China was said to take advantage of the Ream naval base in Cambodia to strengthen its ability to control the southern area of the East Sea (South China Sea), increasing the threat to Vietnam.
In that context, seven independent civil society organizations, with more than a dozen people who are intellectuals, on September 19, sent a letter of recommendation to the senior leaders of the State of Vietnam titled “Vietnam should cooperate with the US and Western countries in Cam Ranh.”
Fear of China attacking Vietnam
Seven organizations signed the letter including Lap Quyen Dan (People Power Establishment), Civil Society Forum, Independent Writers Campaign Committee, Bauxite Vietnam, Nguyen Trong Vinh Club, Le Hieu Dang Club, and Club Hoang Quy. The letter was addressed to three of the four top leaders of Vietnam, namely President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue, and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.
Professor, Dr. Hoang Dung, who represents the Independent Writers Campaign Committee, stated the reason for not sending this letter to Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam:
“Although the Constitution states that the Communist Party is the leading force, as a citizen and not a party member, we only send it to those who represent the State and the Government.”
The letter comes amid China’s funding of a military base at the Ream naval base, located at the southern tip of Cambodia, close to disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Author Son Hong Duc’s commentary, published on RFA on June 10, 2022, stated that on June 8, Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian held a ceremony to launch the construction project to renovate Ream Naval Base in Sihanoukville province, overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. The US press revealed that Cambodia would allow the Chinese Navy to use the base, although both Beijing and Phnom Penh denied it.
According to the content of the petition, China’s use of the Ream base, combined with their available military bases from Hainan, Hoang Sa (the Paracels), and Truong Sa (the Spratlys) creates a clear naval and air synergy that could help them lock Vietnam inland, making it impossible for Vietnam to reach the sea if they wanted to.
In addition, the letter also raised concerns about relations between Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. These two countries, once deeply attached to Vietnam, have now also tilted towards China. Cambodia has repeatedly sided with China in the East Sea issue.
Besides, ASEAN is a non-uniform organization, both small and weak, if there is a conflict between Vietnam and China, these countries will either keep quiet or react with their mouths, so Vietnam cannot expect support from the countries in the bloc.
Faced with that situation, Dr. Hoang Dung said that it is urgent to change Vietnam’s foreign policy at this time:
“That situation is enough to show that the current foreign policy change is urgent for Vietnam.
Nowadays, everyone sees it, and the State is not that they don’t see it, but they hesitate, they don’t say that today Vietnam is still at risk of being invaded, and the only country that has the ability to invade is China and no other country.
Just look at Ukraine, if the world wasn’t behind, the Russians would be right here in the capital of Ukraine right now!”
Professor Nguyen Dinh Cong, of the Nguyen Trong Vinh Club, told RFA that he hopes that the things outlined in this letter, if not accepted by the top leadership, at least make it a stream of public opinion within the Communist Party and among the people for everyone to discuss and discuss important national issues:
“We recommend that the State should interact with countries such as Japan and the US, allowing them to travel and trade. When the US and Japan enter Cam Ranh, it will also create a position to counterbalance China’s activities.
We just hope that it makes some people in the Party form an opinion of the Party, but it is little hope to influence other senior leaders like Mr. Pham Minh Chinh or Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
But I hope to let the people, those who know, see that there are also such proponents so that people can discuss and create public opinion among the people.”
From the perception that China and Vietnam may have a conflict in the East Sea, independent civil society organizations have stated three things that Vietnam needs to do immediately.
Firstly, Vietnam should boldly open Cam Ranh port to all countries, creating conditions for Japan, the US, and Western countries to jointly develop and invest in infrastructure for peaceful purposes. This is in order to strengthen the defense capability and prevent China’s military annexation of the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa areas, along with other goals of economic development.
The second is to develop the provinces of Phan Rang, Khanh Hoa, and Phu Yen into economic centers specializing in tourism and resort; Quickly implement the Van Phong international transshipment port project, because this bay can serve as a hub for maritime, rail, road and air traffic to form an international transshipment port for Southeast Asia.
The third is to develop quickly and strongly a comprehensive partnership with the US. This issue, which has long been wary of China, or due to the lack of internal consensus discussion that Vietnam has been procrastinating on for a long time, now needs to be decided.
The participants who signed the Letter of Recommendation said that Vietnam’s Four-Nos diplomatic policy of “do not choose sides,” “do not ally with a country to fight against a third country“… is actually just a diplomatic expression, and requires reality in the face of the pressing situation. The current world’s contact to prioritize the protection of national interests is a completely different matter.