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Background Briefing: Vietnam’s Holds International Workshop on South China Sea, Prime Minister Visits Russia Carlyle A. Thayer May 18, 2013

[client name deleted] Q1. Regarding your participation at the international workshop on the South China Sea held in Quang Ngai City: did you see something new about this kind of workshop on South China Sea issues from those sponsored by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam? ANSWER: This was the first international workshop on the South China Sea to be held outside of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It was hosted by Pham Van Dong University in Quang Ngai City and included a day trip to Ly Son island to attend the Paracels Soldiers’ Feast and Commemoration Festival. The conference was focused specifically on the historical and legal claims to the Paracel and Spratly islands. This was a new more focused emphasis than the previous four international workshops hosted by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. The workshop was divided into two 2-hour sessions. The first session focused on International Law and a Nation’s Historical Sovereignty. The second session focused on Historical and Legal Sovereignty of Vietnam Over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Presentations were divided equally between Vietnamese and foreign scholars, including three overseas Vietnamese from the United States and one from Taiwan. The Vietnamese presenters provided detailed historical accounts from Nguyen Dynasty records to back up Vietnam’s historical claims to sovereignty over the Paracels. This was of great value to foreign participants. On Ly Son island we were also given an opportunity to speak with two Vietnamese fishermen about their experiences fishing in waters around the Paracels. Q2. Someone said that Vietnam's focus now is too much on sovereignty, and not on the "core interest" of Vietnam which is freedom of navigation. What is your assesment? ANSWER: Vietnam, like all other littoral states, has a national interest in having its sovereignty and sovereign jurisdiction over maritime zones recognised in international law and by the community of nations. Your question contains two separate but inter-related issues. Vietnam has a national interest in protecting its sovereign jurisdiction over resources within its 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone drawn from its coastline or around features in the South China Sea that qualify

2 as islands under international law. Vietnam also has an interest in freedom of navigation on the high seas in order to reprovision islands lying outside its EEZ. Usually freedom of navigation is associated with the national interests of maritime powers whose civilian and military ships pass through South China Sea waters including EEZs. Q3. The Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has just visited Russia. The two governments pledged "further collaboration in national defense and security". How do you assess the cooperation between Vietnam and Russia today? Is it better than ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union? Is there something new in the cooperation between the countries that you perceive after this visit or it "business as usual"? ANSWER: Vietnam is one of Russia’s major arms markets. The relationship extends beyond sales to include training, maintenance, repair, and upgrading of major items of equipment or weapons platforms. It also includes co-production of patrol boats and missiles. With Vietnam expected to take delivery of six Kilo class submarines the relationship with Russia will extend to Russian-built facilities in Cam Ranh Bay and long-term servicing and maintenance of Vietnam’s new submarine fleet. Vietnam will be locked into its defence supply relationship with Russia for decades. The determinants are compatibility with Vietnam’s current stock of weapons and equipment and affordable price and flexible terms. Prime Minister Dung’s visit was business as usual with Russia, a relationship only recently raisesd from strategic partnership to comprehensive strategic partnership. No doubt the Russians put forward proposals for future weapons sales for consideration. Q4. The visit of Nguyen Tan Dungto Moscow came after the trip by President Xi Jinping to Russia. How do you assess the "Chinese factor" in the relationship between Moscow and Hanoi? Will Vietnam become an important partner of Russia in the region, as important as China? ANSWER: Russia sells weapons to both China and Vietnam. But China reportedly reverse engineers Russian technology and violates Russia’s intellectual property rights. This is an irritant in relations. China manufactures its big ticket Russian weapons such as the Su-30 multirole jet fighter under license. Russian also has leverage through energy sales to China now and in the future. Russia has also been careful not to introduce military technology that would destabilize the security situation in the region. For example, Russian industry sources denied media reports that Russia would sell fifth generation stealth fighters to China. Vietnam will never rival China for power and influence in the region. But Vietnam will always hold a special place for Russia because of their economic and defence ties and the large Viet-kieu community in Russia. Their collaboration in joint ventures to develop energy resources, including hydrocarbons and nuclear energy, will grow in the future. Vietnam is also a useful political conduit for Russia in its relations with ASEAN. From Moscow’s point of view relations with both China and Vietnam can be pursued simultaneously without having to make a choice. In the event of conflict Russia

3 could always withhold the supply of weapons and spare parts. Finally, no matter how close Sino-Russian ties become, there will always be lingering Russian suspicion of China and its growing military power. Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam’s Holds International Workshop on South China Sea, Prime Minister Visits Russia,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, May 18, 2013.