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Tuesday, 25 July 2017 10:06
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The role of Vietnamese overseas representatives in protecting national sovereignty over sea and islands

(LLCT) - After 30 years since the 1986 renovation when Vietnam changed its policies, including foreign affairs policies, Vietnamese Party and State has led the country to overcome the embargo and become an active country in the global stage. The open policy has helped Vietnam to quickly integrate with countries in the region and around the world. It can be said that Vietnam has never had broader relations as it does today, when it has established diplomatic relationship with 187 out of 193 member states of the United Nations, built a net of strategic partnerships with 15 countries and comprehensive partnerships with 10 other countries. 

The policy for international integration has widely been popularized not only within the diplomatic branch but also to the whole Party and the people. Therefore, the role of Vietnamese representatives in foreign affairs is significant, especially in the complicated and unpredictable context of the region and of the world. Until September 2016, Vietnam has established 96 overseas diplomatic representatives. These are Vietnamese official representatives in countries with important roles in foreign affairs.

In the struggle to protect the water sovereignty, these representatives have become a firm bridge to help Vietnamese state provide official information in exact, objective and prompt fashion to disseminate, mobilize and cultivate the support of the international community.

1. The representatives abroad are the official spokespeople for the Vietnamese Party and State to the whole world, and a bridge between the Vietnamese living at home and overseas.

Diplomatic representatives are responsible for collecting economic and political information abroad as well as information about the relationship between local governments and the outside world in order to analyze, evaluate and predict arising problems. Therefore, one can think of representatives abroad as “ears and eyes” of their own governments so that they can contribute to adjusting and developing the diplomatic policies of their own countries. Currently, along with people’s foreign affairs, foreign affairs of Party and State play an important role in building strong diplomatic ties in Party and State play the leading role. Vietnamese representatives abroad are the official spokespeople disseminating the country’s political perspectives to the world.

Vietnam has promoted an integrated mechanism that includes speeches and seminars to provide the media in and outside Vietnam with timely and correct information about the protection of sovereignty over sea and islands, events and Vietnamese consistent policy on the East Sea issues.

Domestic media and Vietnamese related agencies abroad have coordinated to report news, opposing activities that violate the legal rights and benefits of Vietnam in the East Sea refuting wrong information and China’s arguments over the issues along with documentaries that confirm Vietnamese sovereignty over Truong Sa and Hoang Sa (Paracel and Spratly) archipelagos. Vietnamese senior leaders have answered questions from foreign reporters about Vietnamese standpoint on the issue, which brought positive reactions among the international community. 

Due to effective communication, many scholars, experts and prestigious journalists in foreign countries have published articles that analyze the situation and support Vietnam’s position. Besides, many publications, documents, and films about seas and islands (“The nine-dash line - a nonsense claim in the East Sea”, documentary “Hoang Sa - Truong Sa, the place marking Vietnamese soul”, etc.) have served to promulgate the issue. They are effective strategies in communication and must be further promoted in the future.

2. Vietnamese overseas representatives are agents who gather information and promptly counsel the Party and the State; an effective channel which plays a significant part in the promulgation and cultivation of global support.

Beside the long-term plan, Vietnam needs to be always on the watch for any arising problems. Take the case of Haiyang Shiyou 981 as an example. China’s actions provoked Vietnamese people. However, contrary information from China forced Vietnam to be quick but careful in providing accurate information to the international community. To ascertain that people around the world understand and support Vietnam against a powerful country like China is rather difficult.

After collecting and disseminating the images showing China threatening Vietnamese Marine ships, domestic and foreign agencies, as well as representatives abroad, provided people overseas, international friends and organizations, with an objective and precise view, displaying Vietnamese Party and State’s friendly but determined attitude.  As a result, the issue attracted the attention of the international community and Vietnam received the timely support of many countries, many scholars and prestigious organizations. Some scholars even publically raised their voices to protect Vietnam and criticise Chinese actions.

On May 7th, 2014, at the United Nations’, Vietnam published a diplomatic note opposing China’s illegal movement of Haiyang Shiyou 981. On May 20th, the Standing delegation of Vietnam in Geneva, Switzerland, sent an official announcement presenting the events surrounding the 981 drilling rig standoff. This announcement was sent directly to the United Nations, international press agencies and headquarters of international organizations in Geneva. Later, at the 15th Conference of the United Nations about Oceans and Sea Laws (May 27-30th), the Vietnamese delegation leader made a speech on China’s disturbing actions and their consequences on Vietnamese fishermen in traditional fishing grounds. On May 28th, at the 17th ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Algeria, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ha Kim Ngoc made a speech updating the Haiyang 981 case, which trespassed Vietnamese territory, calling upon member countries of Non-Aligned Movement to show their solidarity and contribute to the peace and stability in Southeast Asia.

A new approach for Vietnamese Ambassadors has been to show the international media a display of accurate communication and legality. On May 27th, Nguyen Xuan Thuy, the Vietnamese ambassador to Indonesia, published an article in The Jakarta Post refuting the article by the temporary representative of Chinese embassy in Indonesia Luu Hong Duong, published on May 20th. On May 29th, Vietnamese ambassador to the United States Nguyen Quoc Cuong took part in an interview on CNN TV station in which he responded to criticism from Chinese ambassador to the USA, Thoi Thien Khai, as expressed on May 21st. In June, 2014, Vietnamese ambassadors in Japan, Thailand and Australia quickly responded to the respective irrational arguments by Chinese ambassadors. Vietnamese ambassadors in Europe, South Africa and many other countries made full use of people’s diplomacy. Many other forms of protest, such as international seminars, parades, and demonstrations, were also used.

Through a series of legal activities and communication, Vietnam received the support of many countries around the world.

- The United Nations: On May 9th 2014, the spokesperson for the United Nations said that the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his deep concern over the complications in the East Sea and called upon the parties to settle the disputes by peaceful measures.

- The U.S.: Jen Psaki, the spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs of the U.S. said that “We are extremely anxious about the behaviour of the parties and the danger of the ships in the disputed sea. We call upon all the parties to restrain and behave suitably and settle the claims of sovereignty in a peaceful way suitable with international laws”.

On May 12th 2014: In an announcement from Washington, American Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that the U.S. and many other countries in the world are “extremely worried” about the violence of China since it has moved Haiyang Shiyou 981 to Vietnamese Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf on May 1st.

On May 15th, 2014, American Vice President Joe Biden had a meeting with Chinese Chief of General Staff, Phong Phong Huy. In his speech at the White House, Vice President Biden reminded General Phong of American’s concern about Chinese unilateral provoking actions.

- Japan: Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs stated: “Japan is concerned that the case will increase the tension in the area. The related parties need to avoid unilateral actions to increase the tension, respect international laws and settle the disputes peacefully through talks”.

- Singapore: The Singaporean spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs expressed concern about the events in the East Sea, called upon the parties to restrain actions in order to avoid escalating tension, to fully abide by DOC and to settle disputes peacefully through international laws and (UNCLOS), the 1982 the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

- The Philippines: On May 16th, 2014, hundreds of Filipinos and Vietnamese in Manila marched to request China to withdraw the drilling rig out of Vietnam’s territory in the East Sea.

Many countries in ASEAN expressed their concern about the situation at different levels hoping that the disputes could be settled peacefully through international laws. Many Vietnamese people living in Japan, Germany and many other countries expressed their anger about the Haiyang Shiyou 981 case.

On May 16th, 2014, Vietnam carried out 10 diplomatic meetings in Hanoi and Beijing. At these meetings and phone calls, Vietnam rejected China’s wrong opinions and actions and asserted the inviolable sovereignty of Vietnam. Vietnamese Embassy in Beijing actively held meetings and phone calls to oppose Chinese actions.

3. Representatives abroad are the agencies which directly protect the right of Vietnamese citizens and assist people with legal issues when necessary.

Besides persevering in the struggle to protect water sovereignty and national security in the sea, Vietnamese Party and State are also concerned about ensuring the safety of people, possessions, and normal activities of fishermen in Vietnamese seas. The Government directed the related agencies to deploy several comprehensive methods to assist the fishermen and to protect their labor in Vietnamese seas. When a problem arises, Vietnam is determined to protect fishermen’s rights.

There is still the situation in which Vietnamese fishermen trespass other countries’ territory such as that of Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, etc, illegally fish and are arrested and punished. For held ships, arrested or ill-treated fishermen, Ministry of Foreign Affairs timely use the suitable protection methods, such as holding diplomatic meetings, sending diplomatic notes, sending representatives to meet with the fishermen to understand the situation and requiring the related parties to treat the fishermen well, etc. Only in the third quarter of 2014, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the representatives abroad interfered and required other countries to free 190 fishermen and fishing ships and sent representatives to visit the consulates and request the related offices at the local countries to ensure the legitimate rights and benefits of Vietnamese citizens. In 2014, Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinated with the people’s committees of the related provinces and cities to protect 39 cases/78 ships/714 fishermen held and arrested by Southeast countries; Vietnamese Fund of citizen and law protection abroad assist buying tickets for 390 fishermen expelled or released from prisons to come back home. Noticeable cases include:

1) Upon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ and at Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung’s request, all those fishermen were repatriated;

2) After a series of actions between Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Vietnamese Embassy in Brunei, on July 7th, 2014, Brunei freed the ship QNa 91946 with 38 fishermen from the province of Quang Nam, one month after its trespassing Brunei’s sea area. Three days after Indonesia President’s speech “no arrest, sink” about any foreign ships trespassing its territory, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited the representative of Indonesian Embassy to oppose his country’s strict and inhumane policy.

As for the illegal arrest, destruction and confiscation of Vietnamese fishermen and possessions, Vietnam is determined to oppose and fight using multiple methods at different levels to request the unconditional freeing of fishermen and ships and cessation of similar actions. In 2013, Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent 11 diplomatic notes to oppose China’s illegal arrests, drive-aways, threats and confiscation of Vietnamese fishermen, fishing ships and possessions around Paracel archipelago, requesting a satisfactory resolution to ensure the legitimate benefits of Vietnamese fishermen.

In 2014, Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent 8 diplomatic notes to the Chinese Ambassador, 5 of these to express opposition. Three times the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs raised his voice about the the fishing ships and fishermen, especially the case of QNg 96697, a ship carrying 13 fishermen which was compelled near Phu Lam island (Paracel archipelago) had its flag pole chopped, fishermen hit and possessions taken. Immediately after receiving the news, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs carried out diplomatic measures commanding China to cease physical aggression, compensate for damages and punish Chinese officers involved in the case. It also strongly criticized the act of chopping the Vietnamese flag and demanded that China stop endangering Vietnamese ships in Vietnamese seas. Besides, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs closely cooperated with the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to protect the fishing industry in the area.

4. Suggestions

Representatives abroad must develop and strengthen their role in processing information and advising the Party and State on economic domestic issues, offering solutions for Vietnam and neighbouring countries. Moreover, they must be sharp, quick, timely and appropriate in order to meet the increasing demand for information today. It is imperative that overseas representatives follow the global media in order to update the information on issues related to Vietnam, actively proposing solutions against wrong arguments and timely providing official information and documents for counter arguments. Therefore, the handling of information and prognosis are crucial.

In the protection of national sovereignty over sea and islands today, it is necessary to promote diplomatic publications not only in English and Chinese but also in Russian, French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Korean, etc. These publications will be the official messages which will help attract the attention of academic circles, media agencies and the peace-loving people from around the world. Through these publications and international seminars, Vietnam can provide the historical and legal evidence to assert its sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, popularize the content of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Vietnamese Law of the Sea, and other legal documents on nautical transportation, marine environment protection and resources, as well as the intention of Vietnamese Party and State to settle the East Sea dispute through peaceful measures.

It is essential to educate the public on the sovereignty and economic development of Vietnam, introducing Paracel and Spratly archipelagos as touristic destinations, and advancing research on Vietnamese marine resources and environment.  It is also necessary to document the violations to Vietnamese territorial rights, jurisdiction, and benefits, informing the public of the justifiable viewpoint and law-abiding Vietnamese attitude, the opinion of international experts rejecting the claim of the nine-dash line and general international support.  

Frequently updating information about Vietnam, especially hot issues which attract international attention. Widen the net of freelancers on online publications in order to combat the enemy’s misleading arguments. Vietnamese representatives abroad must speak the local language to raise Vietnamese official voice of agreement or disagreement with the scholars and researchers on the matter. These are effective activities which must be further promoted.

Furthermore, it is essential to develop and carry out diverse and multilateral diplomatic relations, flexibly and skilfully combining: psychology, legality and communication to show Vietnam’s justifiable position in protecting the country’s sovereignty and inviolable territory.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Nam Duong

Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the United Nations

Doan Mai Lien

Institute of International Relations

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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