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Building strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region

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At the outset, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong our Singaporean host, Dr. John Chipman and the organisers of the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue for your kind invitation to me to attend and address this important forum. Since its inception 12 years ago, the Shangri-La Dialogue has truly become one of the most substantive and meaningful security dialogues in the region. I do believe that the full presence of government officials, military leaders, prestigious scholars and all distinguished delegates at this forum reflects the interest and the efforts to jointly preserve peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region in the context of a dynamically changing world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
While languages and expressions might differ, I am sure we all agree that without trust, there would be no success and harder work asks for bigger trust. In Vietnam, there is a saying that ‘if trust is lost, all is lost.’ Trust is the beginning of all friendships and cooperation, the remedy that works to prevent calculations that could risk conflicts. Trust must be treasured and nurtured constantly by concrete, consistent actions in accordance with the common norms and with a sincere attitude.

In the 20th century, Southeast Asia in particular and the Asia-Pacific in general were fierce battlefields and deeply divided for decades. It might be said that the entire region always had a burning desire for peace. To have peace, development and prosperity, it is a must to build and consolidate strategic trust. In other words, we need to build strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific. That is what I wish to share with you at this forum.

To begin with, Vietnam has a profound confidence in the bright future of development and cooperation in our region. Yet the trend of increased engagement and competition, particularly by big powers, not only offers positive elements but also involves negative risks that require us to take initiative and work together to prevent.
The Asia-Pacific region now enjoys dynamic development and is home to the world’s three biggest economies, and many emerging ones. Here, the trend of multi-layer, multi-sector cooperation and linkages is evolving vigorously and is becoming the prevailing one of the day. This is quite a promising prospect for us all.
However, looking back at the full picture of the region in the past years, we cannot fail to be concerned over the simmering risks and challenges to peace and security.

Competition and engagement are by themselves normal facts in the course of cooperation and development. Yet if such competition and engagement embrace calculations that are only in one’s own interest, without equality, respect of international law or transparency, then strategic trust could in no way be reinforced, and there could be a chance for the rise of division, suspicion and the risk of mutual containment, thus adversely affecting peace, cooperation and development.
The unpredictable developments in the Korean Peninsula; sovereignty and territorial disputes from the East China Sea to the East Sea (South China Sea) that are evolving with great complexity, threatening regional peace and security – firstly maritime security and safety as well as the freedom of navigation – have indeed caused deep concern to the international community. Somewhere in the region, there have emerged preferences for unilateral might, groundless claims, and actions that run counter to international law and stem from imposition and power politics.
I would like to draw your further attention to the fact that maritime transport and communications are growing in scale and acquiring a much greater significance. It is projected that three quarters of global trade will be made via maritime routes and two thirds of that will be shipped across the East Sea. A single irresponsible action or instigation of conflict could well lead to the interruption of these huge trade flows, with unforeseeable consequences not only to regional economies but also to the entire world.

In the meantime, the threats of religious and ethnic conflicts, egoistic nationalism, secessionism, violence, terrorism, cyber security, etc. are still very much present. Global challenges like climate change, the rise of sea levels, pandemics or water resources and the interests of upstream and downstream riparian countries with shared rivers, etc. have become ever more acute.
We should realize that such challenges and risks of conflict are not to be underestimated. We all understand that if this region falls into instability and especially, armed conflicts, there will be neither winners nor losers. Rather, all will lose. Suffice it to say, therefore, that working together to build and reinforce strategic trust for peace, cooperation and prosperity in the region is in the shared interest of us all. For Vietnam, strategic trust is perceived, above all, as honesty and sincerity.

Secondly, to build strategic trust, we ourselves need to abide by international law, to uphold the responsibilities of nations, especially of major powers, and work to improve the efficiency of multilateral security cooperation mechanisms.
In global history, many nations have suffered from irreparable losses when they fell victim to power politics, conflict and wars. In today’s civilised world, the UN Charter, international law and the universal principles and norms serve as the common values of all humanity and must be respected. This also represents the precondition for the building of strategic trust.
Each state should always be a responsible stakeholder in the pursuit of common peace and security. Countries, both big and small, must build their relations on the basis of equality and mutual respect and, at a higher level, on mutual strategic trust. Big states have a greater role to play and can contribute more, but they should also shoulder bigger responsibilities in the cultivation and consolidation of such strategic trust. Besides, when it comes to the right voice or beneficial initiatives, it does not matter whether they come from big or small countries. The principles of cooperation and equal, open dialogue in ASEAN and other forums advocated by ASEAN, as well as this Shangri-La Dialogue, are born from and maintained by such a mindset.

I fully share the views of H.E. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia who said last year at this forum that small and medium countries could help lock major powers into a durable regional architecture. I also agree with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on what he said in a speech in Beijing last September: that a reliable and responsible cooperation between the United States and China would positively contribute to the common interest of the region. We all understand that the Asia-Pacific has sufficient room for all intra- and extra-regional countries to work together and share their interests. The future of the Asia-Pacific has been and will continue to be, shaped by the roles and interactions by all countries in the region and the world, particularly by the major powers and certainly, by the indispensable role of ASEAN.
I believe that no regional country would oppose the strategic engagement of extra-regional powers if such engagement aims to enhance cooperation for peace, stability and development. We should expect more of the roles played by major powers, particularly the United States and China – the two powers having the biggest roles in and responsibilities to the future of the region and the world. What is important is that such expectation should be reinforced by strategic trust and such strategic trust must be reflected in concrete and constructive actions of these nations.
We attach special importance to the roles played by a vigorously rising China and by the United States – a Pacific power. We would expect and support the roles of the United States and China, once their strategies and actions conform to international law and respect the independence and sovereignty of nations, to not only bring about benefits to them, but also to contribute genuinely to our common peace, cooperation and prosperity.

What I want to further underline is that the existing regional cooperation mechanisms such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meetings Plus (ADMM+) as well as the Shangri-La Dialogue offer opportunities to foster multilateral security cooperation and find solutions to the challenges that arise. Yet it could be said that what is still missing, or at least still insufficient, is the strategic trust in the implementation of those arrangements. The first and foremost thing is to build a mutual trust when confronting challenges; taking account of the impacts of interactions, and enhancing practical cooperation in various areas, and at different levels and layers – both bilateral and multilateral. Once there is sufficient strategic trust, we could advance and expand cooperation and find solutions to any problem, even the most sensitive and difficult one.
Thirdly, when talking about peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, we cannot help but mention an ASEAN of unity and consensus, playing its central role in many multilateral cooperation forums.
It was hard to believe that a South East Asia once divided and embedded in conflicts during the Cold War could become a community of nations united in diversity and playing a central role in an evolving regional architecture like ASEAN today. The participation of Vietnam in ASEAN in 1995 marked a new era of development in ASEAN towards building a common house for all South East Asian nations true to its name. The success of ASEAN is the fruit of a long persevering process to build trust, nurture the culture of dialogue and cooperation, and cultivate the sense of responsibility to the shared destiny of South East Asian nations.

ASEAN is proud to be an example of the principle of consensus and mutual trust in the making of its own decisions. That principle is the foundation for equality among the member states, whether it is Indonesia with nearly a quarter of a billion people or Brunei Darussalam with less than half a million. That principle also constitutes the foundation for extra-regional countries to place their trust in ASEAN as an ‘honest broker’ in guiding the numerous regional cooperation mechanisms.
With a mindset of shared interests rather than one of win-lose, the enlargement of the East Asia Summit (EAS) to include Russia and the United States, the ADMM+ process that was put into reality in Vietnam in 2010, and the success of EAS, ARF and ADMM in the years that followed, have further consolidated the ground for a regional architecture in which ASEAN plays the central role, bringing about trust in multilateral security cooperation in the region.

I also wish to refer to Myanmar as a vivid example of the success of persevering with dialogue on the basis of building and reinforcing trust, respecting the legitimate interests of each other, which has helped open up a bright future not only for Myanmar but also for our whole region.
There have been profound lessons learned about the fundamental value of ASEAN’s consensus and unity in maintaining equal and mutually beneficial relations with partner countries and maximising its proactive role in handling strategic issues of the region. ASEAN could only be strong and able to build on its role when it is united as one. An ASEAN lacking unity will by itself, lose its place and will not act in the interest of any country, even ASEAN member states or partners. We need an ASEAN united and strong, cooperating effectively with all countries to nurture peace and prosperity in the region, not an ASEAN in which member states are forced to take sides with one country or the other for the benefit of their own relationships with big powers. We have a responsibility to multiply trust in the settlement of problems, enhance cooperation for mutual benefit, and to combine our national interest harmoniously with that of other nations and of the whole region.
Vietnam and other ASEAN members always desire that other countries, particularly the major powers, support the ASEAN Community’s central role, its principle of consensus and unity.

To return to the issue of the East Sea, ASEAN and China have travelled a long way with great difficulty to come to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) adopted during the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in 2002. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the DOC, ASEAN and China have agreed to work towards a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). ASEAN and China need to uphold their responsibilities and  mutually reinforce strategic trust, first and foremost by strictly implementing the DOC, and then redoubling efforts to formulate a COC that conforms to international law and in particular, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

We believe that ASEAN and its partners can work together to develop a feasible mechanism that could guarantee maritime security and safety and freedom of navigation in the region. In so doing, we will not only help ensure maritime security and safety, and freedom of navigation, and create conditions for the settlement of disputes but will also assert the fundamental principles of maintaining peace, and enhancing development cooperation in the modern world.

As for non-traditional security challenges such as the security of water resources on common rivers, by building strategic trust, enhancing cooperation and harmonizing national interests with common interests, I believe that we will able to achieve successes, thus making practical contributions to peace, cooperation and development in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,
Throughout her thousands of years of history, Vietnam has suffered numerous pains and losses due to wars. Vietnam always aspires to peace and desires to contribute to the consolidation of peace and enhancement of friendship and development cooperation in the region and the world. To have a genuine and lasting peace, the independence and sovereignty of any country, whether large or small, must be respected; and differences in interests, culture, etc. must be subject to open and constructive dialogues of mutual understanding and mutual respect.
We do not forget the past but need to put it behind us and look forward to the future. With the tradition of offering peace and friendship, Vietnam always desires to work with its partners to build and reinforce strategic trust for peace, cooperation and development on the basis of the principle of respect for independence, sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit.

Vietnam consistently persists with a foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, multilateralisation and diversification of external relations, being a friend and reliable partner to all nations, and a responsible member of the international community. Vietnam wishes, and has spared no efforts to build and deepen, strategic partnerships and mutually beneficial cooperative partnerships with other countries. It is also our desire to establish strategic partnerships with all the permanent members of the UN Security Council once the principles of independence, sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of each other, mutual respect, equal and mutually beneficial cooperation are committed to and seriously implemented.
At this prestigious forum, I have the honour to announce that Vietnam has decided to participate in UN peacekeeping operations, first in such areas as military engineering, military medicine and military observation.

Vietnam’s defence policy is that of peace and self-defence. Vietnam will not be a military ally to any country and will not allow any country to set up military bases on Vietnamese territory. Vietnam will not ally itself with any country to counter another.
In past years, sustained high economic growth has enabled Vietnam to increase its national defence budget at a reasonable level but lower than that of economic growth. Vietnam’s army modernisation is only for self-defence and the safeguard of our legitimate interests. It does not, in any way target any other country.

With regard to the present threats and challenges to regional security such as the Korean Peninsula, the East China Sea and the East Sea, etc, Vietnam adheres to the principle of peaceful dispute settlement on the basis of international law, respecting the independence, sovereignty and the legitimate interests of each other. All parties concerned need to exercise self-restraint and must not resort to force or threat to use force.
Once again, Vietnam reiterates its consistent compliance with the ASEAN Six-point Statement on the South China Sea and will do its utmost to work together with ASEAN and China to observe the DOC seriously and soon arrive at the COC. As a coastal State, Vietnam reaffirms and defends its legitimate rights and interests in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,
Peace, cooperation and development represent the interest, the ardent aspirations and the common future of all countries and peoples. In the open spirit of the Shangri-La Dialogue, I would call upon you all to join hands and take concrete actions to build and reinforce strategic trust for an Asia-Pacific region of peace, cooperation and prosperity.

 

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(*)Keynote Address at the 12th Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, May 31st, 2013

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Southeast Asia

The Indo-Pacific Conundrum: Why U.S. Plans Are Destined to Fail

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

That U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris paid an official visit to Singapore and Vietnam in late August 2021 signifies clear intention of Joe Biden’s democratic administration to forge ahead with the course taken by his predecessor to build A Free and Open Indo-Pacific. According to the statement made by the second-highest political office-holder in the U.S., fostering partnership with the countries of the Indo-Pacific, including those in Southeast Asia, is Washington’s priority in foreign policy. Kamala Harris reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the international rules-based order, ensuring freedom on the seas, unimpeded commerce and advancing human rights. Although the U.S. Vice President noted that China continues to coerce and intimidate, Washington’s engagement in Southeast Asia, she argued, is not against any country, nor is it designed to make ASEAN member states choose between countries. At the same time, almost all Indo-Pacific states, either known as the so-called Quad—the United States, Japan, India and Australia—or those willing to join the initiative on a less binding basis, have already failed to escape the adverse effects of the rapidly deteriorating U.S.-China relations.

Top Secret (or maybe not)

Previously classified as secret and unintended to be publicly released before 2042, the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific was made available in May 2021. Experts believe this to be a guarantor of continuity in the Asian dimension of Washington’s foreign policy, regardless of the party affiliation of the country’s leadership. The document provides for a tougher confrontation with China in the military and economic spheres, which may negatively be perceived by some Indo-Pacific states and complicate their relations with the United States.

The policy outlined in the document seems inconsistent, which may cause misunderstanding on the part of allies and partners, resulting in a discussion about the real priorities and intentions of the United States. For example, it is difficult to explain the differing interpretations of India’s role. In the declassified NSC document, the nation is equated with Washington’s leading partners in the region, which implies an allocation of significant assistance from the U.S. Department of State, the military and the secret services in order to enhance “India’s capacity to address continental challenges.” Meanwhile, the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report of the U.S. Department of Defense ranked India among small and medium-sized states of Asia, which are not considered U.S. allies and are, therefore, not eligible for considerable assistance.

The ASEAN Way

Australian experts note that the deliberately declassified document reveals the need to consolidate the leading role of ASEAN in the security architecture of the region. At the same time, there is no consensus among the union’s member states regarding the essence and degree of priority of such important for the United States categories as freedom of navigation, trade and investment, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The so-called universal liberal values are of less importance to them as compared to the practical benefits coming from bilateral relations with China. According to Indonesian experts, such a divergence of views signifies apparently little sense of the specifics of Southeast Asia and regional processes on the part of analysts in Washington. They believe that the United States has not yet been able to convince the ASEAN nations of the need to create a counterbalance to Beijing as the U.S. cannot guarantee their security. As a result, the region has to face invidious choices since they find themselves at the intersection of the U.S.-China confrontation. Some countries seek to develop ties with Beijing within the Belt and Road Initiative (Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar), while others opt for equidistance (Vietnam, Singapore) or adopt a wait-and-see approach (Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia). At the same time, the latter increasingly tend to re-establish ties with the U.S. in order to benefit from American partners and put pressure on the Chinese leadership.

Re-Rebalancing

Among the measures on claiming superiority over China, the architects of the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific envisage to deny the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air and sea dominance within the first island chain in a conflict (Japan, Taiwan, northern Philippines). However, this merely is a further extension of the “rebalancing” policy carried out without much success by the Obama administration. A restoration of this course is predetermined by the fact that the plans of the former U.S. President Donald Trump for the massive rearmament and more American troops to be stationed in the Indo-Pacific never received proper financial support. The doldrums seem to be rooted in the Biden administration officials being skeptical about these grand in scale military goals in the Indo-Pacific, which they believe are neither affordable nor necessary to balance China and protect U.S. interests in Asia.

The underlying theme of the National Security Council report is “the U.S. remaining the region’s dominant actor.” However, analysts believe that Washington’s fundamental interest is effectively about ensuring access of national manufacturers to the markets and resources of the region rather than maintaining U.S. hegemony there. To this end, the American authorities are invited to clearly define how they could help the states of South and Southeast Asia in resisting pressure from China. At the same time, experts rely on the Cold War experience, when the U.S. could justify its military and economic presence by the menacing spread of communism. Consequently, the notion of an authoritarian the Chinese Communist Party and the need to sever ties with communist China are gaining popularity in the American establishment.

First Match

The Pacific Deterrence Initiative and the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance provide for a change in the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific, taking into account its reorientation to ensure an effective response following the loss of unconditional dominance over the PLA.

The key pillars of the revised strategy to deter China were presented by Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson in March 2021, at that time the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM). He believes that China’s military capabilities will enable it to upset the status quo in most of East Asia, especially in the Taiwan Strait, the East China and the South China Seas, over the next six years. In order to prevent a further erosion of the rules-based order, he suggested putting a premium on “exercises, experimentation, and innovation” within the U.S. military in the Indo-Pacific as “critical enablers to deter day-to-day, in crisis, and key to our ability to fight and win.”

The Pentagon plans to provide for the allocation of USD 4.68 billion for the force design and stronger military capabilities in 2022, with another USD 22.69 billion spanning from FY 2023 through FY 2027. One of the focus areas is the creation of forward-based joint rotational forces under the auspices of INDOPACOM that would be capable of responding to challenges that require immediate and joint solutions.

Earlier on, one of the authors of this initiative, former U.S. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, argued that the U.S. Navy should create a new First Fleet [1] that would take some load off the U.S. Third and Seventh Fleet (respectively based in San Diego and Yokosuka). According to American experts, the Seventh Fleet, overloaded with combat and training under the present conditions, is experiencing difficulties in supplies and staffing, since it is actually forced to operate in a vast area of the western Pacific and eastern Indian Oceans (from the dateline to India–Pakistan border). At the same time, the strength of the Third Fleet, whose AOR is the east and north of the Pacific, is excessive to fulfill the tasks facing it now[2].

Spare the Triarii

The U.S. military envisage the allies and partners of the United States to become the basis of the security system of “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific.” In the meantime, close attention will be paid to the compatibility of branches of the armed forces, interaction of units and formations, improving the exchange of information as well as leveling the technology of the region’s nations in the field of defense to be similar to the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Defense considers it justified to maintain an emphasis on forward deployment at foreign bases and the rotation of operational formations (mainly aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike groups), based on the specific situation. In this regard, Washington relies on India’s and Singapore’s assistance in the deployment of American units and formations as well as their logistic support. Promoting cooperation with the Maldives in this area is not ruled out either, with a defense agreement being signed in 2020. The prospects for a partial renewal of the substantive provisions of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines, which provided for the deployment of the U.S. armed forces on its territory, look rather realistic. Earlier in February 2020, Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, announced the suspension of the Visiting Force Agreement, but his position towards the U.S. softened, given the complications in relations between the Philippines and China.

First Chain Bound

Based on the rhetoric of the U.S. military leadership representatives and the published reports, Washington must constantly demonstrate its ability to deter China, denying China actions in critical regions and deploying sufficient U.S. forces in these regions to defeat the PLA. In alignment with the situation, the Pentagon finds this possible through creating local superiority zones within the so-called first island chain, using Fleet Forces, Air Force, mobile air missile defense systems as well as high-precision short- and medium-range missiles. In addition, an integrated Indo-Pacific anti-missile and air missile defense system is designed to ensure stability for the second island chain (from the Bonin Islands through the Mariana Islands to New Guinea). The U.S. Department of Defense is planning to allocate funds to improve space detection and tracking systems for a timely response to the PLA’s unwanted activities. These actions are designed to fulfill the Pentagon’s mission to increase the lethality of the Integrated Joint Force to prevent any enemy from dominance in land, sea, air, space and cyberspace conflicts.

Hidden Catch

The plans presented by Washington are built around the futility of military operations against it within the Indo-Pacific and are coupled with high losses for any potential adversary. At the same time, the presented strategy does not provide for inevitable retaliatory measures from China. Relying on allies and partners seems controversial as well, including when it comes to the deployment of additional U.S. Armed Forces. Most Asian states would prefer to retain the benefit from furthering cooperation with Beijing and are afraid of being abandoned by Washington in the event of a serious threat to their security, with the situation in Afghanistan already serving as an illustration.

Apparently, the Biden administration, even in the face of the declared defense budget austerity, will still increase the costs to strengthen U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific. On the one hand, this approach reflects the intention to reach a compromise with the Republicans. On the other hand, it is aimed at putting pressure on China and persuading it to negotiate such important areas of bilateral cooperation as trade, arms control and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. This policy has already shown itself at the meeting of the U.S. and China representatives in Anchorage in March 2021 as well as at the meeting of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman with China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in July 2021.

Most likely, the United States will not give up on its attempts to establish a multilateral Quad-based security system in the Indo-Pacific in the foreseeable future. It is also planned to gradually involve other participants in this format, as evidenced by the increased contacts with Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. Taipei has a critical role to play in the U.S. strategic plans in the Indo-Pacific, while the development of military and technical, trade and economic cooperation, and the exchange of intelligence information with it deserves particular attention.

Today, Beijing is no longer going to hide its capabilities and bide its time, rather pursuing policies to advance its own security and development interests. China’s activities, not being directed against anyone, are perceived by the United States and its allies as an expansion and an attempt to crash the liberal world order, which is habitually defended by the liberal military force.

  1. An operational formation with AOR in the Northwest Pacific and the same name already existed from 1946 to 1973.
  2. The total number of warships (aircraft carrier, landing ship, cruiser, destroyer, frigate, multi-role nuclear submarine) is almost five times greater.

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AUKUS: A Sequela of World War II and US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

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Deemed as a historic security pact, AUKUS was unveiled by the leaders of the US, the UK and Australia – a patent revelation of their shared interests in the Indo-Pacific. Despite the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison’s public refusal “to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability”, the plan of building eight nuclear-powered submarines under the agreement remarkably augurs the country’s official accession to the existing “nuclear submarine club” whose members include the US, the UK, Russia, China, France and India. The AUKUS pact, for all intents and purposes, delivers as huge a leap in Australia’s defense capabilities as its international military strength.

Many have interpreted the birth of AUKUS as an effort to counter China’s aggressively rising military presence in the Pacific even though China was never explicitly mentioned in the remarks of the creation of the new alliance by its leaders. However, judged by China’s vehement condemnation of the security pact as “extremely irresponsible” so that it has risked “severely damaging regional peace” and “intensifying the arms race”, China obviously perceived it as a barefaced provocation and threat.

It has been witnessed that the tensions between Australia and China over the past few years have been soaring, ranging from Scott Morrison’s insistence on a full-bodied investigation into the origins of COVID-19 to Beijing’s indefinite suspension of all activities under the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue Deal. Be that as it may, military confrontations between the two countries still seemed implausible until the formation of AUKUS. To make matters worse, Australia’s bold move also gave a rise out of France by scrapping their previous $40 billion submarine deal, which led the Foreign Minister of France Jean-Yves Le Drian to scathingly denounce Australia’s action as a “stab in the back”. But why on earth did Australia take such a sudden hawkish turn in terms of military, even at the expense of its relationship with France?

The shifting geopolitics of the Pacific region plays a major role. Australia has been sheltered by the ANZUS Treaty (The Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty) since 1951, but the stable environment it has thrived in ascribes not only to the security agreement, but also to its own geopolitical advantage. During the Cold War, the North Atlantic was the focus of the naval operations of the US and the Soviet Union. The South Pacific, where Australia is located, was basically out of USSR’s reach, not to mention a rising US-backed Japan if Soviets ever planned on marching south. Geopolitics of Australia today, nonetheless, has drastically changed as the country’s greatest threat is no longer the Soviet Union. Instead, a provocative China has emerged as a new challenger in the South Pacific with its ramped-up presence in the South China Sea, rendering the area a security hotspot where Australia is ineluctably involved.

However, the geopolitical change in the Pacific is nothing new to Australia since it already experienced it decades ago. As a member of the British Empire, Australia fought alongside its Mother Country – the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Nevertheless, it was highly dependent on the UK for its defense against the backdrop of America’s inactive involvement prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite Winston Churchill’s vow to protect Singapore from Japan, the unexpected surrender of the British troops instead led to the fall of the Britain’s former colony to the Japanese army. Britain’s failure to defend Singapore was seen as a betrayal by the then-Prime Minister of Australia John Curtin, and his fury was further fueled when the UK turned a blind eye to Australia’s pleas for help in the wake of Japanese air raids on Darwin and northern Australia. The US did come to Australia’s aid, but the very reason why Americans helped was that they needed a base in the Pacific to look out for their own interests, and Australia happened to serve as a good spot.

All of those have made Australia acknowledge the fact that it only had “small-power status” and neither the US or the UK had been a reliable ally when it comes to protecting Australia in its hour of need. In that respect, it makes perfect sense for Australia to prioritize the enhancement of its own military capabilities over other matters, especially in the wake of the blatant military threat made by the chief editor of Beijing’s Global Times newspaper that Chinese missile strikes on Australia will be inevitable if the latter ever plans to intervene in Taiwan Strait issues.

Another heavily discussed question is – why did Australia rush to forge a new security pact even it is already a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance? The faltering American global leadership might be the major impetus. America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan not only created a power vacuum in the latter, but also potential instability in the Indo-Pacific. No matter how hard the Biden Administration has tried to defend its humiliating Afghan retreat, allies of the US are alarmed and suspicions of a falling America are raised. In the eyes of Australia, America’s abandonment of Afghanistan is nothing short of Britain’s insouciance towards Australia 70 years ago. As the victim of abandonment trauma during World War II, Australia’s contributions to AUKUS are simply the outgrowth of the country’s efforts to prevent history from repeating itself.

Australia is by no means the only country seeking a stronger military force and a tougher stance against CCP during the ongoing reshuffling of the global deck. Canada and Japan, both economically powerful but politically mediocre, are likely to make the same move as Australia has made to gradually break free from their military dependence on the US. Erin O’Toole, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has relentlessly bashed China’s Communist Regime and has highlighted his tough-on-China policy in the Canada federal election. In Japan, a great majority of the current prime minister candidates have also overtly manifested their hawkish stance on China. Regardless of where those elections may lead, it is not hard to fathom that Australia’s ballooning military spending will be replicated by more countries. AUKUS, as a sequela of the Second World War and US withdrawal from Afghanistan, is likely to usher in an era of a new round of arms race.

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Visit of Vietnamese President to Cuba

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President Nguyen Xuan Phuc (L) meets with Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz. (Photo: VNA)

Following the outbreak of the Corona pandemic in Vietnam, the government has decided to procure 10 million doses of Abdala vaccines from Cuba. Abdala vaccine is one of the two vaccines produced locally in Cuba. The situation in Vietnam is compelling because Vietnam has seen more than 16,637 deaths because of the Delta warrant outbreak in the country since April of this year. The casualty rate is still low in terms of global average.  The severity of the crisis has been so profound that before the visit of Vietnam’s president to Havana an order of 10 million vaccine doses of Cuba’s vaccine has already been placed. Abdala vaccine is the eighth vaccine approved for inoculating Vietnamese adult population.

During the visit of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc (18-20 September) and his meeting with President of Cuba Miguel Diaz Canel issues of common interest were discussed at length. The two countries have been ideal logically aligned and there has been comprehensive cooperation between the two communist parties. In terms of bilateral corporation the two countries have been working with regard to trading in consumer goods, manufacturing, renewable energy and aquatic products. Cuba has appreciated Vietnam’s Doi Moi reforms and has expressed interest in drawing lessons from the initiative.

In fact the two countries have been adverse to the US capitalist approach in the past, and have been collaborating to sending off their party cadres to each other’s countries for training and also collaboration between the party schools. The relationship between Cuba and US is dotted with tensions and sanctions. The two countries are keen to collaborate with the US. There is increasing trade ties between Vietnam and US following the Permanent Normalization of Trade Relations (PNTR) between the two countries.

The leaders of the two countries are on the same page for betterment of their population and providing better living standards to the people. During the time of Obama constructive engagement with Cuba was foreseen. However, during the period of Trump administration, the congenial ties between Cuba and US went on a cold freeze. Cuba has appreciative of Vietnam’s support since the Cold War period and there has been exchange of knowledge and information with regard to socialist welfare model and economic liberalization  measures that Vietnam has undertaken in the past few decades.

In terms of comprehensive partnership the two countries have focused primarily in areas such as agriculture, rice, coffee, aquatic culture, fisheries sector, maize and agrarian sectors. During the meeting between the two leaders it was agreed that the two countries will work together on developing the theoretical framework of Communist movement and better coordination between the foreign ministries of the two countries. In terms of defence and security aspects also there has been collaboration between the two sides and it is expressed that the collaboration should be further expanded.

It has been also seen that collaboration with regard to production of Abdala COVID-19 vaccine in Vietnam would work in enhancing ties between the two countries in health and medicine sector. Given scourge of the Corona pandemic in Vietnam it is expected that the medical and health clearances for the vaccine will be expedited quickly.

This Cuba visit happened before Vietnam president and the delegation attending the general debate in UN General Assembly in the last week of September. It is expected that the Vietnam president will also attend bilateral activities in the United States. As the Cuban visit precedes the UN meeting, it clearly exposes the strong solidarity and understanding that the two countries have.

Vietnam is also going to make a strong pitch in favour of its role as the non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and also put up its candidature for the UN human Rights Council for the period 2023-2025. It is also expected that Vietnam President will hold discussion with other heads of states and important countries related to pandemic prevention and economic recovery in the post pandemic phase.

India has also expressed strong desire with regard to intellectual property rights waiver for the vaccine development and also support to the third world countries in the production of vaccines. Vietnam has been looking for international producers of vaccines to expedite quick delivery of vaccine doses, critical medical equipment and medical supplies to the country. Following the permanent normalisation of relations between US and Vietnam, and the existence of comprehensive partnership between the two countries it is expected that better trade relations between the US and Vietnam would help Vietnam to recover from the pandemic enforced economic stress. The US has so far provided more than 6 million doses of vaccine to Vietnam through the global vaccine mechanism which is known as COVAX. Vietnam is also looking for procuring 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine for citizens aged 12 to 18.

Vietnam has also started administrating mixture doses of Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines to its population acknowledging the fact that the best way to protect the citizens from the coronavirus is through extensive vaccination programmes. Despite certain bottlenecks Vietnam has inoculated nearly 30.4 million doses of vaccines to its population. The third wave of the coronavirus is expected to be more devastating and it is compelling for a country like Vietnam to provide vaccines to its population.

With Cuba the interesting aspect is that the country will transfer the production technology to Vietnam by the end of this year. Vietnam has been a very instrumental in urging the United States to drop the hostile policy towards Cuba. In terms of trade embargo that the US has imposed on Cuba, it is anticipated that US is going to tone down the restrictions and promote trade facilitation between the two countries. Cuba is also planning to export and commercialize its two indigenous vaccines after the World Health Organization (WHO) gives approval. In terms of effectiveness Abdala vaccine is stated to be 92.28 per cent effective against COVID-19 when a person is administered three doses of the vaccine.

Given the closer relationship between the two countries which started with the recognition of Vietnam by Cuba in 1960 the ties between the two countries have grown multifold. Cuba had also supported Vietnam during its fight against the US forces in southern Vietnam and in order to show solidarity Cuba has established mission of Permanent representative in July 1962 and it appointed an Ambassador subsequently in March 1969. Also during the war of aggression undertaken by the US against Vietnam, US imposed trade embargo against Cuba and snapped all diplomatic relations with the island country. Cuba raised a nationwide movement with the slogan of ‘All for Vietnam’. Interestingly, Cuba has also named manufactories schools and neighbourhood after the anti-US heroes of Vietnam. Fidel Castro during his various visits to different countries has also urged these countries to support Vietnam against the US invasion. Cuban sailors had supported Vietnamese people during the bombing at Hai Phong port.

The history of relationship between the two countries is replete with examples of cooperation, construction and support for each other’s revolutionary causes. Vietnam and Cuba had signed a new trade agreement in November 2018 and have outlined the new agenda for the 2020–20 25 period. Vietnam has grown to be the second largest trading partner for Cuba in Asia. Vietnam has also supported Cuba in terms of developing rice production techniques and ensuring food security. The two countries celebrated their 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and are entering a new phase of unity, partnership and better economic relations.

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