Visit to Vietnam

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Visit to Vietnam 19.01.2017 12:32

13 – 15 November, 2016 in Njachang (Vietnam) hosted the 8th International Conference on the South China Sea "Cooperation for Regional Security and Development", which held the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, the Foundation for Research and the East Sea of Vietnam Lawyers’ Association.


It was attended by 57 foreign participants from the UK, Germany, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, USA, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, France, Switzerland, South Korea and Japan; 103 experts from Vietnam and 21 diplomat from Australia, Great Britain, Denmark, the EU, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines, France, Sweden and Japan. I was the only Russian representative at the conference. The Russian Embassy in Vietnam did not participate in it.

Prior to the conference, a welcome dinner, at which the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador of Vietnam Dang Dinh Quy gave a presentation: "Highlights of Vietnam's foreign policy and its strategy for the East Sea issues".


On a serious level of representation at the conference is demonstrated by the fact that it was opened by Le Thanh Quang, Secretary of the Party Committee of Khanhhoa province. The conference was also attended by the ambassadors of several foreign countries, with offices in Hanoi (in particular of Malaysia, the Philippines and Sweden).

In the framework of the 8-th international conference on the South China Sea seven sections were carried out on the following topics:


1) the occurrence of the conflict in the South China Sea: historical background;

2) whether there is a tension in the South China Sea;

3) international law and the South China Sea;

4) the political economy of the South China Sea: problems and prospects;

5) security policy and diplomacy;

6) coordination and cooperation in the sea;

7) resolution mechanisms of the tensions in the South China Sea.


In the fifth session, I made a report on the subject. "Common approaches to the formation of the single South China Sea security system". In this report, it was noted that now there is a change in the global balance of forces, including in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), where there is the possibility of using Russian experience gained in the settlement of the Syrian crisis (most likely that this process will continue) and building relationships with such difficult partners such as China, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.


This also applies to such a volatile region like the North-East Asia. In this region, the United States initially provoked North Korea through the implementation of regular large-scale US-South Korean exercises, and then punished Pyongyang for conducting their nuclear tests and launches of carrier rockets (in reality, this means the creation of artificial barriers to the peaceful exploration of outer space). And under the guise of a North Korean nuclear missile threat Washington creates boundaries of missile defense (BMD), which are directed against Beijing.

It would seem that in such circumstances, especially given the US alliance with Japan and South Korea, it is extremely difficult to establish restrictions for the arms race in the region. But it is possible with the so-called sectoral approach, when the security system is created not just in the region, and initially in some of its parts. In particular, the possible transition to a limited military cooperation between Moscow and Tokyo, taking into account the outcome of the visit to Japan by Russian President Vladimir Putin


Even more interesting are the prospects for such co-operation between Russia, China and South Korea on the background of the deployment on the Korean Peninsula of the US missile defense system battery ground-based THAAD. It is obvious that the interaction between the states concerned should be based on non-bloc basis by evaluating common challenges and threats, as well as the implementation of confidence-building measures in order to avoid military incidents at sea or airspace. At the expert level, there is an understanding of the need for such cooperation even between Moscow and Seoul. If it is possible to implement on a bilateral level, it may be possible then to engage in this process, China


There is no doubt that the situation in the South China Sea is not less than explosive. The reason for this is the willingness of Beijing to make the above sea as an inland sea, for example, the establishment of 12-mile zone (territorial waters) around the artificial islands in the area of the Spratly archipelago. This raises legitimate concerns in Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, who disputed belonging of these territories. This archipelago is of great geopolitical significance: its waters are used for fishing (12% of the global fish catch) and the shelf is rich in oil and natural gas.


The cause for concern was the fact that on an artificial island by the Chinese infrastructure of dual purpose is being created: fortified ports, runways, platforms for radar stations, etc. On this basis, at the right time it can be deployed in full military air and naval bases. According to Russian experts, it will allow the PRC, firstly, to exercise control over large parts of the South China Sea, preventing a possible blockade of the Navy (Navy) US strategically important Malacca Straits, through which about 25% of world trade and 60% of China's foreign trade go through. Secondly, the area could become a zone of combat patrol Chinese SSBNs, which are based on the island of Hainan.


But this does not mean that in the area of the archipelago Spratly military provocations need to be consciously organized in which quality can be seen, for example, patrolling American destroyer with guided missiles (URO) "Lassen" within a 12-mile radius from the artificial islands (it took place in the end of October 2015). Although this "operation" lasted only a few hours, it has caused a strong reaction from China. Then Foreign Minister Wang Yi has warned the United States: "We should not take hasty action and create incidents from scratch."


At the end of January 2016 the US Navy destroyer Curtis Wilbur approached the island archipelago Triton of Paracel Islands in the distance of 12 nautical miles, as stated in the framework of operation for the protection of freedom of navigation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that patrols near the Paracel Islands are illegal, since such action is necessary to permit the Chinese authorities. In this regard, the Ministry of Defense of China expressed its strong protest to the United States.


In a much larger scale, the same thing happened in March 2016 when the carrier strike group of US Navy aircraft carrier as part of John C. Stennis, two missile cruisers and two destroyers URO, as well as the flagship of the Seventh Fleet of the US Navy made war patrol in the South China Sea. The reason for this is that China deployed its fighters and anti-aircraft missiles HQ-9 long-range. Woody Island (Paracel Islands). Thus, the US is trying to prevent military activities in China in the South China Sea under the pretext of freedom of navigation.

It should be noted that July 12, 2016 in The Hague a decision of the arbitral tribunal was issued with respect to the reefs and rocks Spratly archipelago, which China considers its islands. In particular it was about the reef Mischif, on the basis of which the Chinese have created artificial island. It is noteworthy that the latter is in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. On the basis of information provided by the judges it was decided that all the territory was claimed by Beijing - a reefs and rocks and not islands.


Therefore, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) is not established for them or 12-mile maritime zone of territorial waters or the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. In addition, the court in The Hague rejected China's arguments about the so-called "line of nine dotted lines", which allowed it to qualify for the 80% of the South China Sea. It is expected that in Beijing in advance called the court's decision in the Hague unfair "scrap of paper" and refused to perform.


For its part, Washington insists on the principle of freedom of navigation, which is threatened by China's claim to the Spratly archipelago. According to the Americans, the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of any country should be free for the passage of all vessels, including military (US Navy is often used for intelligence gathering). Beijing is strongly against the last point.

Leaving the Obama administration has failed to articulate a clear strategy on this issue and to restore the previous level of US-Chinese relations. But Beijing is not going to further deterioration of relations, especially considering the much more flexible position of the new president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who is extremely interested in obtaining Chinese investments. ASEAN countries are even less interested in this.


The result was a stalemate, which can significantly worsen after 5-7 years, when China creates a single zone air defense over the South China Sea. Therefore, the problem should be solved immediately, what can be done with the use of the Russian experience.


It seems that sectoral approach may be selected to the formation of a single security system of the South China Sea. For this purpose, as a first step, it should, in addition to the strengthening of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the military sphere, to strengthen military cooperation between Russia and Vietnam, to move from military-technical cooperation military cooperation between Moscow and Kuala Lumpur, as well as the start of military-technical cooperation between Russia and China and the Philippines. These states make up a pair of some segments of the future regional security system.


Within each segment of the security common challenges and threats should be evaluated. It is obvious that Russia and China are the main military threat to the United States, capable of carrying on our states of massive air and missile strikes, including nuclear weapons. This requires joint exercises, including in the South China Sea. From 12 to 19 September, 2016 Russian-Chinese military exercises "Sea cooperation-2016" took place in which measures to strengthen the defense of Russia and China from the "power of influence" of the United States were worked out.


As part of these exercises two squadrons were formed, which carried out joint military operations against the opposing side. On the Russian side the following ships of the Pacific Fleet were attended by: large anti-submarine ship "Admiral Tributs" and "Admiral Vinogradov", large amphibious ship "Relight" sea tugboat "Alatau" and tanker "Pecheng". Troop ships were led by Commander of the Maritime Flotilla of the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy Rear Admiral Vadim Kulitj.


These exercises were far enough away from the disputed areas - near the Chinese province of Guangdong. In the course of their implementation maneuvers of submarines and surface ships were worked out, air operations, conducted live firing, rescue activities were carried out, and the "seizure of the island" with the landing of amphibious assault was held. At the same time, on the basis of the involved forces and means, one can conclude that these exercises have had limited scope and do not pose a threat to any state. At the same time, their information provision was clearly insufficient, enabling Western media to create a negative background for joint exercises "Sea cooperation-2016".


Of course, the range of military threats to China is much wider. Such threats may be pose Japan to Beijing (for the RF it is only a call), the Republic of Korea, Australia and Taiwan. Common challenge for Russia and China come from North Korea.


Russia and Vietnam have together developed and diverse military cooperation. This allows using the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to use Vietnam military infrastructure, in particular when making trips warships in the Indian Ocean. But we have common threats. For example, for Moscow, Washington it is a military threat, but for Hanoi it is just a call. The opposite picture is observed with respect to China, which is a strategic partner for Russia, but a threat for Vietnam. Apparently, a common challenge for our countries is only Japan.


There is no doubt that the consolidation of military cooperation between Moscow and Hanoi will enhance the security of Vietnam and create a basis for a common security system of the South China Sea. But it could give rise to suspicion on the part of Beijing. Therefore, the Russian arms deliveries are extremely important to maintain between China and Vietnam, the balance of power, to avoid the possibility of a military confrontation, including in the area of the Spratly archipelago and the Paracel Islands. It would also be desirable that Vietnam has joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at least as a dialogue partner.


Russian-Malaysian cooperation in the military-technical sphere has a serious potential. But in many ways it remains unrealized due to significant technological dependence of Kuala Lumpur to the West. For most large arms purchases of the country are conducted in France, this is also evidenced by the portfolio of future orders.


Our countries have no common threats, and the only general call is the international terrorism. However, in some future, Russia and Malaysia may move from a military-technical to the limited military cooperation through, for example, joint maneuvers of the Navy. But for this the presence of the Russian Navy in the Indian Ocean should acquire a permanent character.

Of course, much will depend on the role of the US in the Asia-Pacific region, the economic state of Europe and the depth of the economic rivalry between Malaysia and China. Under certain conditions (for example, weakening of the US role or exacerbation of contradictions with Beijing) rapprochement between Moscow and Kuala Lumpur may accelerate. It also can be contributed by Malaysia's accession to the SCO as, for example, an observer or a destabilization of the internal situation in neighboring countries.


At present, the Philippines improved relations with China and Russia is opportunistic in nature and due to intensity of personal relations between presidents Barack Obama and Rodrigo Duterte. However, November 8, 2016 in the United States presidential elections were held, won by Donald Trump, who is set to a serious containment of China. But the problem is that Washington is increasingly lacking the resources, but Beijing has got them. And in exchange for economic cooperation between the Chinese do not want to change of the domestic political system of Philippine.


As a result, October 7, 2016 Philippines abandoned the annual joint military exercises with the US, and the country's defense minister informed about the decommissioning of military cooperation with the United States, including the rejection of joint patrols in the South China Sea and the withdrawal of the US military from bases in the Philippines. But during a visit to China, held in mid-October, the President of Rodrigo Duterte said: "At this meeting, I declare my separation from the US ... Maybe not in social issues, but in the military sphere and in the economy. America has lost". During this visit, the business representatives of the two countries have signed contracts for $13 billion.


There are the following reasons for an anti-American position of President Duterto exist. First, the critics by the United States and its allies of Rodrigo Duterte for his tough stance on the fight against crime and drugs (according to human rights observers, from June 2016 from 2,000 to 3,000 of people could have been killed in Philippines on suspicion of having links with drug trafficking).


Second, the relatively high rates of economic growth (6-7% GDP growth per year) require the expansion of markets. But the highly competitive US market with lower growth, protectionist policies in relation to its products and significant limitations in the distribution of high-tech industries abroad, cannot provide the basis for the growth of Philippine export.

Third, in the United States the issue is discussed of closing their markets to migrant workers, including those from the Philippines, which are a source of cheap labor.


All this requires from Manila to diversify its foreign policy and international relations. Moreover, demonstrative search for new partners is to get Americans to make certain concessions. On the other hand, Washington can prevent the federalization of the Philippines, to strengthen local separatism and create serious social and political problems. In addition, the United States launched an information war against Rodrigo Duterte. The outcome of this is not obvious, so it is too early to talk about the real convergence of the Philippines with China and Russia. And in reality, we do not have common threats and the only common challenge is Islamic radicalism.


Thus, Russia has some experience in the creation of new regional security systems and in building relationships with difficult partners. This can be used in such an explosive region as the South China Sea in the form of a sectoral approach to the formation of a single security system, i.e. the first address on the bilateral level, and then go to a tripartite and multilateral format. In this region it's not because of, as a rule, lack of common challenges and threats.

However, this question cannot be put off for the future, in order to avoid negative developments. And in the process of creating a new system of regional security, the key role is played by the Russian-Vietnamese interaction, which in this region is no less important than the strengthening of Russian-Chinese relations.


It should be noted that the conference was held at a high organizational level. In particular, each participant was provided with a full package of documents, including all presentations and presentations of the speakers, in electronic and paper form. And it was seriously covered in the media, including my participation (mainly in Vietnamese).


At the same time, it became clear that the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, and actually its structural unit - the Foundation of the East Sea Studies are under significant influence of the United States. Therefore, the organizers of the conference, only the Association of Lawyers of Vietnam took a friendly attitude to Russia. This has affected the very limited Russian representation at the conference.


The conference was attended by the representatives of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. There was no conflict between them, but the Chinese representatives were kept apart from the rest of the conference participants. In general, the direct pressure was not given on China that suggests some softening of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship.


Excursion to the naval Camranh base was organized, which only simulates the civil activities. This is evidenced, for example, by the absence of the railways and port infrastructure required for unloading and storage of goods.


During the visit in Hanoi November 18, 2016 took my visit to Vietnam Lawyers Association. On the Vietnamese side in this meeting took part: Le Minh There, Vice President and General Secretary of the Bar Association of Vietnam (14 years, he led the largest law school of the country - Hanoi Law Institute) and Nguyen Quoc Hung, head of the legal advisory center of Vietnam-Russia on Foreign relations.


During the meeting they discussed the possibility to establish cooperation between the Institute of the CIS countries and the Association of Lawyers of Vietnam, on the whole Russian-Vietnamese relations and prospects of their development in the near future. In particular, it was agreed that Vietnam and as ASEAN state, can greatly assist the Russian Federation in strengthening ties with the organization and facilitate the return of Russia to Southeast Asia as a serious foreign policy player.


Lawyers’ Association of Vietnam - it is an important social organization in Vietnam. It reports directly to the Secretariat of the Communist Party of Vietnam is the country's ruling party. As a consequence, the Association assigned major functions, which include participation in the development of the legal framework in Vietnam, the spread of legal literacy of the local population and the conduct of free legal advice to citizens. And a few years ago, such legal assistance was stranded to the Russians in Vietnam, at the request of the Association of Lawyers of Russia.


At various times, the leaders of the Association were high and distinguished persons in Vietnam as Defense Minister, and later Minister of Justice Phan Anh, Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam Phung Van Tuu, chairman of the Supreme Court, Pham Hung and Assistant President Pham Quoc Anh. The current president of the Association Nguyen Van Quyen is the deputy head of the Central State Commission for Legal Reform (it is headed by the president of the country). Nguyen Van Quyen was deputy head of the Communist Party of Vietnam apparatus for domestic policy


The Association has an extensive infrastructure in the country. In particular, its branches (offices) are located in all provinces and major government offices in Vietnam. A vice-president of the Association is the Deputy Minister of Justice, Deputy Attorney General, and Vice-President of the Supreme Court and deputy leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam apparatus for domestic policy.


Thus, trip to Vietnam in mid-November 2016 has allowed expanding the activities of the CIS Institute in the ASEAN space. Moreover, the entry of Russia to the organization is most likely through Vietnam; therefore it is advisable to consider the possibility of establishing relations between the Institute of the CIS countries and the Association of Lawyers of Vietnam by signing a memorandum of understanding. This can be done in November 2017, during the annual international conference on the South China.