Can Vietnam’s aspirations for sea power by 2045 come true?

Chinese Coast Guard ship appeared near The Lan Tay rig, operated by Rosneft Vietnam, in the East Sea off Vung Tau, Vietnam

Vietnam has set a target of becoming a sea power by 2045 in the context of depleting coastal seafood resources, oil and gas exploration and exploitation are in difficulty due to sovereignty disputes in the East Sea (South China Sea) with China.

This goal is set out in the Document of the 13th National Party Congress issued by the Central Committee of the Party after the congress and published by the state-controlled media.

Will Vietnam become a sea power in 2045? Responding to RFA on February 17 from Saigon, longtime East Sea researcher Dinh Kim Phuc said:

The concept of sea power has many problems, such as an economic power of the sea, a maritime power in terms of navigation, or a sea power in terms of the military … This issue from the start we have to review when during the period under Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the establishment of Vinashin and Vinalines was an attempt to make Vietnam the strongest marine economy in Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific. And how is the result today about Vinashin and Vinalines, everyone knows. So it is very easy to set goals and targets, but the important is the infrastructure for us to achieve that goal. And is that infrastructure suitable for the development of Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific? Or just for the level of Vietnam, then that issue we have to review.”

Document of the 13th Party Congress stated that to become a strong nation on the sea, Vietnam needs to build an overall strategy, based on three important pillars of economics, national defense, and maritime security.

With the advantage of having a long coastline, the document argues that strategically, Vietnam’s sea and coastal areas have an important position, located in the maritime trade route between other seas and other countries in the region, promote economic exchange and integration with countries around the world. Therefore, Vietnam has many potentialities and advantages to become a sea-strong nation, step by step becoming a sea power.

Dr. Le Dang Doanh, former director of the Central Institute for Economic Management, when replying to RFA on February 17, stated:

Regarding the fact that Vietnam wants to become a sea power, it is a requirement in terms of economy as well as defense. Because at present, Vietnam has not made full use of the potentials of the marine economy and exploiting fisheries as well as minerals, the oil and gas resources of Vietnam at present in the marine economic zone have not been fully utilized.”

According to Dr. Le Dang Doanh, to achieve such a goal, Vietnam must strongly develop marine science, study and explore the sea and increase its potential in the sea. He continued:

These are very rewarding jobs, very necessary but require investment, must have the development of infrastructure, improve the quality of human resources … Those things require the cooperation of stakeholders in major economies in the world, in order to improve capacity in marine economy, as well as capacity to ensure security and stability in the East Sea of ​​Vietnam.”

Dr. Le Dang Doanh’s comment is not unfounded when over time, due to insufficient potential, Vietnam has signed with many multinational corporations in oil and gas exploration. However, due to sovereignty disputes in the East Sea with China, plus Beijing’s pressure, Vietnam has to cancel oil and gas exploration contracts with many companies, causing great economic losses.

The latest is in September 2020, Russian oil and gas company Rosneft was forced to cancel the contract with British corporation Noble Corporation in the planned exploitation offshore Vietnam, because of heavy pressure from China.

Before that, in 2017, once Vietnam had to withdraw from oil lot 136.03 in the East Sea. By 2018, Vietnam asked Repsol to withdraw from block 07.03 … According to Russian media, PetroVietnam canceled the rig contract because of Chinese pressure.

Responding to RFA in September 2020 regarding China’s forcing Vietnam to cancel oil and gas exploration contracts with foreign companies, Master Hoang Viet, a South China Sea researcher, said that it is really unavoidable pressure from China, but how to face that pressure? China saw that it could press and Vietnam withdrew, that was, it pressed successfully. China is also stronger, not to mention that in addition to the military war, China also has a psychological media campaign, which is a strategic triangular campaign to the outside on the South China Sea issue. Master Hoang Viet continued:

And the most important thing is that Vietnam must act it if it wants to continue to exist. Of course, this action is not easy, the Vietnamese leaders have reason to think that there are many problems that Vietnam depends on China like the economy … But if Vietnam does not have a clear plan, perhaps Vietnam cannot deal with China in the case of further pressure. And if that was the case, it would probably be pressed forever.”

Since 2019, many Chinese marine and research ships have been constantly harassing Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. For example, at the beginning of October 2019, dozens of Chinese ships, including the China Coast Guard, continued to harass foreign drilling platforms in cooperation with Vietnam in Vanguard Bank waters, and at the same time prevented the operation of service ships in the oil and gas industry of Vietnam.

With the Vietnamese government’s strategies to cope with pressure from China as at present, will Vietnam become a sea power in 2045 if it cannot expand oil and gas exploitation?

Also according to Document of the 13th Party Congress, with a 3,260 km coastline stretching from Mong Cai to Ha Tien and many beautiful beaches, Vietnam can promote tourism development, contributing to coastal economic development. Not only tourism, but the document also says that for Vietnam, the East Sea is also a rich and diverse biological resource with about 160,000 species. Particularly, the reserve of marine animals is estimated at 32.5 billion tons, of which fish accounts for 86%, about 5 million tons/year, and each year, about 2.3 million tons can be caught.

Mr. Tran Van Linh, chairman of Danang Fisheries Association, when talking with RFA on the evening of February 17, said that Vietnam could also become a sea power in 2045 due to its long coastline, exploiting its advantages from the coast and continental shelf … such as oil and gas, wind resources, fire … However, with the Document of the 13th Party Congress, including fishing on the target until 2045, Vietnam will become a sea power, he said, not suitable because marine resources have been exhausted:

When Vietnam aims to be a marine economic power, it is that Vietnam wants to focus on the advantages and benefits brought by Vietnam’s waters. Because Vietnam is a country with a long coastline and a very good geo-economic position, it can be said that if you want to bring a strong economy, the marine economy must be strong, making a major contribution to the economy. Fishing is only a part because the aquatic resources that cannot be exploited next year higher than the previous year. If we want to exploit sustainably, we have to catch along with conservation, and there is always a certain limit. I think the current exploitation of fish and shrimp production has reached its limit, it is only possible to preserve more, not exploit more.”

This is not the first time that Vietnam has set its sights on becoming a sea power. Previously, on October 22, 2018, the General Secretary and State President Nguyen Phu Trong signed a Resolution on the Strategy for sustainable development of Vietnam’s marine economy which affirmed that Vietnam would become a great power by 2030. At that time, the resolution envisages the economies of 28 coastal provinces and cities expected to reach 65-70% of the total GDP by 2030.

According to the General Statistics Office, the scale of Vietnam’s marine and coastal economy in the past three years averaged about 47-48% of the national GDP, of which the GDP of the pure marine economy in 2019 only reached 10% of the total GDP of the country. (Translated)


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