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Keynote Speech by H.E. Bui Thanh Son, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Opening Sesion

H.E. Mr. Bui Thanh Son, First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs

At the 12 South China Sea International Conference

Hanoi, November 16-17, 2020

 

Promoting dialogues for cooperation, mutual development and dispute management in the South China Sea


Ms. Pham Lan Dung, Acting President of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam

Mr. Nguyen Van Quyen, Chairman of Vietnamese Lawyers Association

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished guests,

   At the outset, on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, I would like to warmly welcome all of you, Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps, speakers, distinguished guests present in this room and those of you from all over the world joining us online, to the 12 Sout h China Sea International Conference entitled “Maintaining peace and cooperation through time of turbulence”. I am aware and consider it a great honor that many of you are staying late at night or awake early in the morning for online participation, and am particularly encouraged by the attention and response from many friends over the world about the topic of this Conference.

    I highly evaluate the efforts by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, the Vietnamese Lawyers’ Association and the Foundation for East Sea Studies in organizing this conference series over the past 12 years, even at the time of great travel difficulties caused by Covid-19, thus continuing to maintain this conference series as a top dialogue forum on peace and cooperation in the East Sea (South China Sea).

    Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps,

   Ladies and Gentlemen,

   As a coastal country bordering the South China Sea, for thousands of years, many Vietnamese generations have been nurturing the aspirations for peace and cooperation. Therefore, Vietnam has always been and will be making every effort in transforming the South China Sea into a sea of peace, stability and prosperity, a connection that harmonizes the interests of all the countries inside and outside the region and one that promotes their peaceful coexistence on the basis of international law and principles of international relations as shown in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. We believe that it is not only the aspiration of the Vietnamese people but also of other peoples and nations inside and outside the region. This aspiration has never been stronger at the current time as the world is facing with great upheavals, with profound and complex transformations. The Covid-19 pandemic has not only claimed millions of lives but also turned global life upside down, threatening to wash away all economic achievements and social progress obtained over the past decades, causing multiple crises in the world. These disorders exert enormous impacts on international relations, worsening the competition among major powers and the simmering conflicts within societies and between the countries. These sharpen the extremist trends in the management and operation of the contemporary world system. In international relations, trust has suffered from negative impacts. So have peace and stability among nations.

   In that turbulent world landscape, the South China Sea continues to draw the attention of regional countries and the world community, as it is a litmus test for the ability of the region to maintain dialogue and cooperation in the interest of the regional and global community; for the transparency and relevance of the policies as well as of the actions by countries inside and outside the region in line with international norms; and for the code of conduct in international relations, especially in major power relations, and its implications for the upcoming international order and the upholding of international law and the behavior of countries in accordance with international law. The South China Sea is also a test case for the role of regional multilateral institutions, especially ASEAN, in reducing tension, building trust and exercising preventive diplomacy, and creating a favorable environment for the peaceful settlement of the South China Sea disputes.

   Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps,

   Ladies and Gentlemen,

   As the Chair of ASEAN for the year 2020 and a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the term 2020-2021, Vietnam has made joint efforts with partner countries in strengthening the role of multilateral institutions, promoting ASEAN’s activities, thereby maintaining dialogue and fostering cooperation, overcoming the difficulties in general and in addressing the South China Sea issue in particular, in the spirit of “cohesiveness and responsiveness”, and in harmonizing the viewpoints and interests of the concerned countries. As a result, the transparency, unity, cohesiveness and common positions of ASEAN regarding the South China Sea issue have been consolidated. On August 8, 2020, ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a statement reaffirming their determination to maintain Southeast Asia as a region of peace, security, stability and neutrality, at the same time “calling on all countries to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, to refrain from the threat or use of force, and to resolve differences and disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law.”

   Despite many setbacks caused by Covid-19, ASEAN has been fostering multidimensional maritime cooperation with countries and international institutions inside and outside the region. For example, it is necessary to mention the ASEAN-China workshop on “Ensuring equal and humane treatment of fishermen in the South China Sea”. We expect this Conference would open up new directions for regional cooperation in this very essential field. Vietnam has fostered the spirit of dialogue, multilateralism and respect for international law and the United Nations Charter, searching for peaceful, reasonable and equitable solutions for international conflicts. A first-ever dialogue between ASEAN and the United Nations Security Council was held in order to strengthen the coordination between the two most important multilateral institutions on regional political and security issues, in which many Southeast Asian issues have received enormous attention.

   Although many efforts have been made in promoting dialogue and cooperation, the situation in the South China Sea still presents potentially unpredictable challenges to peace, stability and regional cooperation. The unilateral interpretation of international law, which is not in line with the norms and interests of the international community, has threatened the significance, integrity and universality of UNCLOS 1982. This would not only weaken the foundation of peace and stability in the South China Sea but also threaten to erode the global maritime order as well as global peace and cooperation at the time when cooperation is much desired than ever before. Besides, geo-strategic competition and militarization in the South China Sea continues to change the status-quo, further complicating the situation on the ground, hindering diplomatic processes and other efforts aimed promoting dialogues and cooperation. Non-traditional maritime security issues such as natural ddisaster, environmental pollution, transnational crimes, sea level rise… still challenge the peaceful life of millions of peoples whose lives are dependent on the sea.

   To overcome such challenges, countries inside and outside this region need to make comprehensive efforts to cooperate and deepen our dialogues, to develop together and find peaceful solutions to our differences. In particular, I would like to emphasize these following 5 points:

    - First, we need to facilitate an environment conducive for cooperation. We need to enhance strategic trust regarding the South China Sea issue among countries inside and outside this region. There are numerous confidence building measures, but the most important ones are to adopt transparent policies, to abide by international law and to act responsibly for the mutual benefits of the international community. In addition, we need to boost the cooperation among law enforcement and maritime management units of concerned parties. With Southeast Asia being an active region, enjoying strong ties with the regional and international parties, I believe such strategic trust shall be strengthened.

    - Second, we need to actively prevent unplanned encounters at sea. It is a high priority to adopt a code of conduct for all maritime units, not only from coastal countries but also from international players exercising their lawful rights in the South China Sea. Our cooperative efforts to build a code of conduct will prevent mis messaging, strategic misunderstanding and thus will reduce the likelihood for unplanned encounters.

  - Third, we need to work together on economic recovery and mutual development. In the current global recession, the Indo-Pacific need to be a driver for global economic recovery. The South China Sea should be the area to promote global trade, to sustain the supply chain, especially with strategic commodities. Projects linking sea ports and other infrastructure should be advanced, which is in accordance with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

   - Fourth, we need to join hands in environmental protection, marine scientific research and sustainable development in the South China Sea. Cooperation in terms of maritime conservation, scientific research and law enforcement, especially within multilateral frameworks, is vital for maintaining the rule-based order and sustainable development in the South China Sea. Enhancing marine scientific research is even more significant given the context of the United Nations decade for ocean science for sustainable development 2021-2030. Vietnam is willing to cooperate with neighboring countries and the international community, in accordance with international law, to preserve and effectively use the resources in the South China Sea for mutual development.

   - Fifth, we are committed to working continuously towards a peaceful settlement to overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Accordingly, concerned parties shall promote sincere dialogues based on constructive, tolerant and reconciliatory spirit as well as good faith to mitigate the differences in search of a peaceful solution for disputes, including territorial and maritime disputes. Vietnam is willing to collaborate with concerned parties to utilize bilateral and multilateral frameworks of the region, including those of ASEAN such as the ASEAN Maritime Forum and Extended ASEAN Maritime Forum, in order to promote dialogues, enhance confidence and expand cooperation. On such basis, Vietnam hopes that all parties will work actively and creatively in conflict resolution and dispute management, via negotiation and other mechanisms in accordance with international law.

   Political determination, with innovation and flexibility for further cooperation and dialogues, are the prerequisite conditions. But those are not sufficient to secure peace and cooperation in the South China Sea. To foster an environment conductive for cooperation, we hope that the parties concerned will continue to support ASEAN centrality in regional security architecture and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, to support and join ASEAN’s platforms on marine cooperation and to support ASEAN to conclude a joint strategic approach to the regional maritime security. We also hope that the parties concerned would cooperate with ASEAN to create favourable conditions and an environment conductive for an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct. We hope parties will refrain from further complicating the situation, refrain from unilateral actions, both military and civilian, to change the status-quo of the South China Sea. We hope that the parties continue to honour and respect the integrity and universality of the 1982 UNCLOS, and respect the lawful rights of the stakeholders in the South China Sea on the basis of international law.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

   I am confident that the Conference, as one of the most prestigious fora over the last ten years, with the participation of top scholars and experts in the region in regard to the South China Sea, and the genuine support from the international community proven by the attendance of the Ambassadors, representatives from different embassies and international organizations today, is an opportunity to show the aspiration for dialogues and cooperation on the South China Sea, which will contribute to the ideas and initiatives for further dialogue and cooperation on the South China Sea in the time to come. 

   I hope that this conference will be concluded fruitfully, contributing to making the South China Sea a sea of Connectivity and Cooperation instead of Competition and Confrontation, and to global peace, stability and the upholding of the rule of law.

   May I wish you, ladies and gentlemen, the best of health and success. Again, I thank you, our panelists and delegates, for your attendance today. I hope that we will have a chance to welcome you again and meet you in person soon.  

    Please accept my sincerest thanks.