SINGAPORE: With the region’s spotlight on China’s alleged militarisation of islands in South China Sea, Vietnam’s Defence Minister General Ngo Xuan Lich has vigorously pitched for resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law and called for respect for sovereignty of all countries.
“We request other countries to respect sovereignty of other countries. Vietnam’s position has been consistent and we support peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law and the 1982 UNCLOS,” said Vietnam’s defence minister. He also called for an early establishment of the Code of Conduct to manage the South China Sea issue.
General Ngo was upfront about Hanoi’s deep anxiety about the militarisation of artificial islands in South China Sea by China and called for diplomacy and dialogue to resolve the contentious issue.
“Under no circumstances can anyone make excuses for deploying weapons in a disputed area,” said Vietnamese defense minister at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defence and security forum, in Singapore on June 2.
“Reclamation activity has been undertaken unilaterally … disregarding international law,” General Ngo stressed. He was alluding to China’s wide-ranging construction to enlarge its claims in the contested sea body, including in areas claimed by Vietnam like Spratly and Paracel.
Taking a forward-looking view, he said: “The South China Sea should be a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.”
With India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi setting the tone for forging an inclusive Indo-Pacific order at the 18th Shangri-La dialogue in his keynote address, Vietnam’s defence minister stressed on the centrality of ASEAN in shaping an open and inclusive regional architecture.
“ASEAN is a model of cooperation for small and medium-sized nations and has a key role to play in shaping regional architecture,” he said.
In 2020, Vietnam will the chair of ASEAN and mark the 10th anniversary of ADMM.
The imperative for upholding freedom of navigation and resolving the South China Sea issue figured prominently in speeches and interventions at the Shangri-La dialogue in which a record number of defence ministers and delegations from 51 countries participated.
In his address, US Defence Secretary James Mattis accused China of “intimidation” and “coercion” in the contested South China Sea and warned Beijing of consequences. Predictably, Lt. Gen. He Lei, head of the Chinese delegation participating in the Shangri-La Dialogue, rubbished these allegations and asserted that “countries accusing China” are the ones causing tension in the region. “China has resolve and capability to defend its sovereignty,” he asserted.