VIETNAMESE President Troung Tan Sang ended his three-day state visit to the Philippines on Friday with a commitment to help raise to a new level the 35-year ties between the two countries through increased two-way trade, cooperation in the peaceful, multilateral settlement of the Spratlys dispute, and his pledge to support the Philippine-proposed Zone of Peace Freedom Friendship and Cooperation in the South China Sea.
In his statement after meeting with President Aquino on Wednesday, Sang expressed confidence that “the substantive and excellent outcomes of the talks give us the foundation to believe that our bilateral ties would be further developed to a new height, commensurate to our potential as well as the increasingly high growing position of the two countries in the region.”
This confidence is also borne out of several bilateral agreements signed on the occasion of his visit, topped by the Philippine-Vietnam Action Plan 2011-2016, which provides a framework that enhances cooperation in politics, defense and security, economic, maritime and ocean issues, agriculture, energy, environmental, fisheries and forestry, agriculture, environment and climate change, social welfare and development, health, education and culture, and international and regional issues. The two governments also agreed to expand cooperation in other potential areas such as energy, petroleum and mining.
The two government also signed a tourism plan, a memorandum of understanding between their navies on cooperation and information sharing, and a hotline communication mechanism between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Vietnamese Marine Police for information exchange on marine resources protection and preservation and maritime crime prevention such as smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and piracy.
On Thursday night, the eve of his flight back home, the Vietnamese President granted a half-hour interview with some members of the Philippine media, including the BusinessMirror, where he responded to questions about the impact of the global economic slowdown on his country and how they have weathered that problem so far, the need to improve bilateral trade and investments with the Philippines, what Vietnam and the Philippines can learn from each other despite their similarities, and the Spratlys row.
Is Vietnam also affected by the global economic slowdown and what steps are your administration taking to adapt to these problems?
Vietnam is also being affected by the global and economic financial slowdown. And it is shown by the slowing down of growth and increasing inflation. And we have been applying a series of measures and solutions in order to stabilize the macroeconomy, ensuring reasonable growth and to ensure social security. And these measures are working as shown by the growth figures recently in Vietnam.
This year we are expecting a growth of 6 percent. Inflation still stands at double-digit figure but it will be cut down very fast. Employment is still in very good condition with the creation of some 1.5 million new jobs this year. The picture will be brighter in 2012 and we expect that an average annual growth of 7 percent will be re-echoed during 2011 and 2015. With a much better macroeconomy, our people’s lives will continue to be improved.
In the area of bilateral trade with the Philippines, what area would you like to see expanded? What could Vietnam invest in the Philippines and vice versa?
You might be aware that our bilateral trade in the recent year between us has reached the figure of more than $2 billion and in our action plan, we agreed that by 2016, bilateral trade will reach to $3 billion. In terms of investments, I want to be frank that Vietnamese investments in the Philippines is very modest while the Philippine investments in Vietnam total a registered capital of nearly $300 million.
During my visit this time, I have the opportunity to discuss with your leaders many areas. Trade and investment and economic cooperation are the key areas of discussion. And I have the full confidence that Philippines investments in Vietnam and Vietnamese investment in the Philippines will continue to grow in the years to come.
I might say that in the Vietnamese market, Philippine investors and businesses could find many opportunities in many areas and they will enjoy a very good environment because Vietnam is an emerging economy, which asks for investment in many sectors.
Certainly, we have our priorities for certain areas in the next five or 10 years. For instance, we need to improve and develop our infrastructure, and the processing of forestry and agricultural products, manufacturing, supporting industries, electronics, etc. We also encourage the development of tourism development in our country. There are so many areas that Philippine investors can put the money in.
On the other hand, Vietnamese companies and businesses could find many opportunities in the Philippines.
Certainly, there are many similarities in our two countries’ market but the demand is there and we will pay more attention to encouraging Vietnamese businesses to do business in the Philippines.
You opened a part of the disputed area in the South China Sea to tour packages; domestic tourism plays a big part of that. How do you see the tourism approach in the South China Sea issue as helping to stabilize the situation there?
In regard to the disputes in the East Sea, all the parties concerned have agreed to settle them under the international law, especially the 1982 Unclos [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and the DOC [Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea] signed between Asean and China in 2002. The fundamental and most important legal basis for all parties concerned, is to settle all issues in the East Sea, especially, for instance, in the Spratlys. And as such, all economic activities within your territorial waters and sovereignty do not go against these international instruments and would not complicate the situation.
That looks like a very encouraging response from Mr. President. Everybody is interested in asking whether the joint exploration of mineral resources or even oil in the Spratlys would be seen as counterproductive to normalizing the situation in the South China Sea. Would there still be a continuing partnership between the Philippines and Vietnam in terms of joint exploration of the area for minerals and other resources if China itself finds this an aggressive move by other countries?
To my knowledge, there is no single country taking exploratory activities in the disputed areas. So perhaps the answer would be found in the future because between the Philippines and Vietnam, we have not yet discussed this issue. But in the time to come, I believe all the participants concerned will have the chance to discuss this matter but everything would have to be based on international law, Unclos and the DOC.
I do have hope that the parties concerned will base themselves on these legal instruments to develop their economics; trade relations in order to maintain stability and peace in the region.
You have said you see Vietnam in 10 to 20 years as a wealthy people, a strong country and democracy with equity and advancement. What do you think can the two countries learn from each other? We have two different systems. And what do you mean exactly by a democratic Vietnam?
You know that both our countries share a rather similar history of foreign domination. When our countries were liberated, we settled one very important question of freedom and liberty for our people. And if any country is boasting of having democracy without independence and freedom, that is a fake democracy.
You might have read many books but I would quote one sentence from our President, Ho Chi Minh. He said that a country that gained independence but cannot provide freedom and happiness to its people—that independence is meaningless. In our country, we are very much interested in creating two types of democracy, that is the direct democracy and indirect democracy. And to our understanding, other countries in the world are also applying these two models.
In the direct democracy, the people can voice their concerns and opinions on all areas directly. To tell you the truth, I myself am very proud that when I go around in my country, even the simplest people can approach me to raise their problems without any hesitation. For instance, when we ran for elections to the local People’s Council or to the National Assembly, we have to meet with the voters and they will scrutinize us. And every year, we have to meet our voters four times. And out of five years in office, we have to meet them again to summarize our activities to see how well we’ve performed. That is just one example for you to see.
With the indirect democracy, the people could have their voice heard through such channels like the People’s Council, the National Assembly or other associations, as well as through the media. And every day we receive information, criticisms, etc., through these channels.
You might agree with me that any political system will have its own strength and weaknesses. And with that, the understanding [that] we will learn every day from other countries in the world in order to further improve our system in order to serve our people better.
You are much more luckier than the Vietnamese people because the Vietnamese people suffered from 1,000 years of foreign domination and 100 years of colonialism and 25 years of imperialism so we fully understand the price of democracy.
I understand you’re trying to build a strategic partnership with the Philippines. Can you be specific as to the kind of relationship you want to develop with the Philippines. Related to that, to what extent does China dictate the relationship between Vietnam and the Philippines given the fact that your country has been dealing with China since the Han dynasty?
Perhaps I would respond to your second question first. You know that Vietnam, the Philippines and China are equal members of the UN, and so each country has the right to behave in accordance with international law. And to be a little bit stronger, that is the right to protect our sacred, and the core interest of our people. If these rights are violated, then you might interfere into the internal affairs of a country.
In regard to the strategic partnership with the Philippines, I’d like to say that the relationship between Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as with Asean, are excellent in the past years. The manifestation of that excellent relationship is the adoption of the Asean Charter to build the Asean community by 2015. So we only have four and a half years to complete that goal. All these efforts are for the wealthy life of our people, for the happiness of our people, and I have no doubt all governments have no other needs but to provide wealth and happiness to their people.
In regard to the Vietnam-Philippines relationship, we are very pleased to see the good growth of bilateral ties, and the most important thing is the increasing confidence and trust between the two countries. And that trust and confidence between the two countries is totally in line with the aspiration of Asean as a whole. And on that basis, the cooperation in defense, security, economics, trade, etc., is moving forward excellently. And if a strategic partnership is formed, then the level of trust will be increased significantly. And we will see a much stronger cooperation between us in all other fields in the interest of the two countries as well as for the region. And today, when talking about the development, everybody would be talking about the conditions for that, that would be peace, cooperation and development.
And that is totally in line with our current foreign policy. And our statement is very clear: Vietnam is a reliable friend and a responsible member of the international community, and to stay a responsible member of the regional and international organizations will be one of our core points.