detail - Auslandsbüro Vietnam
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The two-days conference 'Maritime Silk Road' and International Relations in the South China Sea: Present Situation and Prospects, which was co-organized by KAS and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, aimed to create an open and scholarly forum for researchers and analysts in the field of international studies, political sciences, and history to reflect on the current situation of the dispute on the East Sea (South China Sea). The conference's speakers were expected to recommend workable solutions to solve the problem and also to avoid any possible conflict.
The conference was held in two full days. It had 6 sessions:
1. Reflections on China’s Maritime Silk Road
2. Through the Naval Lens
3. Tension in the South China Sea
4. The ASEAN Standpoint
5. Regional Standpoint and Cooperation
6. Roundtable – Current State of Affairs.
The international speakers were Dr. Xue Li from the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Dr. Vijay Sakhuja from the National Maritime Foundation New Delhi and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore; Prof. David Arase, an American scholar, who works at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies; Prof. Seiichiro Takagi from the Japan Institute of International Affairs. The Vietnamese presenters were Dr. Trinh Van Dinh from the Department of Scientific Management of the USSH Hanoi; Dr. Truong Minh Huy Vu of the Center of International Studies USSH HCMC; Prof. Dr. Nguyen Thi Lan Anh of the DAV; Col. Nguyen Thanh Minh from the Marine Police Command of the Ministry of Defense; Prof. Dr. Pham Quang Minh, who is the Vice-Rector of USSH Hanoi; Prof. Do Tien Sam, who is the former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies of the Vietnamese Academy for Social Sciences (VASS); the former ambassador of Vietnam to the Netherlands; Mr. Tran Cong Truc, the former head of the National Boarder Committee, MoFA; Prof. Pham Minh Son the dean of the Faculty of International Relations, DAV; Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc, who is the former director of the Institute of Vietnamese Studies and Development Sciences of Vietnam National University Hanoi.
All the sessions were organised in a way that two speakers would present their theses, and then the floor was open for all participants to voice opinions or to ask questions to the presenters, before the next session would turn to another topic. Much space in the discussions was given to an in-depth view into the current and changing Chinese foreign policy strategy, its implications for the ASEAN countries, for Asia and for the global balance of power.
Dr. Li explained how China wants to become a regional power with global influence, meaning to be the main power in Eurasia and the central power in Asia. Dr. Li presented the view that the MSR initiative is a test for ASEAN to come to terms of cooperating with China in a regional security dimension and as an economic development space, and that China might consider dropping some of its claims (or at least stop the reclamation of land in the Spratly Islands) in the South China Sea in return for an accommodating joint ASEAN policy. He also held the view that claimants in the South China Sea should not go to court to get a judgement, but should negotiate a bi-lateral solution with China, when saying “in a court there is always one side, which loses; while in negotiations both sides can win”. Prof Arase strongly contested this advise, asking the claimants to join forces in claims or at least to lay down claims in the court to uphold international rule of law.
In the discussion, Dr. Li further explained that the South China Sea was not a core interest of China. China’s core maritime interests lay on Taiwan, on cross-straits relations. Speaking of core interests, Dr. Sakhuja said, that it made sense for China to establish itself as a political, economic and cultural big power, so as to get a hold of India’s neighbours, such as Pakistan. He also projected that China will escalate its marine power to secure the MSR. Several of the presenters pointed at the importance of the US’ actions to defend freedom of navigation, contesting the Chinese claim of exclusive zones and protected rights around the artificial islands.
Prof. Arase explained main facets of China’s foreign policy strategies, which include instruments and doctrines, such as the One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR), MSR, AIIB, the “Community of Common Destiny”, the will to make ASEAN embrace the MSR and forget the plight of the claimants in the South China Sea in turn and the overall vision to establish a regional order governed by Chinese norms.
Taking up the current political debate in the Central Committee of the CPV, if Vietnam should take sides with the USA or with China, Prof Minh proposed to not take sides with either of them, but to integrate with ASEAN instead. The fundamental principle of ASEAN is non-interference, and therefore ASEAN will never be able to dissolve the conflicts in the South China Sea. The greatest challenge is the rise of China. In light of this, ASEAN countries can exercise solidarity and prevent each other from being forced to submit to China. He thinks that the “VIP group” (consisting of Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines) within ASEAN can take the initiative to come to a solution for the South China Sea conflict.
Prof Takagi pointed at the fact that China had lost standing through its actions in the South China Sea, the world is looking critically at China, it is losing influence in the Asia-Pacific and provoked the USA to forge military alliances with countries parties to the maritime conflicts in the region. On the other hand, the MSR does not reach far into the Pacific, so one should ask, if China is de-marking itself from the influence sphere of the USA? ASEAN countries should be aware of the rising role of the Southern provinces of China, which foster great North-South infrastructure projects. In response, Prof. Sam of VASS listed many symptoms and cited evidence for the Chinese policy to inhibit and encircle Vietnam. He called upon the politicians to strengthen Vietnam’s cooperation with other countries in order to balance the danger, which emanates from China.