of its oil rig into Vietnam's EEZ.
Even neutrals such as the EU have called for China to comply with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982. Do you think that China, especially the Chinese leaders, have rethought about what they did? When things are going well with them, but just because of the oil rig, the whole world is opposed to them? Is that a lesson for them?
Dr. Corr: I think so. I hope that Beijing has learned the lesson. But they have seen similar strong reactions when they occupied the Philippines' Scaborough or when they declared the ADIZ with Japan. Yet they still want to show off their military might.
Now, if you are a big country, a great civilization, there are many things you can do with that power, economically, civilly or intellectually. You can make an impact in a peaceful way.
You can work to improve the lives of your people, improve the lives of other peoples by contributing money to international aid. A lot of things you can do as a world power. But by taking over the territory of another country, it is not a way to help you become a great power, be regarded as a great power, or help you to establish a global influence.
No, this way only makes a large country become small, a large country that is only interested in minor things. I believe that only when a big country promotes global values, for example environmental protection, will prove that it is worthy to be a big one, not by encroaching on another's territory. These are only narrow-minded acts.
Bui The Giang: I like the words you use "narrow-minded acts," not small countries. I think of countries like Singapore, Brunei, for example. They are very small countries on the map of the world. But small countries with pride and self-respect will never behave like that.
I also fully agree with you that we can only expect and hope that China will behave as a great country. Your remarks remind me of the vision of Mr Brezinski, a far-reaching national security advisor in the United States. I remember his speech at Stanford University in April 2003, almost 12 years ago.
He analyzed the potential competitors of America. He analyzed Russia, the EU, India, Japan and finally he focused on China. Let’s remember that nearly 12 years ago, China was only the sixth largest economy in the world. And in 2002, the Communist Party of China held the 16th National Congress.
At that Congress, they set out the target to turn China into the world's fourth largest economy by 2020. Only 2-3 years later, they became the fourth largest economy in the world.
Two to three years ago, they became the second largest economy in the world. Not to mention the recent report by the International Monetary Fund that if GDP was calculated based on purchasing power, then China's economy has surpassed the United States.
To be continued…