Spratlys : ‘No merit in going to war’

Hanoi to resolve islands dispute through diplomacy.

VIETNAM’S Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Nguyen Manh Hung, said yesterday that Hanoi would pursue diplomatic initiatives with China and other countries to resolve the dispute in the South China Sea.

Describing the claims over the Spratly Islands as one of the difficulties facing the region, he said Vietnam did not see merit in going to war over the dispute.

“Our approach is to settle this problem only by peaceful means, not by any other means,” he told more than 125 journalists, diplomats and businessmen attending a Singapore Press Club luncheon talk at Raffles Hotel.

The Spratlys, a group of about 1,000 islets and reefs, straddle strategic shipping lanes and are thought to sit atop vast reserves of oil and natural gas.

They are claimed in whole or in part by China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

Mr Hung said that while efforts were being made to promote negotiations to resolve the dispute, it was necessary to maintain stability on the basis of the status quo.

Asked whether Vietnam was concerned about China’s military build-up in the South China Sea, he said each country had to meet its own defence needs. “We are not against China buying military equipment.”

He described Hanoi’s relations with Beijing as “very deep”, adding that Vietnam, like South Korea and Japan, had developed under the influence of Chinese civilisation.

“But at the same time, we are living with a big country. That is why our relations go up and down … that is a fact
of life.”

Hanoi and Beijing once enjoyed an official relationship on the front line of Asian communism described as “close as lips and teeth”.

Ties soured in the mid-70s. The two countries fought a brief but vicious border war in 1979 after China invaded Vietnam to “punish” Hanoi for unseating the Beijing-sponsored Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

In 1988, the Chinese and Vietnamese navies clashed briefly over the Spratly Islands.

But the Vietnamese ambassador was optimistic that relations with China would improve as both countries were engaged in “peaceful development”.

“This is a precondition for peace,” he said.

In his talk, The Reform Process In Vietnam And Building Relations With Singapore, he described relations with the Republic as “very good”.

Mr Hung, who was appointed Vietnam’s Ambassador to Singapore last July, said both countries had established dialogue by exchanging high-level visits.

The Vietnamese Prime Minister, Mr Vo Van Kiet, visited Singapore in 1991 and the Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary, Mr Do Muoi, was in Singapore last October on a four-day official visit.

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Hanoi in April 1992 and last November. Mr Hung said he expected Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to visit Vietnam this year.

Singapore and Vietnam did not have any official contact during the 14 years of the Cambodian conflict following the Vietnamese invasion.

But since the signing of the Paris peace agreement on Cambodia in 1991, Singapore- Vietnamese ties have improved with the lifting of the embargo on investments in November that year.

Singapore is now Vietnam’s primary trading partner and one of the top 10 investors.

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