VIETNAM’s most senior political leader has called upon Asean to embrace greater unity over issues in the contested South China Sea.
Nguyen Phu Trong is on a visit to Indonesia – the first by a Vietnamese Communist Party chief since Ho Chi Minh’s visit in 1959. In a speech televised at his home country on Wednesday, he said Asean needed to be unified in resolving territorial disputes.
“Do not let Asean become a playing card for the competition among major countries,” Trong said, without identifying which he meant.
Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s claims in the South China Sea, where more than US$3 trillion in cargo pass every year.
Yesterday's lecture from H.E. Professor Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam discussing the future of ASEAN pic.twitter.com/LrpoSjClPS
— CSIS Indonesia (@CSISIndonesia) August 24, 2017
To China’s annoyance, Vietnam held out an Asean meeting this month for language in a communique that noted concern about island-building and criticised militarisation in the South China Sea.
“The discussions were really hard. Vietnam is on its own to have stronger language on the South China Sea. Cambodia and the Philippines are not keen to reflect that,” said one Vietnamese diplomat at the Regional Forum in Manila.
Chinese pressure forced Vietnam to stop drilling for oil last month in a Vietnamese oil block that China claims. Beijing has also been angered by Vietnam’s growing defence links to the United States, Japan and India.
Some Southeast Asian countries are wary about the possible repercussions of defying Beijing by taking a stronger stand on the South China Sea.
China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the sea, which commands strategic sea lanes and has rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits.
— Viet Nam Diplomacy (@MOFAVietNam) August 23, 2017
During the visit to Jakarta, the Vietnamese leader sealed a deal with Indonesia to boost trade from US$5.6 billion to US$8 billion by 2018, with aspirations to reach US$10 billion in the “near future,” reported the VN Express.
After Indonesia, Trong is due to visit Myanmar.
Additional reporting by Reuters