Vietnam PM’s keynote address at 12th Shangri-La Dialogue


Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung delivered a keynote address entitled “Building Strategic Trust for Peace, Cooperation and Prosperity in the Asia-Pacific Region” at the opening ceremony of the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on May 31.

PM Nguyen Tan Dung and Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong

Following is the full text of the speech:

Excellency Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,

Dr. John Chipman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

At the outset, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of the Singaporean host, Dr. John Chipman and the organisers of the 12 th Shangri-La Dialogue for your kind invitation to me to attend and address this important forum. Since its inception 12 years ago, the Shangri-La Dialogue has truly become one of the most substantive and meaningful security dialogues in the region. I do believe that the full presence of government officials, military leaders, prestigious scholars and all distinguished delegates at this forum reflects the interest and the efforts to jointly preserve peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region in the context of a dynamically changing world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While languages and expressions might differ, I am sure we all agree that without trust, there would be no success and harder work asks for bigger trust. In Vietnam, there is a saying that ‘if trust is lost, all is lost.’ Trust is the beginning of all friendships and cooperation, the remedy that works to prevent calculations that could risk conflicts. Trust must be treasured and nurtured constantly by concrete, consistent actions in accordance with the common norms and with a sincere attitude.

In the 20th century, Southeast Asia in particular and the Asia-Pacific in general were once fierce battlefields and deeply divided for decades. It might be said that the entire region always had a burning desire for peace. To have the peace, development and prosperity, it is a must to build and consolidate strategic trust. In other words, we need to build strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. That is what I wish to share with you at this forum.

To begin with, Vietnam has a profound confidence in the bright future of development and cooperation in the region that we are living in. Yet the trend of increased engagement and competition, particularly by big powers not only offers positive elements but also involves negative risks that require us to take initiative and work together to prevent.

The Asia-Pacific region now enjoys dynamic development and is home to the three biggest economies and many emerging ones of the world. Here, the trend of multi-layer and multi-sector cooperation and linkages is evolving vigorously and becomes the prevailing one of the day. This is quite a promising prospect for us all.

However, looking back at the full picture of the region in the past years, we cannot fail to be concerned over the simmering risks and challenges to peace and security.

Competition and engagement are by themselves normal facts in the course of cooperation and development. Yet if such competition and engagement embrace calculations only in one’s own interest, without equality, respect of international law and transparency, then strategic trust could in no way be reinforced, and there could be a chance for the rise of division, suspicion and the risk of mutual containment, thus adversely affecting peace, cooperation and development.

The unpredictable developments in the Korean Peninsula; sovereignty and territorial disputes from the East China Sea to the East Sea (South China Sea) that are evolving with much complexity, threatening regional peace and security, firstly maritime security and safety as well as the freedom of navigation, have indeed caused deep concerns to the international community. Somewhere in the region, there have emerged preferences for unilateral might, groundless claims, and actions that run counter to international law and stem from imposition and power politics.

I would like to draw your further attention to the fact that maritime transport and communications are growing in scale and having a much greater significance. It is projected that three fourths of global trade will be made via maritime routes and two thirds of that will be shipped across the East Sea . A single irresponsible action or instigation of conflict could well lead to the interruption of such huge trade flow, thus causing unforeseeable consequences not only to regional economies but also to the entire world.

In the mean time, the threats of religious and ethnic conflicts, egoistic nationalism, secessionism, violence, terrorism, cyber security, etc. are still very much present. Global challenges like climate change, sea level rise, pandemics or water resources and the interests of upstream and downstream riparian countries of shared rivers, etc. have become ever more acute.

We could realize that such challenges and risks of conflict are not to be underestimated. We all understand that if this region falls into instability and especially, armed conflicts, in general there will be neither winner nor loser. Rather, all will lose. Suffice it to say, therefore, that working together to build and reinforce strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the region is the shared interest of us all. For Vietnam , strategic trust is perceived, above all, as honesty and sincerity.

Secondly, to build strategic trust, we need to abide ourselves by international law, uphold the responsibilities of nations, especially of major powers, and improve the efficiency of multilateral security cooperation mechanisms.

In the world history, many nations have suffered from irreparable losses when they fell victim to power politics, conflicts and wars. In today’s civilised world, the UN Charter, international law and the universal principles and norms serve as the entire mankind’s common values that must be respected. This also represents the precondition for strategic trust building.

Each state should always be a responsible stakeholder in the pursuit of common peace and security. Countries, either big or small, must build their relations on the basis of equality and mutual respect and at a higher level, on mutual strategic trust. Big states have a greater role to play and can contribute more but they should also shoulder bigger responsibilities in the cultivation and consolidation of such strategic trust. Besides, when it comes to the right voices and beneficial initiatives it does not matter whether they come from big or small countries. The principles of cooperation, equal and open dialogue in ASEAN and other forums advocated by ASEAN as well as this Shangri-La Dialogue are born from and maintained on such mindset.

I fully share the views of H.E. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia who said last year at this forum that small and medium countries could help lock major powers into a durable regional architecture. I also agree with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on what he said in a speech in Beijing last September that a reliable and responsible cooperation between the United States and China would positively contribute to the common interest of the region. We all understand that the Asia-Pacific has sufficient room for all intra- and extra-regional countries to work together and share their interests. The future of the Asia-Pacific has been and will continue to be shaped by the roles and interactions by all countries in the region and the world, particularly by the major powers and certainly, by the indispensable role of ASEAN.

I believe that no regional country would oppose the strategic engagement of extra-regional powers if such engagement aims to enhance cooperation for peace, stability and development. We could expect more in the roles played by major powers, particularly the United States and China , the two powers having the biggest roles (I underline the biggest) in and responsibilities to the future of their own as well as that of the region and the world. What is important is that such expectation should be reinforced by strategic trust and such strategic trust must be reflected by concrete and constructive actions of these nations.

We attach special importance to the roles played by a vigorously rising China and by the United States - a Pacific power. We would expect and support the United States and China once their strategies and actions conform to international law, respect the independence and sovereignty of nations, not only bringing about benefits to them but also contributing genuinely to our common peace, cooperation and prosperity.

What I want to further underline is that the existing regional cooperation mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meetings Plus (ADMM+) as well as the Shangri-La Dialogue offer the opportunities to foster multilateral security cooperation and find solutions to the arising challenges. Yet it could be said that what is still missing, or at least still insufficient, is the strategic trust in the implementation of those arrangements. The first and foremost important thing is to build a mutual trust when confronting challenges, impacts of interactions, and enhancing practical cooperation in various areas, and at different levels and layers, both bilateral and multilateral. Once there is sufficient strategic trust, the enforcement effectiveness of existing mechanisms will be enhanced, and we could advance and expand cooperation and find solutions to any problem, even the most sensitive and difficult one.

Thirdly, when talking about peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, we cannot help but mention an ASEAN of unity and consensus, playing its central role in many multilateral cooperation forums.

It was hard to believe that a South East Asia once divided and embedded in conflicts during the Cold War could become a community of nations united in diversity and playing a central role in an evolving regional architecture like ASEAN today. The participation of Vietnam in ASEAN in 1995 marked a new era of development in ASEAN towards building a common house for all South East Asian nations true to its name. The success of ASEAN is the fruit of a long persevering process to build trust, nurture the culture of dialogue and cooperation, and cultivate the sense of responsibility to the shared destiny of South East Asian nations.

ASEAN is proud to be an example for the principle of consensus and mutual trust in the making of its own decisions. That principle is the foundation for equality among the member states, whether it is Indonesia with nearly a fourth of a billion people or Brunei Darussalam with less than half a million. That principle also constitutes the foundation for extra-regional countries to place their trust in ASEAN as an ‘ honest broker’ in guiding the numerous regional cooperation mechanisms.

With a mindset of shared interests rather than that of a win-lose one, the enlargement of the East Asia Summit (EAS) to include Russia and the United States, the ADMM+ process that was put into reality in Vietnam in 2010, and the success of EAS, ARF and ADMM+ in the years that follow have further consolidated the ground for a regional architecture in which ASEAN plays the central role, bringing about trust in the multilateral security cooperation in the region.

I also wish to refer to Myanmar as a vivid example of the outcome of the perseverance to dialogue on the basis of building and reinforcing trust, respecting the legitimate interests of each other, which helps open up a bright future not only for Myanmar but also for our whole region.

There have been profound lessons about the fundamental values of ASEAN’s consensus and unity in maintaining equal and mutually beneficial relations with partner countries and maximising its proactive role in handling strategic issues of the region. ASEAN could only be strong and able to build on its role when it is united as one. An ASEAN lacking unity will by itself, lose its stand and will not be in the interest of any country, even ASEAN member states or its partners. We need an ASEAN united and strong, cooperating effectively with all countries to nurture peace and prosperity in the region, not an ASEAN in which member states are forced to take side with one country or the other for the individual benefit of their own in the relations with big powers. We have the responsibility to multiply trust in the settlement of problems, enhance cooperation for mutual benefit, combine harmoniously our national interest with that of other nations and of the whole region.

Vietnam and other ASEAN members always desire that other countries, particularly the major powers, support the ASEAN Community’s central role, its principle of consensus and unity.

Back to the issue of the East Sea , ASEAN and China have travelled a long way with no less difficulty to come to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) adopted during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in 2002. To commemorate the 10 th anniversary of the DOC, ASEAN and China have agreed to work towards a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC). Parties need to uphold their responsibilities, mutually reinforce strategic trust, first and foremost by strictly implementing the DOC and doubling efforts to formulate a COC that conforms to international law and in particular, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

We believe that ASEAN and its partners can work together to develop a feasible mechanism that could guarantee maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation in the region . In so doing, we will not only help ensure maritime security and safety, and freedom of navigation, and create conditions for the settlement of disputes but will also assert the fundamental principles in maintaining peace, enhancing development cooperation in the contemporary world.

As for non-traditional security and other challenges including water resources security on the common rivers, by building strategic trust, enhancing cooperation and harmonizing national interests with common interests, I believe that we will able to achieve successes, thus making practical contributions to peace, cooperation and development in the region.

PM Nguyen Tan Dung speech at Shangri-la dialogue

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Throughout her thousands of years of history, Vietnam has suffered numerous pains and losses due to wars. Vietnam always aspires to peace and desires to contribute to the consolidation of peace and enhancement of friendship and development cooperation in the region and the world. To have a genuine and lasting peace, the independence and sovereignty of any country, whether large or small, must be respected; and differences in interests, culture, etc. must be subject to open and constructive dialogues of mutual understanding and mutual respect.

We do not forget the past but need to put it behind to look forward to the future. With the tradition of offering peace and friendship, Vietnam always desires to work with its partners to build and reinforce strategic trust for peace, cooperation and development on the basis of the principle of respect for independence, sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit.

Vietnam consistently persists with the foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, multilateralisation and diversification of external relations, being a friend and reliable partner to all nations, and a responsible member of the international community. Vietnam has spared no efforts to build and deepen strategic partnerships and mutually beneficial cooperative partnerships with other countries. It is also our desire to establish strategic partnerships with all the permanent members of the UN Security Council once the principles of independence, sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of each other, mutual respect, equal and mutually beneficial cooperation are committed and seriously implemented.

At this prestigious forum, I have the honour to inform that Vietnam has decided to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, first in such areas as military engineering, military medicine and military observation.

Vietnam ’s defence policy is that of peace and self-defence. Vietnam will not be a military ally to any country and will not allow any country to set up military bases on Vietnamese territory. Vietnam will not ally itself with any country to counter another.

In the past years, sustained high economic growth has enabled Vietnam to increase its national defence budget at a reasonable level. Vietnam ’s army modernisation is only for self-defence and the safeguard of our legitimate interests. It does not, in any way target any other country.

With regard to the present threats and challenges to regional security such as the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and the East Sea, etc., Vietnam perseveres to the principle of peaceful dispute settlement on the basis of international law, respecting the independence, sovereignty and the legitimate interests of each other. All parties concerned need to exercise self-restraint and must not resort to force or threat to use force.

Once again, Vietnam reiterates its consistent compliance with the ASEAN Six-point Statement on the East Sea and will do its utmost to work together with ASEAN and China to seriously observe the DOC and soon arrive at the COC. As a coastal State, Vietnam reaffirms and defends its legitimate rights and interests in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Peace, cooperation and development represent the interest, the ardent aspirations and the common future of all countries and peoples. In the open spirit of the Shangri-La Dialogue, I would call upon you all to join hands and make concrete actions to build and reinforce strategic trust for an Asia-Pacific region of peace, cooperation and prosperity.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

PM Nguyen Tan Dung speech at Shangri-la dialogue

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