At the May 2020 briefing meeting of the Ministry of Defense held in Hanoi on June 1, Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich recently warned about “complicated developments in the Eat Sea (South China Sea)” and asked the army “to be on high alert” to “be ready to fight.” Compared to half a year ago, the behavior of the head of the Vietnam People’s Army seems to have changed markedly.
The People’s Army electronic newspaper Quân Đội Nhân Dân reported that: Before the complicated developments in the South China Sea, General Ngo Xuan Lich asked agencies and units according to their functions and tasks to take the initiative in grasping the situation in all aspects, giving advice, propose solutions and ensure that in any circumstances, the army must not be passive and unexpected and ready for the plan, force, weapons and technical equipment to ensure a successful and protective struggle for solid independence, territorial sovereignty, territorial waters, sacred borders of the Fatherland.
The head of Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense did not specify what “complicated” developments in the South China Sea, but over the past two months, China has carried out many activities that have worried Vietnam and caused a conflict between Hanoi and Beijing to soar.
These activities include sinking Vietnamese fishing vessels, announcing “standard names” for dozens of rocky islands and features in the South China Sea after announcing the establishment of “Xisha District” and “Nansha Island District,” and most recently grow and harvest vegetables in the Hoang Sa (Paracels).
Vietnam has also voiced and handed a note of protest against actions that Hanoi deems to be a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and international law.
At the conference on June 1, Minister Lich said: “The General Staff has directed units to uphold the revolutionary vigilance and determination to firmly defend the sacred sovereignty of the sea and islands of the country.”
At the same time, the Minister requested “the units to thoroughly grasp the task of protecting the sovereignty of the sea and islands” and “make additional adjustments to a number of plans, orders and test readiness for combat.”
The general, General Lich also asked the Vietnamese army to “ensure that under any circumstances, they must not be passive, unexpected and ready for the plan” to “ensure victory and protection” of solid independence and territorial sovereignty.”
Lich’s warning comes in the context of China accusing the US and the international community of carrying out activities to increase their presence in the disputed waters during Vietnam and claiming states must be busy dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier, responding to voters’ questions about the South China Sea issue, the Ministry of Defense of Vietnam on May 18 announced that with investments in improving defense potential in recent years, Vietnam’s forces were “available” and ready to fight Chinese groups of ships invading the waters.”
Recalling four times that China sent survey ships and guard ships to violate Vietnamese waters from July 4 to October 24 last year, the ministry said China’s actions were “serious violations” of sovereignty and jurisdiction of Vietnam.
Dan Tri quoted the ministry as affirming Vietnam’s policy as “resolutely and consistently protecting national sovereignty over the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, keeping the 21 islands (33 garrison points) in the Truong Sa (Spratlys); closely combine political, diplomatic and legal struggles with preparing military plans, resolutely protecting sovereignty over islands and islands.”
In the face of the fact that China “does not give up its ambition to monopolize the South China Sea” and strengthens its presence and control in the field, the Ministry of Defense said it routinely directs forces to strengthen its work to monitor the situation on the sea, organize forces to promptly handle situations so as not to be passive, surprised and promptly report and propose to the Standing Committee of the Secretariat and the Prime Minister.
According to the Ministry, Vietnam has increased the procurement of modern equipment and high-tech weapons in recent years to improve its ability to grasp the situation and manage the seas, and regularly organize patrol, rehearsal … so as not to be passive and handle well situations happening at sea.
It can be said that the actions of the Ministry of Defense as well as the Vietnamese communist rulers in recent times are different from what the previous moves.
At the opening ceremony of the 9th Xiangshan Forum in Beijing on October 21, 2019, in the presence of Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich, his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe stated: “The islands in the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands are parts of China that cannot be changed. We will not even allow to take away an inch of our ancestral territory.“
Independent journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy, acting chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam who was arrested by the Vietnamese communist security at his home on May 23 reported the events of Mr. Ngo Xuan Lich “demise” at the Xiangshan Forum as follows: “[…] in his speech at this forum, Ngo Xuan Lich never spoke a sentence affirming Vietnam’s sovereignty in the South China Sea and islands in the South China Sea. Not even a mention of the Chinese violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty at Vanguard Bank which took place from the beginning of July until now (at the time of writing in October 2019). He only dared to say general ideas that sounded like boring ‘Resolving disputes by peaceful means,’ “mutual respect and respect for international law.” Graciously, he only spoke to the extent that “the situation in the South China Sea is still complicated” without daring to say who is making the situation more complicated in the sea.”
Mr. Thuy said: “In response to the contrary speech of the Minister of National Defense of China, Ngo Xuan Lich should speak up to affirm Vietnam’s sovereignty, denouncing the Chinese aggression towards Vietnam.”
At the same time, the journalist asserted: “Observing China’s moves to invade our exclusive economic zone to survey resources is not wise action. As the host country, the Chinese Communist Party said that it slapped the Vietnamese delegation in its face, but the Vietnamese side did not dare to open their mouths. It just speaks of humiliation and cowardice.
No one asked Vietnam to provoke or attack China, but the demands of defending, responding and not humiliating the nation were legitimate requests.
Through the incident at the Xiangshan Forum, those who care about the fate of the country cannot help but doubt the determination of the Vietnamese authorities to protect the Fatherland.”
Earlier, at the Shangri-La Forum on May 31, 2019, Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Chu commented: “Throughout the speech, Mr. Ngo Xuan Lich did not have a criticism of China invading Vietnam’s islands and waters, fostering artificial islands, militarizing the Southeast Asia Sea, chasing and sinking Vietnamese fishermen’s boats, banning Vietnamese fishermen from fishing in Vietnam’s waters. In contrast, all we can see that China and Vietnam are saying to ‘maintain’ peace and stability in the Southeast Asia Sea.”
Not only did he not condemn China to invade our islands, Ngo Xuan Lich also praised China’s ‘goodwill.’ Mr. Ngo Xuan Lich said: ‘The South China Sea is one of the areas full of areas of competition in terms of economics, military, diplomacy, potential conflicts. If we comply with the law international law, responsibility and goodwill, the sea will become a peaceful sea of cooperation and development.’
‘A few days ago in Hanoi, I and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe agreed that Vietnam and China have differences on the South China Sea issue, but maintaining peace and cooperation is the common interests of the two countries and the region. They are the basis for turning the South China Sea into a ‘Peace – cooperation – development’ area. On that basis, narrowing the differences, gradually resolving conflicts and disputes, not let conflict to occur.’
Not stopping there, Minister Lich also put his trust in China with the mission ‘The community of common fortune.’ He said: ‘I believe China is always aware of its major role in the region, they are initiating the idea of building a ‘community of common destiny,’ which will support, together with Vietnam and other countries to make it a reality.”
Next, Mr. Lich put Vietnam in the same direction with China when he said: ‘By doing so, China and Vietnam will contribute a” good model’ for ‘Dispute settlement in a harmonious atmosphere’ in the spirit of partnership; Because of the community responsibilities.’”
Chu said Lich’s speech has made the international community not to worry about China expanding in the South China Sea. Because “Vietnam is the country most suffered from China’s expansionism and if Hanoi does not complain, other countries have no reason to condemn China.”