The Jakarta Post
Indonesia and Vietnam will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their bilateral relationship on Dec. 30. The two countries have established cooperation in a range of fields, but further improvements await to be explored. Besides bilateral efforts, Vietnamese Ambassador to Indonesia Hoang Anh Tuan has also underlined the need to create a better security climate in the region. He recently spoke to a group of journalists, including The Jakarta Post's Dicky Christanto. The following are excerpts from the discussion.
Question: What are Vietnam's views on 60 years of bilateral relations, and what are the ways to strengthen them?
Answer: We began at a very low starting point, but now our relationship covers all dimensions from politics, security and the economy to tourism. However, we still need to further improve this relationship. First, we need to have more high-level interactions. We look forward to the upcoming visit to Vietnam by Pak Jokowi [President Joko Widodo], who accepted an invitation tovisit Vietnam during a meeting [with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung] on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur last month.
Second, we have to optimize our trade relationship, which is still very low. The trade volume between Vietnam and Indonesia stands at only US$5.4 billion. Both aim to increase the volume to $10 billion three years from now. That would offer a huge opportunity for various business sectors. Third, we need to conduct more discussions on the South China Sea [SCS] issue, which endangers security in Southeast Asia and East Asia.
What role would you like to see Indonesia play on this issue?
In our view, Indonesia can play a role [in defusing tension] given its importance in the region as a founding member of ASEAN and a member of the G20. Indonesia has played a major role in every security issue in the region since 1967 until now. Furthermore, Indonesia has no direct dispute in the issue. Indonesia has a good relationship with countries within and outside the region, particularly with China and the US. So Indonesia could be seenas objective, impartial and influential to other players. Indonesia could use its political weight to raise the issue with other players from within and outside the region. Indonesia could also strengthen ASEAN to have a common and more influential voice on the SCS issue. We would like to see Indonesia play a role similar to that it played in the Cambodian crisis in the 1990s and in 2013 when ASEAN was expected to produce a common voice.
How will this issue affect ASEAN in the coming year?
If all parties involved fail to step up their efforts, the situation may become more complicated. I think ASEAN countries should do everything they can to reduce tensions. We like to see at least two things: an end to the development of artificial islands and the early conclusion of a code of conduct [CoC]. That could be first and most important step toward the long-term settlement of the issue. A resolution to the SCS should be based on UNCLOS 1982 and international law. ASEAN should bring China to the negotiating table.
Will Vietnam follow the Philippines' step in raising the issue at a court of arbitration?
Our government has made it clear that all concerned parties must use peaceful methods and efforts to manage this issue.
The move to bring China to court isa peaceful method. All options are open for us to choose; we have not decided because it also depends on China's behavior and the situation in the region.
Do you think that the SCS has already created division within ASEAN?
If the situation continues to affect the region negatively, we may see deep division within ASEAN. That is what ASEAN doesn't want to see. ASEAN should have a common voice on the SCS, like in 2013. The region needs to remain united on this issue.
Will the SCS dispute grow fiercer following the recent deployment of a US spy plane to Singapore?
Even before the new deployment, the US had a military presence in the SCS, to monitor the area. It would be good if the deployment could offer peace and stability in the region. But it would be bad if the deployment elicits negativereactions from China.
Regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], how will it affect your economy?
According to the US calculation, Vietnam could gain $23 billion by2020 and $33.5 billion by 2025, around 10 percent of the current GDP [gross domestic product],which stands at around $200 billion. By joining the TPP, Vietnam could gain the equivalent of 10 percent of its entire current GDP.
Do you think it will affect the ASEAN Economic Community?
The TPP is the highest level of free-trade agreement (FTA), so other FTAs could follow in the footsteps of the TPP. These two agreements focus on trade. The ASEANEconomic Community focuses on quotas and tariffs, but TPP also focuses on other fields like border reform and disputes between parties.