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Vietnam Releases White Paper on National Defence

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For the third time since 1998 the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defence (MoND) released its white paper and gave a detailed insight into budget matters and its defence posture regarding national as well as cross-border issues. 

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According to national news sources the document showed an increasing transparency of the ministry, presenting more information to the public than in the two previous white papers.

The 2009 white paper includes three chapters, covering the security situation and national defence policy, the improvement of national defence capabilities, as well as the further development of the Vietnam People's Army (VPA), the militia and the self-defence force. “The release of the paper demonstrates the desire of the Vietnamese people and the Vietnam People's Army for advancing mutual understanding and trust with other peoples and armed forces in the world”, said Nguyen Chi Vinh, Deputy Minister of National Defense at a press conference for the launch of the white paper on Tuesday.

Defence Budget and Procurement Issues

The white paper stated that Vietnam’s defence budget in 2008 amounted to 27 trillion dong ($1.48 billion / €1.0 billion) which corresponds to 1.8 per cent of the annual gross domestic product (GDP). Financial statements for 2009 were not included in the paper. Although on Tuesday China’s state-run Xinhua press agency quoted Vinh, saying that the budgets of the next five years would not significantly differ from the 2008 ratio, the Deputy Minister explained in a statement on Thursday that Vietnam would set aside 2.5 per cent of annual gross domestic product for defence spending.

As RIA Novosti recently reported, Vietnam and Russia are in the final phase of procurement negotiations for six Kilo class diesel-electric submarines and twelve Su-30MK2 Flanker-C multi-role fighter aircraft at an estimated total value of $2.4 billion (see Vietnam has already ordered eight Sukhoi fighters of the same type in January 2009 which, according to Rosoboronexport, will be delivered in 2010. Furthermore, RIA Novosti reports of a possible sale of Mi-17 helicopters, as it learnt from the Russian Helicopter company during the recent LIMA 2009 trade show in Malaysia.

Vinh did not go into details on these press reports. He exclusively stated that to consolidate the peaceful situation of the country and modernise the VPA, Vietnam is considering the purchase of military equipment from many sources including Russia. Vinh further explained that Russia is a traditional friend and an important partner of Vietnam and that Vietnam is opening the floor to all possible parties in line with international law and Vietnam's needs.

Territorial Disputes and Growing International Co-operation

Despite voicing concerns about the development of ongoing disputes in the South China Sea, regarding the waters of the Paracels and the Spratleys Islands, the white paper emphasises Vietnam’s wish to settle these issues by peaceful means and on the basis of international law, however, not ignoring the safeguard of the country's independence and sovereignty. Vietnam accused China of seizing Vietnamese fishing boats and their crew as well as of increasing armed naval patrols in the disputed waters. The country’s legislators recently approved a law to establish a marine militia to protect Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty.

Vinh explained that “as a party to the disputes over the East Sea it is the policy of our party, state and the Vietnamese national defence to ensure that all will be settled through peaceful means,” and emphasised that Vietnam's “peaceful and self-defence” policy has not changed from earlier white papers.

The Deputy Minister said the latest white paper aims to “enhance understanding and trust” with the international community. Indeed, Vietnam has increased its international profile and has established a number of new diplomatic and military ties in the region. A Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) between the Republic of Singapore and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, concluded in early September, is to provide additional trust and stability in the Southeast Asian region. Also in September, Vietnam sent a delegation to New Zealand to lay the foundation of a Mutual Assistance Programme (MAP) which will further the bilateral defence relationship. “Vietnam is an important emerging economy in Southeast Asia and while our relationship is quite young it has developed quickly. We are keen to work with Vietnam in a mutually beneficial way, building both countries’ skills and capacity for the future,” said a New Zealand official on the occasion of the visit.

Furthermore, the 2009 white paper touches upon specific policies related to non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, anti-terrorism efforts and the country’s participation in UN peacekeeping and search and rescue activities.

The Vietnam People’s Army

Finally, the white paper also exposed the current force of the VPA, which amounts to 450,000 active personnel and a reserve of five million in a nation of about 86 million people In 2008 the Armed Forces had an active manpower of some 480,000 soldiers. Vinh said, “The number of our people serving in the “Armed Forces has now reduced two-thirds compared with the wartime,” adding that the VPA is going towards professionalism and modernisation. The white paper also said the Vietnamese Ministry of Defence operates 98 businesses including flight and seaport services, telecommunications and shipbuilding.

By Nicolas von Kospoth, Managing Director
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