|Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (front) at a plenary session of the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok (Photo: VNA)
The following is the full interview:VNA
Reporter: What is the key message that Vietnam wants to deliver at this Summit?
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc: First and foremost, we welcome the efforts made by Thailand, the Chair of ASEAN 2019, to promote cooperation in accordance with the theme this year "Advancing Partnership for Sustainability", so as to foster a strong ASEAN Community which is people-oriented, people-centered across all the three pillars. Vietnam endorses Thailand-sponsored initiatives, including those on strengthening social welfare for the elderly, enhancing the complementarities between the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, combating marine debris and illegal wildlife trade, among others, and will actively participate in their implementation.
Given the complex developments in the regional and global environment, and growing strategic competition among major powers, Vietnam would like to join hands with other ASEAN member states to build an ASEAN that is strong, resilient against all odds, and plays the central role in the region. To this end, ASEAN needs to strengthen its solidarity, unity, sincerity, and candidness, and develop its one voice in response to the regional and global issues.
We also wish to reaffirm that upon assuming the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2020, Vietnam will continue building upon all the achievements made in the past years, thus contributing to realization of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 for a united, strong, resilient, and cohesive ASEAN that plays a key role in the region and the world.
Reporter: What is Vietnam's view on regional security issues, including the South China Sea?
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc: Maintaining peace, security and stability in the region is the pre-requisite for sustainable development and prosperity of all nations. In the meantime, we are witnessing the strong emergence of both traditional and non-traditional security challenges, alongside multiple hotspots that pose serious threats to peace and stability in the region and the world. These have caused major concerns for all of us.
It is Vietnam's position that security issues must be satisfactorily resolved by peaceful means on the basis of international law, so as to avoid their escalation into conflict hotspots, which may pose a threat to peace, stability and prosperity in the region. In recent years, ASEAN has made efforts to contribute to addressing regional security issues, including the South China Sea, Rakhine State in Myanmar, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, terrorism and transnational crimes, among others. Vietnam has been and will continue contributing actively to these joint efforts.
Regarding the South China Sea issue, there have been certain initial positive developments in the COC negotiations between ASEAN and China. Nevertheless, developments on the ground remain complicated. Unlawful unilateral activities, including land reclamation to change the status quo, militarization, collisions putting fishermen to danger are worrisome. These behaviors have eroded trust and are not conducive to promotion of dialogue and maintenance of peace and stability in the region. Against that backdrop, ASEAN needs to firmly adhere to its fundamental position on the South China Sea, in which the parties concerned should exercise restraints, refrain from any action which may further complicate the situation, refrain from militarization and seek to resolve disputes by peaceful means on the basis of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, strictly and fully implement the DOC, and strive to formulate a Code of Conduct (COC) that is effective and substantive in line with international law and endorsed by the international community.
Reporter: Could you please specify Vietnam’s comment on the possibility of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership being ratified this year?
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc: Trade tension and protectionism are escalating. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), to which four ASEAN member states are signatories, took effect in early 2019. In that context, the promotion of RCEP negotiations shall be of great significance so as to create new drivers for rules-based multilateral economic integration and trade liberalization in the Asia-Pacific, thereby contributing to maintaining the role of the Asia-Pacific as the engine of global economic growth and integration.
At the second RCEP Summit held in Singapore in November 2018, I joined other RCEP leaders in reaffirming our determination to conclude the RCEP negotiations within 2019. Currently, all members are making rigorous efforts to address the last pending issues of the negotiation for its conclusion later this year.
In October, Vietnam will host the 28th RCEP round of negotiations, which is also expected to be the final round this year before the third RCEP Summit in Bangkok, Thailand in November. Vietnam hopes that the RCEP members, in the spirit of expanding cooperation, ensuring fairness and for the common interest, will soon conclude the agreement as pledged.
Reporter: Please comment on the prospects and directions for the development of the Vietnam - Thailand relations. What can the two countries do to promote mutually beneficial cooperation?
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc: I am pleased to note that the Vietnam – Thailand relations have witnessed continuous growth, particularly since the two countries established the Strategic Partnership in 2013. We would like to congratulate the Thai people on the success of the recent general elections. The stable continuation of the Thai Government facilitates the growth of the bilateral relations in the years ahead, especially in the following four key dimensions:
First, there remain immense room and potentials for both sides to continue fostering trade and investment cooperation. Currently, Thailand is Vietnam’s largest trade partner in ASEAN. To attain the bilateral trade turnover of 20 billion USD by 2020, both sides need to further facilitate the two-way flows of goods and services, while encouraging Thai businesses to increase investment into Vietnam.
Second, both countries need to maximize our cultural, religious, geo-economic similarities so as to align our national development strategies in line with our respective priorities, expand and deepen connectivity in the Mekong sub-region, and make good use of the existing cooperative frameworks, while promoting physical and soft infrastructure connectivity to keep pace with the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Third, we need to make cultural, sports, tourism cooperation and people-to-people exchanges a key pillar of the bilateral cooperation.
Fourth, we should continue the tradition of close coordination and mutual support at multilateral frameworks, especially in ASEAN. Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2019 facilitates our coordination into 2020 when Vietnam takes over the Chairmanship, aiming towards a resilient, cohesive and adaptive ASEAN Community.
To this end, I believe that, in the immediate future, both sides should focus our efforts to (i) soon finalize the Plan of Action on Implementing the Vietnam – Thailand Strategic Partnership for 2019 - 2024; (ii) increase mutual visits, especially at the high level; (iii) effectively implement the Memorandum of Understanding on labor cooperation and the Agreement on sending and receiving labor signed in 2015; (iv) coordinate our policies on the Mekong sub-region cooperation so as to foster land, maritime and air links between the continental Southeast Asia with the rest of the region and the world; (v) coordinate to step up international economic integration for the common interest of both countries and the region; (vi) bolster cultural, sports and tourism cooperation and people-to-people exchange.
I am confident that with the efforts and determination of both countries’ leaders and people, the Vietnam – Thailand Strategic Partnership will ever flourish, thus contributing to building a united and strong ASEAN Community for peace, stability, cooperation and development of the region and the world.