Pham Binh Minh: Vietnam to Balance US and China in the Asian Century

Video: Highlights from Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Vietnam Pham Binh Minh's appearance at Asia Society New York on Sept. 24, 2014. (4 min., 37 sec.)

NEW YORK, September 24, 2014 — In prepared remarks and a subsequent Q & A at Asia Society, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Vietnam Pham Binh Minh explained how, given the shifting nature of Southeast Asian regional affairs, his country intends to balance its relationship with China and the United States, and how its doing so can contribute to a more stable and prosperous Asia Pacific. The Minister's Asia Society appearance was held in conjunction with the 2014 United Nations General Assembly. (Watch the complete program.) Following are some excerpts from Minh's remarks.

On the future of the Asia-Pacific:

The 21st century has been widely predicted to be the Asian century. The world’s three largest economies, the United States, China, and Japan, as well as 10 of the G20 economies, are in the Asia-Pacific. Despite the recent slowdown in economic growth, the Asia-Pacific retains its position as the most economic, dynamic region in the world and truly the engine of the ongoing global economic recovery. The region has taken a leading role in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, among them Vietnam. No other region is witnessing such a robust expansion of regional economic integration as the Asia-Pacific. We are seeing stronger trade, closer investment linkages, and regional and sub-regional connectivity. In just one year's time, the ASEAN community will be established by the end of 2015 with a population of more than 600 million and a combined GDP exceeding $2.2 trillion dollars.

Challenges the region may face:

The Asia-Pacific is facing unprecedented challenges that can unravel the economic success that has been achieved so far. Since the global financial economic crisis, strategic competition between major powers is now on the rise. If history is any guide, we know that any shift in the balance of power often leads to some sort of chaos — even conflict. The Asia-Pacific is not immune to this historic trend. I believe strategic distrust among major powers is rising. The security dilemma has been worsened by unchecked unilateralism, military modernization, arms buildup, and maritime disputes. While the Korean peninsula remains unstable, new flashpoints are emerging; most disturbingly. the territory disputes in the East and South China Sea. Never before have we seen a greater risk for miscalculation and incident that may escalate to military conflicts than in the past few months. In addition to the above threats, non-traditional security challenges like climate change, sea rise, food, energy and water security, and cybercrimes are endangering peace, security, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

Envisaging the Asia-Pacific of the future:

A balanced view, taking into account all of the opportunities and challenges in the Asia-Pacific, suggests the region can be a region of peace, dynamic development, where international rule of law and a regional code of conduct are respected. My conviction is based on the following observations: First, a region of peace and economic dynamism is the common interest of the regional countries and the rest of the world. Second, a peaceful and stable region based on the rule of law is in the interest of the majority of the countries in the region. Third, it is in the common interest there exists an open, inclusive regional architecture which will give people equal access and opportunities.

How we might be able to ensure that future for the Asia-Pacific:

First, all countries with a stake in the future of the Asia-Pacific need to work together to ensure those goals. The U.S. should maintain their full commitment and responsibility to the future of the Asia-Pacific. Second, major powers should build stable and cooperative relationships between and among them. The cooperation and competition [among] major powers have always had a huge impact on the smaller countries in the region. The smaller countries do not want to be affected by big power politics; neither do they want to be forced to take sides. Thirdly, efforts at building a regional security architecture should be continued. Such architecture would not only help regulate relations among big powers, but also ensure that smaller countries can actively contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in the region:

How Vietnam can contribute to the peaceful, stable development of the region:

First, Vietnam for Vietnam. We have to succeed in our economic reform and development. Second, we must follow the foreign policies of peace, diversification of external relations, multilateralization, independence, and self-determination. Third, we have to serve as a proactive regional actor. Vietnam will help to promote ASEAN’s vision to ensure an open, inclusive, and transparent regional architecture where a regional code of conduct, international rules and norms, and most importantly the United Nations charter will continue to prevail. Fourth, we have to be a good global citizen by making greater contributions in resolving regional and global challenges. Vietnam also seeks to resolve the disputes in the East and South China Sea by peaceful means based on the rules of international law established by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Pending a long-term solution, we will work with China and ASEAN to better manage the disputes and prevent incidents from occurring and reoccurring. It is in the best interest of all nations in the Asia-Pacific to preserve an ASEAN-led regional order based on the rule of law that will allow countries big and small, developed and less developed, to have equal opportunities to voice their views and protect their interests.

About the Author

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Christina Dinh is a Program Officer for the Asia Society Policy Institute. She is based in Washington, D.C.