EVENT TRANSCRIPT: The Indo-Pacific: British and Vietnamese Perspectives
DATE: 7th October, 1:00pm – 2:00pm
SPEAKERS: Dr Son Hung Nguyen, James Rogers, Dr Philip Shetler-Jones, Dr Tuan Anh To
EVENT MODERATOR: Dr Andrew Foxall
Dr Andrew Foxall 00:13
Good afternoon, everybody, or at least Good afternoon from London. Good morning to Vietnam. We are, of course, just allowing people to join the event. I can see that the list of attendees is slowly going up. We have about 50 or so people at the moment. We’re expecting a few more than that, so if you just bear with us. We will likely go quiet for a minute or two just while, as I say, the attendees fill up the virtual room. And we’ll give it a couple of minutes and then we’ll start the event as usual. So now’s the opportunity to go and get a glass of water or make yourselves a cup of tea in order to make yourselves comfortable for the for the next hour of conversation. Okay, we’ve just hit, I think, three minutes past one. I can see that the the number of attendees is still increasing. But nevertheless, I think it’s an opportune moment to begin today’s event. A good afternoon, as I said earlier from London and welcome to today’s Henry Jackson Society event which is entitled ‘The indo-Pacific: British and Vietnamese perspectives’. My name is Dr Andrew Foxall and I’m director of the Russia and Eurasia Center here at HJS. And it really is a pleasure to chair today’s event, in part because today’s event is so timely. Last week, as many of you will be aware, the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was in Hanoi meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart. While there Rob announced the refreshing of this strategic partnership agreement between the UK and Vietnam, which was first agreed a decade or so ago. The new agreement commits both countries, the UK and Vietnam to strengthening the bilateral relationship, in particular on security issues. And Raab’s visit to Vietnam and the refreshing of the agreement builds on a new focus of the UK Government over the last year or so on the region, that we now call, or that is often at least referred to as the Indo-Pacific. Last October, the UK appointed its first ambassador to RCA and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And in June of this year, the UK applied for dialogue partner status within the same organization and, and this more recent development was, if not overseen then, certainly facilitated by Vietnam, as it currently holds the rotating Chair of ASEAN and has done since January. And it’s in this in this context, admittedly, a broader context. But it’s in this context, that today’s event takes place. And the event marks the launch of a report, which has the same title of today’s event, the Indo-Pacific: British and Vietnamese perspectives. And this report results from a year-long research collaboration between Henry Jackson society and the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, which I’ll refer to as DAV for reasons of brevity. The report is an edited collection of essays, each of which differs or offers a different perspective and approach to understanding the Indo-Pacific. And I’m delighted that four of the authors of those essays, which collectively comprise the reporter here to speak today. And so, this will, I’ll read, I’ll introduce them now in speaking order, but I’ll first introduce them before I invite them to speak. First is James Rogers, co-editor of the report and director of the Global Britain program at HJS. Second is Dr Tuan, Deputy Director of the East Sea Initiative or the South China Sea Initiative at the DAV. Third is Dr Philip Shetler-Jones, who’s an honorary research fellow at the White Rose East Asia Center at the University of Sheffield. Fourth, last but not least, is Dr Nguyen, who’s vice president of the DAV. Each of the essays so the contributors will speak for between five to seven minutes. And after they’ve all spoken, there will be an opportunity, of course, for Q&A. Welcome all, for those of you who are joining us from London and those who are joining us from further afield in Vietnam. It’s great to have you with us. Without any further ado, James, I’ll hand over to you.
James Rogers 06:01
Thank you, Andrew, thank you for that wonderful introduction. So we’re here today to talk about the Indo-Pacific and the varying British and Vietnamese perspectives of that concept. Now, the concept has grown in recent years. But for much of the post-Cold War period, sorry, most of the Second World War period, and indeed the post-Cold War period, the region has been relatively stable, particularly the Pacific. The United States, has become, and emerged after the Second World War as the dominant power in the Pacific and established a formidable strategic system underpinned by a number of military installations that stretch from the United States mainland across the Pacific and into the littoral of Asia and the Pacific. Based on Pearl Harbour, Apra Harbour in Guam, a various array of military facilities in Japan and South Korea. And then additional facilities in what would have came to be called major non-NATO allies. Supplemented, of course, and reinforcing the US Seventh Fleet with all its supercarriers amphibious ships and other vessels. So this huge system was built up over the over the second, the post second called the post Second World War period, and the post Cold War period, and facilitated a strategic system in the Pacific Ocean. And increasingly also alongside that in the Indian Ocean, particularly as the US grew more interested in the affairs of the Gulf and the wider Middle East, not least after the Cold War with the various military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, China’s emergence as an economic power during the post Cold War period, particularly in the 1990s, and the 2000’s, has fundamentally changed or began to change this state of affairs. And not only has the US noticed this, but also a number of other countries in the region have also noticed this, and not least countries like Japan, and Australia, India, and of course, Vietnam. So China’s emergence as an economic power has grown dramatically over the last 20 years. If you look at the situation, in the 1990s, China was still a country that sat around 10 or 11th in the world in terms of nominal GDP. Today, it is second, and it has grown so dramatically that it now accounts for 70% of the United States nominal GDP, which is the largest proportion that any country has held since the turn of the 20th century. More importantly, Chinese industrial capacity, particularly in heavy industry has grown dramatically as well, to the extent that China has replaced the United States as the world’s largest manufacturer in those areas. And in addition to that, China has replaced the United States in most cases in the Indo-Pacific as the more important trading partner of the two countries. For most of the regions countries too. So economically since the end of the Cold War, the Indo-Pacific or rather, the Indian and the Pacific oceans have been drawn together, increasingly not least due to the direction of travel of trade from the various manufacturing centers in the East Asian region that link them to Europe and other areas of consumption. So this has drawn the two oceans together in economic context. Now in the last 10 to 15 years, China has emerged on the on the world scene as an increasingly important strategic and political power. This has begun to draw the region together, two or the two ocean regions together, as well. And with China’s emergence, it has led to a fundamental reorientation of the United States strategic posture away primarily from Europe and the North Atlantic region. Towards increasingly, the Indo-Pacific. And this was, of course, something that the presidency of Barack Obama began with the so called indo-Pacific pivot and then later the rebalance, and which the administration of Donald Trump has continued to undertake, most evidently shown in the in the US national security strategy, and the military strategy as well. So we are seeing the emergence of a much more focused US in the Indo-Pacific region and an acknowledgement that the two regions are drawn together. Now much of this, of course, has been driven by China’s assertive, even aggressive claim and illegitimate and illegal claims in the South China Sea, but also through the country’s Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to reorient the economic geography of Eurasia towards that of China, and to replace the United States and other actors in the region, so that China becomes the dominant economic and military power. But it is not only the United States that has led this conceptual reorientation, in fact, it could even be said that it was actually India and Japan that led the way, not least because the term Indo-Pacific, although perhaps a British term- it was adopted in the 1960s in the context of the drawdown from Empire, but the in India in 2007, and also in Japan, in the same year, the term was also adopted to conceptualize the changing dynamics economically and strategically in the region, and the importance of providing a narrative that potentially counters that of China, and draws together the countries of the region in a rules based system that is primarily focused on the maritime or on the sea, to provide an alternative to China’s continental perspective. So in that case, the term should not be understood exclusively as an American one, but rather is one that has been adopted by a number of different countries. And since that time, either late 2000s, the adoption of both Japan and India of the term, other countries have also become increasingly interested in the idea, not least Australia and Vietnam, but also importantly as the major regional fulcrum asien. So this term is, and should be understood as a concept to provide an alternative to China’s perspective. It is, in some respects a geopolitical ordering term to provide an alternative. And it is not entirely clear where it is going. But we do know that the United States and some of the other countries in the region are increasingly interested in the term and also in cooperating with one another to underpin a more rules based system. What is clear, I think, is that the centre point of the Indo-Pacific is in fact, the meeting point of the Indo-Pacific. And that’s to say, the South China Sea, all the way down into the Strait of Malacca. And this area in Southeast Asia is likely to be the area of focus of the region’s powers for some years to come. So that, I think, is my overview of the region. And I think I’ve used up my five to seven minutes. So I’ve set the scene, I hope for the discussions to come. But we’ll focus on Vietnam’s perspective of the region and also looking at the role that the UK might be able to play in the years to come.
Dr Andrew Foxall 13:35
Thank you, James, as you say, very helpful sort of scene setting exercise by yourself. So what will now do is move to Dr. To for what will be the first of two Vietnamese perspectives, over to you.
Dr Tuan Anh To 13:52
Thank you, Andrew Foxall. And thank you HJS for allowing me to present my view on Vietnam and the Indo-Pacific. I quite agree with James, that the Indo-Pacific is a new terminology that emerged from the interconnectivity of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, as well as a geostrategic narrative of the region. So countries in the region are now facing quite difficult questions to deal with the consequences of this new term. From the perspective of Vietnam, I think there are three important questions. The first thing is how does Vietnam view the concept of Indo-Pacific? And the second it, can Vietnam be the linchpin or the force that drive changes in the Indo-Pacific? And the third is what should Vietnam do? So regarding the first question, is how Vietnam views the Indo-Pacific. I think Vietnam views the Indo-Pacific from the perspective of the interconnectivity of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. Vietnam does not associate the Indo-Pacific with the United States. A free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, or other versions of Indo-Pacific that from other countries. And Vietnam officially adhere only to the ASEAN outlook of the Indo -Pacific, or so called OAIP defined the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as I quote, as a closely integrated and interconnected vision, and with ASEAN playing a central and strategic role. So therefore, Vietnam view the Indo-Pacific in terms of economic development, and cooperation with all countries, including the People’s Republic of China, and the United States. In that perspective, Vietnam places importance on ASEAN. And because ASEAN is the only organization in the Indo-Pacific that has the ability to share regional architecture. ASEAN, not only has the convening and facilitating power, but it is also the hub regional architecture, including the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and it is also a driver of regional progress, since joining us and Vietnam has actively contributed to the work of the association and also benefited from the collective work of ASEAN. So with that, come to my second question, can Vietnam be the Indo-Pacific linchpin? My answer to this question is maybe. Vietnam has many advantages, it locates at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, it is a fast growing country, which has relations with a large number of countries in the world. However, Vietnam does not want unilaterally drive changes in the region. It views itself as a small country, trapped in the power rivalry between superpowers, Vietnam never want to take sides. So to change, Vietnam need to rely on multilateral institution, especially ASEAN. So that is to say, neither the location nor the economic power makes Vietnam a linchpin in the Indo-Pacific. But the collective effort of ASEAN can do it. Vietnam can become a force of change, if it works within ASEAN to make ASEAN the true linchpin of the Indo- Pacific. So it come to the last question is what should Vietnam do? I think Vietnam will work with ASEAN to promote the following election. First, it will promote ASEAN as a centre of evolving Indo- Pacific architecture. It will promote deeper regional cooperation, broader the role of multilateral organizations. Second, it will encourage other ASEAN members and ASEAN partners to embrace initiatives that adhere to the principles of fairness, inclusivity, respect for the rules by system. And third, it will facilitate a new vision for ASEAN in 2030, or review ASEAN community building process. The fourth, it will cooperate with ASEAN members to upgrade or provide greater quality to the ASEAN Indo -Pacific outlook. And fifth will try to solve the dispute through peaceful means in accordance with international law, including the unclose. And it will also encourage other countries to do the same. I think as I observed to see Vietnam activities, as ASEAN has gone along those directions. Vietnam tried to promote a cohesive and responsive ASEAN. And during the COVID time, Prime Minister Phuc advocates ASEAN to think community, act community and share community values. So to conclude, I would like to say that Vietnam will not excite in the station competition. Rather, it will work with us other ASEAN members, and also external partners, including China and United States to enhance cooperation in the indo Pacific. Thank you.
Dr Andrew Foxall 19:38
Thank you very much. A hugely, I think, welcome reminder of the contested nature of the Indo-Pacific itself, what one country means when they say Indo-Pacific isn’t necessarily what all countries understand by the concept or by the term. Also, of course, a helpful reminder of the importance of international institutions. multilateral and multinational institutions within the region itself. Thank you. Phillip, could I invite you to make your contribution now, please?
Dr Philip Shetler-Jones 20:11
Thank you, Andrew. Thank you very much to the Henry Jackson Society and for the opportunity to see old friends from Vietnam as well. It’s a pleasure. I’m going to talk about where the history comes in to the UK perspective on this idea of Indo-Pacific. So the last time, you could say the UK had a major policy shift regarding what we’re terming the Indo-Pacific was in the 1960s, when the region was referred to as East of Suez. And the policy of the government and the Prime Minister, then Harold Wilson, was to withdraw from it largely. Wilson felt compelled to choose between Europe and Asia, and based on the premise that Europe is becoming more strategically and economically central to British interests. He chose Europe, the UK was trying to enter the European Common Market and a British commitment was seen as helpful to that. Meanwhile, the United States and the Kennedy-Johnson period was developing its leadership commitment in Asia. Today, the situation has become in many ways the reverse of what it was seventy years ago, in terms of UK National Security Strategy compared to the 60s, continental European security is now proportionally less important, and the Indo-Pacific much more important. This is the logical basis for what I call a reverse Wilson move, which I think describes a UK approach to the Indo-Pacific. So you might ask, how can you measure relative importance between these regions? I think it’s a function of three things. So the first is what is at stake? The second is what is the threat against that? And the third would be what is the resilience in meeting that threat? So let’s compare briefly in those terms Europe and the Indo-Pacific that and now. So comparing Europe in the 60s to the present, what’s at stake, well in the 60s, even in the midst of post war recovery, Europe is still on course to be the second most important economic area in the world after the United States. In the 60s, the influence of European nations extended to huge areas of the world, Africa and elsewhere, as decolonization was still underway. And in the Cold War context, the implications of insecurity in Europe had huge implications on the global balance of power. Today, Europe remains a very important market for Britain. But there are other regions with faster growth. And since the decolonization on the Cold War struggle ended long ago, European security is less central to world affairs and UK interest and it was in the 60s. The threat, or threat to continental European security is much lower than it was in the 60s. The conventional military threat from Russia is less than a fifth the size of what the USSR had lined up along the Iron Curtain in that period, Russia no longer threatens in the form of an alternative ideological or political system in the way it did in the Communist period. And then lastly, looking at the resilience in Europe, the nations of Europe are now economically strong enough, politically, and institutionally stable enough to meet this threat without with much less assistance from United Kingdom. So in summary, unlike past periods when the UK saw threats coming from Europe, today, continental Europe not only presents no threat, it has both the capacity and the incentive to be a stable and largely self-reliant buffer against threats from further south and east. Indo- Pacific on the other hand, let’s look at what’s at stake now compared to them. Comparing the 60s to today, the Indo-Pacific has become the centre of gravity of world economy and its nations are on the way to becoming leading technological and military powers. The direct economic and strategic interest is consequentially rising. There is another less direct interest which is concerning the UK-US Alliance, which is still the most important feature of UK strategy. The US and the President Trump has truly pivoted to Asia. Competition with China is now a strategic priority is as James mentioned, at the start of the talk, and what is most important to the UK is main ally automatically becomes more important to the UK. The threat. Well the peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific is threatened by a risk of major war and at least three areas. Secondly, the openness of the Indo-Pacific that protects everyone’s right to free access in the region is also threatened by moves to create a zone of economic and technological hegemony cantered on the People’s Republic of China. Threats of exclusion by a military force are also emerging. So resilience is where we come to the potential interplay of UK-Vietnam-ASEAN interests in this. Indo-Pacific nations are becoming individually much more resilient, yet many of them are also committing to developing security partnerships with countries outside the region. These are not formal alliances, and Asian NATO is not on the horizon. But an invitation is being extended to those of us outside the region to do more to reassure partners in the region that we will contribute to protecting common interests. Ideas, like Japan’s free and open Indo-Pacific are an example of this. And I think we can probably talk later on about what some of the other examples of that are. The 2019, I think, defence white paper of Vietnam that’s mentioned in the report includes a new clause of depends, depending on situations and specific circumstances, Vietnam will consider developing necessary appropriate defence and military relations with other countries. So in summary, the Indo-Pacific is the framing that describes what is at stake in the form of a region that has geopolitical importance in the 21st century that the Euro-Atlantic region had in the 20th. Now, I have possibly ideas that we can share in the discussion about what the UK is doing or could be doing. So I’ll just reserve some of those comments for later on, perhaps rather than eating up too much your time.
Dr Andrew Foxall 26:44
Thank you, Philip, a very helpful contribution indeed. Dr. Nguyen, and I will come to you now. But just before I do, I should say that of course, after Dr. Nguyen has spoken, we will move to Q&A. If you wish to ask a question. Do feel free to use the Q&A function that you’ll see at the bottom of your screens. Or if you send me a message in the chat box, I can always ask the question on your behalf.
Dr Son Hong Nguyen 27:22
Well, thank you very much Andrew. And I’d like to join my colleagues in thanking the Henry Jackson Society again, also for including me in a very timely and useful and interesting discussion on the Indo- Pacific. Now, my colleague, Dr Tuan has talked about the importance of the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN to Vietnam. I’m going to talk about the importance of the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN to the UK. Indeed, I fully agree with Philips analysis, as well as James, on the relative importance of the Indo-Pacific, or rising importance of an Indo-Pacific and global geopolitical scene. Indeed, I see the Indo-Pacific as where the future rules based order is going to be made. Whoever prevails in the process of rules making in the Indo-Pacific is going to decide who makes the rules and what the rules will be. And this is going to have heavy consequences to the continental Europe and to the UK’s interests in particular. And this is not just in economic or political or any single field, it’s across the board, take political and security, for example. What is going to prevail, what rules comes out of the existing and emerging contestation on the South China Sea, is going to decide how major countries major powers treat or interact with one another how major powers will interact with smaller neighbouring countries, or in other words, it’s gone to define the principles of international relations in years to come. And that is very consequential to the rule, isn’t it? Take a look at the Battle of notebooks that we’ve seen from the beginning of the year until now. This is a legal battle that is going to define the future interpretation and application of the Law of the Sea to the maritime domain. And then not be we need to be reminded of the importance of the maritime domain to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific. It’s going to decide the rules of economic interaction as well. Whether future investments or future trade is going to be decided through multilateral institutions or through the power of the mind. This is going to be the kind of Role studies going to be decided in the Indo-Pacific, given its economic and political weight in global affairs. And I fully agree with Phillips that the centre of gravity is gradually moving into the Indo-Pacific with 70% of global GDP and 70% of global population. So, because of that, I think the interest in the Indo-Pacific should not be limited to countries in the Indo-Pacific only, but it should matter for the rest of the world, including the European Union, as well as the UK. Now, secondly, the importance of ASEAN. ASEAN is obviously important for us, because we see that ASEAN is still, despite all the talk about its shortcomings, its limitation, it’s still the primary vehicle to maintain the rules based order in the Indo- Pacific. There is no other mechanisms in place, as yet developed, to take over ASEAN’s role as the promoter of rules and norms in the Indo-Pacific. And I’m happy to say that the kind of rules and norms that ASEAN oppose and try to protect is very much in line with those the UK is trying to, as well. And that is the principles of the UN the principles of international law, the sovereign equality of states, the peaceful resolution of disputes, so on and so forth. So action is still the primary vehicle in the Indo- Pacific. While you may say the court is emerging, and other mini lateral settings are also emerging, but what faces the question of legitimacy and popularity, and there is not a ready full acceptance of the court in the broad region, whereas ASEAN received that kind of legitimate endorsement from all in the Indo-Pacific. So because of that, people seeking interactions with the Indo-Pacific should count and rely and work with ASEAN to strengthen that rules based international order. And we should not leave ASEAN alone with that task as well. ASEAN has a major task to preserve, and ASEAN is under resourced and also, ASEAN needs the backing of its partners in order to be able to fulfil its status. Now lastly, I’m going to say why the UK is well positioned to be a key and active player in the Indo-Pacific. First, the UK is very popular in the Indo-Pacific, you have many friends in the Indo-Pacific, you have many countries in the Commonwealth, which have been traditional allies of the UK, you have many countries, which are now developing free trade agreements with you, and they are all in the Indo- Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, and they are also seeking to become a CPTPP member, which is an Indo-Pacific thing. So yeah, yeah, you’re well set to become a very active player in the Indo-Pacific. And that is not to mention, you have the five powers, well agreement, the five eyes while settings and so on. So you have both the institutional backing, the popularity, the endorsements, and the bilateral and multilateral relationship in order to play an active role there. So what then will, what can the UK play in order to be an active player. I think you can work with ASEAN and ASEAN member states, first of all, to support multilateralism and the kind of open, transparent, inclusive framework in the Indo-Pacific that the ASEAN outlook for Indo-Pacific is calling for. You can work with ASEAN member states to strengthen the international legal system, as well as the UN system, several member states of ASEAN, UN Security Council members, such as Vietnam or Indonesia, and there will be more countries in the future. So let’s work in those institutions in order to strengthen the system. The UK can be a strong capacity builder for the Indo-Pacific countries. And of course, it can work with other countries in the region like Australia, Japan, other so called middle powers in order to enhance the capacity of countries in the region to uphold the system, such as to enforce international law in their in their respective spheres. And, of course, the UK can also be a very practical world partner in cooperation to tackle several of the emerging and rising transnational issues such as climate change, the digital transformation of the economies, maritime securities, they’re all sort of issues that needs practical, pragmatic cooperation, which the UK is very capable in. But which is going to be very helpful in strengthening and supporting the rules based order in the Indo-Pacific. So I will conclude my remarks that with a strong belief that the UK can be a very active and prominent player in the Indo-Pacific.
Dr Andrew Foxall 35:30
Doctor Nguyen thank you. I’ll now move to open the floor to questions from the audience. Before I do, however, Dr. Nguyen, you outlined a number of towards the end of your remarks, you outlined a number of contributions in a sense that you thought the UK could make, to strengthening the rules based order in in the Indo-Pacific as well as Southeast Asia broadly. Phillip, at the end of your remarks, you suggested that you had some ideas along these lines of your own. I just want to ask if you would feel it if you would add anything to what Dr Nguyen said? Where you think the UK could make a contribution into the broader context to face East Asia? And then, of course, James and Dr Tuan, if you have any thoughts about the broader UK contribution, feel free to contribute them as well. Once we’ve been through this round, I’ll go to the Q&A from the attendees.
Dr Philip Shetler-Jones 36:38
Certainly, Andrew. Well, I do go into it in the chapter in the report. So obviously encourage everyone to go and find more in there. But I think there are a few very clear principles where UK and Vietnam and other ASEAN countries could work together to promote. There are some familiar principles of sovereign equality, there should be no difference in the rights of big powers and smaller countries, we have to work to preserve the gains of the institutions that protect our common rights, like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is certainly under challenge in various formats. There is a principle of sovereign independence, there should be no tolerance for coercion over foreign policy choices. And that goes from investment partnerships, defence cooperation, joint exercises, military partnerships, even up to formal alliances, I think we could really make a clear statement that there is a rejection of any return of a sphere of spheres of influence mentality in international relations. I think as a country, you know, with our geography, and our history and our trading patterns, we are just naturally predisposed to a free and open system. But that goes for many countries in the region of the Indo- Pacific as well. This idea of questions in a region only being answered by countries in that region, I think is one that has to be pushed back on, because we have much wider global common interests. And then finally, the where there are disputes, they should be settled peacefully. And the use of force is always and only a last resort.
Dr Andrew Foxall 38:36
Thank you. James or Dr Tuan would you like to say anything at this point?
James Rogers 38:45
I’m happy to say another couple of things. I think another area where the UK could do a lot is to strategically direct its official development assistance in the region to provide an alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative, and also to push back against the narratives that China is trying to project. So that’s not necessarily against China, but it’s simply to provide an alternative and a vision, a narrative that other countries in the region might be prepared to support. And the UK has a very large international development assistance budget. And that could be used, I think, more effectively. And I think that’s the point that the former Secretary of State for International Development and Marie Trevelyan made a few days ago. And I would like to see that embraced more.
Dr Tuan Anh To 39:37
I just would like to echo what Dr Phillips and James have already mentioned, and where my I think some of the very important points is that first UK should support ASEAN. I think Dr Son mentioned that as it should not leave ASEAN to itself. UK can have a lot of friends in the region and it can also support the whole region by supporting ASEAN, the second point is supporting the rules by order, and also the international law. And I’d quite agree with James once you say that, and the maritime area is going to be a concerned area right now. And it is the area where the international laws should be observed. And I also agree that there should be no coercion. Everything should be settled peacefully, through dialogue, and also based on international laws, and also agree with James that economic and assistant development from UK to the country in the region is very important. We should not look at it just only from the political or security things, but economic development, and also environmental issues. It is what the country in the region is needing. Thank you.
Andrew Foxall 40:58
Thank you, Dr Tuan. So we have a number of questions from the attendees. And, indeed, and the first couple of questions I’ll read out on behalf of the questioners. The first question is from Euan Grant who the former official within the European Union, Euan asks Dr Tuan, you stressed the importance of ASEAN indeed all of our speakers stressed the importance of ASEAN. But what is the role for the EU? More specifically, perhaps EU member states? Is there a role for the EU or its member states to work with ASEAN on economic and security issues? And clearly there are a number of crossovers where economic and security issues are concerned, perhaps obviously, for example, on 5G technology. Are there broader issues for cooperation between the EU and ASEAN. The second question comes from John Dobson, a former UK diplomat in Russia and beforehand the Soviet Union. And John’s question relates, Dr Nguyen, to something that you mentioned in your remarks. John asks, should Vietnam joined the quad. Now, Dr Nguyen, and you’ve already spoken to the legitimacy issues that you see the quad as facing, and also whether it needed is an acceptable face, so to speak, for the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Asia. I wonder if any of the other speakers might offer to share a view on that. So two questions, the first about the EU and the second about the quad? Who would like to respond first? Perhaps Dr Nguyen, you’ve already mentioned the quad. Do you have any thoughts on the European Union?
Dr Son Hong Nguyen 43:01
Alright. I’m happy to answer the question. It’s a good question too. I think we will have to ask permission from ASEAN first before joining any other regional organization, there are certain rules in ASEAN that you can only be a member of one regional organization at the time. Of course, it’s a joke. Well, I think the question of whether Vietnam should join the court depends on the nature of the court itself, or the nature of the whatever organization- If we think that it’s in line with our strategy or our views, then we’ll consider the membership. At the moment, I think quad is still under making? I don’t think what even among the members agreed themselves on what direction the organization should take. I think it’s only under formation, and they’ve only had two, I think, foreign ministers meeting. All until recently. So we don’t know, despite all the media’s spin about the term and about the nature of the institution or the gathering. I think it will take a while before he takes a very clear shape. And we’ll wait until then, before we consider membership.
Dr Andrew Foxall 44:24
Thank you, Philip or James, would you like to say anything at this point? Philip, please.
Dr Philip Shetler-Jones 44:30
Thank you. I just noticed a couple of things about the quad, I think are useful to reflect on. The first is that the second meeting happened very quickly, after a change of leadership in Japan, who had been for a long time that really the driver of this idea of a quad under Prime Minister Abe. So I think that tells you a bit about the depth of commitment of Japan to this approach and the structure. The second thing is that the current United States administration often gets a lot of criticism for aversion to multilateralism. But this is an exception to that. The United States as a full participant, United States has been very supportive. It’s not a typical leadership position, the quad is rather a flatter organization. So I think that also is a significant point to reflect on it amongst all of the especially around election period, the discussions about the role of the United States and that’s all from me.
James Rogers 45:39
I might have a couple of responses there, particularly to the first question from Euan about the EU relationship with ASEAN. I mean, I think that they’re, I mean, it’s the you know, it’s the EU now to decide how it how its relations with ASEAN develop. But of course, anything that draws, you know, the Europeans out of Europe and into the broader world is, I think, a welcome thing. I think there’s also a potential role for the E three format here as well, particularly as the UK, you know, finalizes it’s, it’s sort of a process of Brexit. And new foreign policy mechanisms are needed to draw the three major European states that’s to say, Britain, France and Germany together, and I was very welcome, I think to see them issued the statement that they issued recently in relation to China’s illegitimate claims and behaviours in the South China Sea. So I think there’s a lot of room for flexibility there for Europeans perform those kinds of coalitions and to project a common narrative, particularly when the sort of the rigid organizations are unable to respond because of internal dynamics? And I think in that context, there’s also something to be said about the quad. One of the questions I think, asked about Vietnam, a role for Vietnam in the quad. Now, the quad, of course, is a very relatively new and dynamic institution, which is an interesting sort of history in the face of it formed or deformed, and it formed again, and that’s what it says there, Japan has been one of the leading actors behind that. And I think it’s very important that multilateral forums serve, you know, common observer, an interest that there isn’t just multilateralism for multilateralism’s sake, and sometimes that can be a very European perspective. But this particular forum seems to have some potential because it does actually serve a purpose. And that’s to say, to provide an alternative to China’s vision for the region. And in that sense, I suspect that more and more countries will become involved in that organization, and it will expand in the future, even if it remains fundamentally a quad in so far as it draws the four major powers in the region in together. Nonetheless, there will be room in the future for other participants. And some of those participants might come from outside of the region, i.e. countries like Britain, and France, and I think anything to consolidate that kind of movement and to connect it with organizations that already exist in the region, such as ASEAN, and confirm and consolidate a kind of rules based and sometimes that’s the wrong term, but nonetheless, a term that captures I think, in essence, what we’re trying to achieve, should be very much welcome.
Dr Andrew Foxall 48:22
Dr Tuan, would you like to add anything?
Dr Tuan Anh To 48:27
Oh, thank you, I just would like to add one thing regarding the relations between the European Union and ASEAN regarding the concept of security, we have thought about the security in a traditional way that is coming from the military strikes, but security now is moving to a new direction that is non-traditional securities, we can see a lot of non-traditional security threats like now, the pandemic the with the COVID-19 with issues of you see also about the relations between security and some other economic development as a 5G you mentioned earlier. So, security is now having a new kind of dimension, is not only traditional security, as in the past is also related to economic development. It also relates to the environmental protection and is also related to the protection of the people. So with that, I think EU has some a lot of kinds of experiences for ASEAN that it can share with ASEAN and like in the EU growth, development or in the spatial planning of the maritime issues. So that is the areas that I think the EU and ASEAN can work on. Thank you.
Dr Andrew Foxall 49:54
Thank you. At this point, I’d like to invite Jurgen Haacke to ask his question, please. Jurgen, you should be unmuted in just a moment. If not, please unmute yourself, and the floor is yours to ask your question.
Jurgen Haacke 50:21
Thank you very much for the opportunity. I have a three quick questions, really, the first one relates to the status of the application that the UK put in for dialogue partner status. So I’m wondering whether our participants can say a little bit about where that is going. Secondly, and related to this, I’m wondering as to whether what outcome the panel would expect from a positive outcome. And then thirdly, because some of this obviously relates still to regional order. I’m also interested in the question as to what role the Royal Navy might play, in your view, in the future in Southeast Asia. Thank you.
Dr Andrew Foxall 51:06
Thank you Jurgen, excellent questions there. I’m wary of the time so I won’t ask all of you to respond unless specifically you want to. James, I know, you’ve obviously written and spoken before about the role for the Royal Navy in Southeast Asia, do you want to start by responding to that aspect Jurgen’s question?
James Rogers 51:31
I think that makes sense. Yes, I mean, the Royal Navy is the only Navy other than the US Navy that is thought to have undertaken what the US considers to be freedom of navigation operation, and that is to directly challenge China’s illegitimate claims in the South China Sea. I mean, there’s a lot of confusion often about what this actually means. And some people sometimes talk about, you know, sailing through the South China Sea as a kind of freedom of navigation operation. But actually, they are something that’s more specific, and the UK in 2018, actually on route from Japan to Vietnam, is thought to have undertaken such an operation, and to challenge China’s claims. Now, there was a lot of discussion after that about the UK doing more of these. And also its re-establishing itself or increasing its presence in Southeast Asia. And what in some UK circles is called perhaps archaically, the Far East. And more recently, there has been discussion about the army deploying more to provide a persistent presence for the UK in the region in the context of the integrated strategic review, which should be revealed or released later this year. So I would imagine that insofar as all of the things that Philip and the other speakers have said today, that we will see an increasing British focus and presence in the region, not least, because it is also a party to the five power defence arrangements. It has close relationships with Australia and New Zealand and of course, the United States growing relations with India, and importantly, Japan, as well as recently with ASEAN and Vietnam, that we will see an increased focus, but the extent of that, of course, will is still to be determined and will be will depend on a number of different factors that will manifest themselves in the years ahead.
Dr Andrew Foxall 53:17
Philip, perhaps I could come to you to offer a perspective on, perhaps not when we should expect a decision as to the UK is application, but actually what difference will it make you know, what will be the impact If the UK is application to dialogue partner is accepted?
Dr Philip Shetler-Jones 53:36
Thank you, Andrew. I’d be hesitant to say too much as it were on behalf of ASEAN presumptuously about the pace of the process, and so on. I think, though that UK is more ready now than has been for a very long time to play an active role across the agenda that our colleagues from Vietnam have mentioned. I think the evidence of that you can see in the recent visit last week of our foreign minister in Vietnam, where issues from COVID to trade agreements, through the whole spectrum were discussed. And the UK, of course, is as James said, has consolidated its resources in this respect by the merger of development and foreign policy in some ways, institutionally. So I think with our ambassador there, as you said at the beginning, Andrew from 2019, opening the ASEAN delegation, we have a full bag as it were issues. But I’d like to mention, if I have time, a couple of thoughts on the Royal Navy roles, a former Royal Navy Royal Marine officer myself, of course, I would love to see please do more of the deployments that we had in the last five to 10 years. I think that there is the first thing that you see Is that what was a series of somewhat ad hoc looking deployments, we’re now moving towards a period of more permanent presence in the region. That goes for the Royal Navy, as well as the comments recently about the British Army. And I think it’ll be some decisions about that in the near future. They’ve already been discussions about whether a base in Australia or Japan, or basing arrangements would be extended to sustain that. The other area is, as you see from the exercise going on now with the carrier Queen Elizabeth, and the carrier group. It includes not just the United States, but the Netherlands. And so I think the Royal Navy plays this convening role, assembling, Royal Navy and other navies together in exercises. And I think the what, what we should hope for is that there will be Asian partners joining these kinds of assemblies as well in the future. And lastly, I think the ASEAN question, is one that, you know, we have to also always bear in mind, respect for the ASEAN principles of self-determination and non-interference. And, you know, it’s very interesting in the history of ASEAN, that it’s been successful all through the Cold War, post-Cold War period, in helping its members determine their own way. And so it can’t be approached in the way that we might approach a corridor or another alliance of expecting to, to show up and join in. It’s very much I would say, over to the ASEAN members to give us a point of view.
Dr Andrew Foxall 56:51
Thank you, Phillip. Dr Nguyen, I’m going I’m conscious of the time so perhaps I could invite you to offer your views on what the UK’s joining of ASEAN or like the acceptance of the UK is application for dialogue partner status to ASEAN would bring. We’ve heard Philip and James outline what they’ve what benefits the UK might get from this. But of course, the obvious question is what would ask what would ASEAN gain from the UK is membership as well?
Dr Son Hong Nguyen 57:21
Well, the question of dialogue partnership, I’m not quite sure the status of the moratorium which has been put in place on meeting new dialogue partnership, but I don’t think the UK should count too much on the formal status of a dialogue battle for ASEAN and to start engaging with ASEAN. Don’t forget the true power of the UK is the soft power, it’s not the hot power that it has. And it can deploy it soft power through various informal track through a track 2 or 1.5, as well. And that’s where you can contribute a lot to, to ASEAN, the idea’s, the capacity, the experience is where the UK is going to be a lot beneficials to ASEAN countries. Like what I said earlier in my presentation, capacity building through informal track, can also be deployed already in starting engaging with ASEAN countries. And that’s I would encourage well, institutions like Henry Jackson society to be present in the region and promote ideas and cooperation in flair, flexible and informal ways to start with.
Dr Andrew Foxall 58:36
Thank you, we’ve just hit two o’clock here in London, so that will be about eight o’clock in Hanoi. I don’t want to take advantage of people’s goodwill. However, if I may just ask each of the panellists very quickly, for a minute or two. Your final comments that, you know, the sort of the takeaway message that you would like the attendees to leave this discussion with. Dr Tuan, I’ll come to you first if I may – what’s your sort of parting message for our attendees?
Dr Tuan Anh To 59:13
Thank you. So, I just would like to say that for regarding the Indo-Pacific perspective, Vietnam, as a country, it will not try to navigate the competency in the power rivalry, competition, it will try to work with ASEAN and try to promote ASEAN as a linchpin of the Indo-Pacific. Thank you.
Dr Andrew Foxall 59:37
Thank you, Dr Nguyen.
Dr Son Hong Nguyen 59:41
I look forward to the day when we will see the UK presence at every of the ASEAN Regional big forum where you can be well regarded as just another partner in the ASEAN circle like Australia or Japan or India. And we look forward to that day when the regional architecture includes country, and not only in the Indo-Pacific region, but who very capable of contributing to the Indo-Pacific region, just like the UK.
Dr Andrew Foxall 1:00:17
Thank you, Philip.
Dr Philip Shetler-Jones 1:00:21
I would say, in this stage where the UK is, as I say, performing this, this reverse Wilson move, we are still wise to take humility with our sin the way we come back into the region. And that means spending time listening very carefully to our friends and partners in the region, before making any sudden moves or overextending in terms of our ambition. There is also on the other side, I think, still a debate to be continued in the UK and in Europe, about where we see ourselves having this wider role. And I think we also have to bring public opinion along with us on that. And that’s also a learning process that we will need our friends help with. So I’m very grateful for opportunities like this to bring some of these issues to a wider audience, and long may it continue.
Dr Andrew Foxall 1:01:19
Thank you for and last but certainly not least, James.
James Rogers 1:01:23
Yes, I agree with everything that’s been said. I’d just like to add to it, that I think particularly from a British or European standpoint, though, we must remember that when we focus on Asia and the Indo-Pacific, that is not all about China, even though China is of course, the biggest power in the region, we need to look at it also and maybe even more so through the lens of other countries with which we have like-minded views and interests-Vietnam, you know, Japan, Australia, India, and so forth. And that we need to try to work with them more to try and shape the region, a region that’s more reflecting our principles and for the international system, and not obsess so much about what China is or isn’t doing. We need to provide leadership with our like-minded friends, and not wait for others to seize the initiative and push forward with their own agendas.
Dr Andrew Foxall 1:02:20
Thank you, James. I think that’s an excellent note on which to draw the discussion to a close. As I mentioned at the very beginning, today’s event marks the launch of a report of the same name, the Indo-Pacific: British and Vietnamese Perspectives, that report is now available on the HJS website. I would encourage you all to read it, and to engage with the ideas that it puts forward. Thank you to our speakers, those who are more proximate to London than others. And thank you to you as well, of course our attendees. It’s great to see so many of you are joining for a discussion like today’s. Good afternoon from London, good evening from Hanoi, and do enjoy the rest of your days. Thank you.