Hanoi diary: Philippine-Vietnam relations

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I WAS in Hanoi, Vietnam, on August 4 to 7, 2015 to revisit a former assignment for the purpose of drumming up interest in the setting up of Triple A, the Association of Asean Ambassadors,  in the light of the value and usefulness of the Philippine Ambassadors Foundation, Inc.  As we all know, Asean Community 2015 is about to be realized this year and ambassadors who had served in their respective Asean countries have an invaluable role to play in support of Asean Community 2015 and beyond in evolving a common prosperity for the Asean region based on enduring peace and sustainable development.  In the long run, AAA could serve as an Asean think tank.

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In this regard, I was received by the Vietnam Union of Friendship  Organizations (VUFO) which accepted this initiative in principle.  Consequently, I was able to encourage Vietnam to set up its own Ambassadors’ Association which shall become the first link with its Philippine counterpart grouping, the PAFI.

In the course of this revisit, I brought with me a copy of my book “1997 Vietnam Diary” which became the seed material for the establishment of a Philippine Studies Corner at the National Council of Sciences and Humanities of Vietnam of the National University of Vietnam.  I am quite disappointed at the poor ability of Filipinos to continue and sustain worthy initiatives that promote lasting friendship:  the Studies Corner had disappeared and even the Embassy Library had no copy of the book.  It is dismaying that because of “labeling” we fail to recognize important works which constitute links to the future like the book.  This book was relaunched by the Institute of Asian Studies of the University of the Philippines.

This book incidentally, is the first English literature on the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Vietnam and won a Ho Chi Minh Peace Medal given by the Vietnam Women’s Union, the women’s arm of the Vietnamese government.  The other awardee was Sandra Burton of Time Magazine who wrote The Plight of the Sparrows about the Vietnamese boat people.  Unfortunately, Lady Burton passed away at 62 while holidaying in Bali, Indonesia.

One of the most sensitive portions of the book is how the Philippines and Vietnam cooperated in bringing about a peaceful solution to the conflict in the South China Sea.

One of the steps we embarked in is the JOMSRE (Joint Oceanographic Marine Scientific Research Expedition into the South China Sea. JOMSRE (1) laid the foundation for an in-depth study on the eco-system and biology of the South China Sea. JOMSRE used RPS Lapu-Lapu and was captained by Filipino marine scientist Dr. Gil Jacinto of the University of the Philippines.

I thought it was good initiative at the bilateral level and could trigger a development approach to the conflict in the disputed sea.  This must be sustained.

Still on the Spratlys dispute, I recall that when Vietnam had just become a member of Asean, its Foreign Office invited all the Asean Ambassadors in Hanoi to inform them that the Chinese had implanted an oil rig at the Vietnamese exclusive economic zone.  As in the tradition of the Victor Hugo’s Three Musketeers, Vietnam asked the Asean capitals to encourage China to come to the negotiating table to discuss longitudes and coordinates.

At that time, the Philippines was chairing the Asean Standing Committee in Hanoi and some 160 press agencies waited for the statement  in this regard.  I composed a two-paragraph press statement, the first paragraph on what actually happened and the second paragraph contained a recommendation.  The first paragraph underscored the need for stability in the region in the context of China-Vietnam friendship and the second paragraph on the need for China to withdraw its oil rig from the Vietnamese EEZ if the negotiations were to be fair and just.

There were 160 stories published in the world press about the Philippine Ambassador’s statement which unfortunately did not sit well with the DFA.

Fortunately, China heeded the call for withdrawal of its oil rig from the Vietnamese EEZ.  And thank God, the threat of dismissal from the service arising from the statement did not materialize.

While Vietnam has something to learn from the Philippines in its approach to the South China Sea dispute, the Philippines has something to learn from Vietnam.  Could the West Philippine Sea dilemma not be solved by negotiation rather than arbitration?  After all, international law is so decentralized that it practically has no enforcing teeth.  Could not a development approach based on the equitable distribution of the resources of the sea be more practical to avert a global conflagration that could mean the end of the human race?

Whichever, it boils down in the final analysis to the mobilization of the national potential, the elements of which are sovereignty (political system and foreign relations) demography, resources (economic and technological) and geopolitical considerations.

In the 21st century, it is imperative that common boundaries not be hostile but friendly and that territorial disputes be resolved.  Negotiation is the ultimate approach.  This is a modus vivendi which will allow the world to survive.

Rosalinda V. Tirona served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from 1982 to 2005.

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