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Joint Press Conference by Secretary Carter and Minister of National Defense Thanh, in Hanoi, Vietnam

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Vietnamese Minister of National Defense General Phung Quang Thanh
June 01, 2015

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like -- (inaudible) -- to invite to introduce General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnamese minister of national defense, and The Honorable Ashton Carter, the United States secretary of defense.


I'd like to invite General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnamese minister of national defense, to deliver a speech.


GENERAL PHUNG QUANG THANH (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Ladies and gentlemen, certainly, I would like to welcome all the journalists and press, both from Vietnam and from international countries who come to Vietnam and to have the -- (inaudible) -- regarding the official visit to Vietnam.


The aims of the visit to Vietnam by Honorable Ashton Carter, the secretary of defense of the United States is to deepen the bilateral defense cooperation within the comprehensive within the comprehensive -- (inaudible) -- between Vietnam and the U.S.


And at the same time, we're able to promote the -- (inaudible) -- between the two nations the mutual understanding, the mutual trust between the two countries and, at the same time, support the other areas of cooperation -- (inaudible) -- and economy.


We had a very friendly, open, candid and sincere discussion. We also reviewed the bilateral defense relations, particularly from the time that we signed the Memorandum of Understanding in 2011. But our bilateral defense relations have positive and stable developments.


We also acknowledge and welcome the U.S. participation to work with us to overcome the world legacies that is to -- (inaudible) -- out and provide the information regarding the -- (inaudible).


We also welcome the support from the United States to Vietnam in the efforts to mitigate and clean up Da Nang and other areas. The U.S. also have been very active to support us, in terms of demanding the U.S. bombs and mines left over in Vietnam.


And the main content of that statement is based on the memorandum of understanding that we signed in 2011. And I would also -- I would like to further highlight some other points in the four different statements, as follow: personally to further promote the delegation instances at all levels, especially at the high ranking level from both ministries of defense and two militaries, and secondly, to promote the dialogues, especially defense policy dialogue.


Secondly, to promote the cooperation to overcome the world legacy as I mentioned before. Thirdly, we will work together in the U.N. peace keeping operations. Fourthly, we will work together to overcome the consequences of natural disasters, search and rescue, the humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. And fourthly, the cooperation in maritime security, aligned with international laws and the law of each country, and the U.S. is ready to support and work with Vietnam in terms of experience and information sharing; the training of the personnel who are working directly in this aspect, as well as the appropriation of equipments for maritime security purposes and law enforcement purposes.


Other areas of cooperation I can mention more, it could be military medicine cooperation and the cooperation of the regional multilateral mechanisms, for instance, the 80 LAND+, or 80 LAND+1. And we will work together in the political that we will respect independence, sovereignty of each other, respect political systems of each other, respect international law, a lot of expenses, and not to intervene in internal affairs of each country.


In order to promote the friendly understanding and mutual trust between the peoples of two countries, as well as the two militaries -- (inaudible) -- and also at the same time, for the mutual interests and benefits of both countries, as well as contribute to the maintenance of peace, stability, cooperation and prosperity in the region; while do not affect or harm, the security of other countries.


And now I'd like to invite Honorable Ashton Carter for his remarks. And after that, we are ready to answer your questions.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Very good.


Thank you, General Thanh.


And good morning, everyone.


It's a privilege to be here as we mark the 20th anniversary of normalized relations between the United States and Vietnam.


Our nations have come a long way over the last 20 years, let alone the last 40 years. And, as the general and I reaffirmed in our meeting today, we're both committed to deepening our defense relationship and laying the groundwork for the next 20 years of our partnership.


The joint vision statement we signed today will help us do just that. Following last year's decision by the United States to partially lift the ban of arms sales to Vietnam, our countries are now committed for the first time to operate together, step up our defense trade and to work toward co-production.


All that would have been hard to imagine 20 years ago. And, like my stop in Haiphong yesterday, where I was the first U.S. secretary of defense to visit a Vietnamese military base and tour a Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel, it underscores the continued positive trajectory of the U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship, especially in maritime security.


United States and Vietnam are working together to ensure peace and stability in this region and beyond.


Earlier this year in Da Nang, our two navies practiced using the code for unplanned encounters at sea. But that's not all we're doing together. United States will provide $18 million to the Vietnamese Coast Guard to purchase American Metal Shark patrol vessels.


We're also helping stand up a new peacekeeping training center for the Vietnamese military for the reason that the general indicated, which is Vietnam's admirable desire to participate in peacekeeping operations around the world.


So I'm pleased to announce today that the Department of Defense will assign a peacekeeping expert to our embassy here in Hanoi to work with the Vietnamese Defense Ministry to help prepare for their inaugural deployment to U.N. peacekeeping operations.


In my speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore just before I came here, I explained how we can strengthen the regional security architecture so that every nation -- every nation -- in this wonderful region can rise and win together.


I was speaking about countries like Vietnam and India, where I'll travel tomorrow and all the other countries of the Asia-Pacific region. The United States is committed to supporting a strong, prosperous and independent Vietnam that respects human rights and the rule of law.


We must keep working together to ensure the Asia-Pacific's peace and prosperity that has served so many in this region, including Vietnam and the United States, so well for so long is preserved and enhanced.


Our future together is indeed bright, but as our two nations look forward, we cannot forget our shared past. And the United States remains committed to working with Vietnam to address the legacy of war.


So today, to help honor and commemorate that legacy, I am returning two war artifacts to the Vietnamese people, a diary and a belt that belonged to a Vietnamese soldier. The U.S. military hopes to see them returned to their rightful owner or his family.


With this exchange, we continue to help heal the wounds of our past. With this visit, we continue to lay the foundation for a bright future. With our work together, we continue to strengthen the region's security architecture so all our countries and others all around the region can continue to rise and prosper.


Thank you. And as the minister suggested we take some questions, and I'm pleased to do so.


STAFF: Let the questions and answers begin.


STAFF: The first question from the U.S. press delegation comes from Gordon Lubold with the Wall Street Journal.


Q: General, I wonder if you could speak to islands in the South China Sea. As you know, the U.S. is interested in having all claimants to the islands in the South China Sea stop construction of and on those islands.


I wondered if you could tell us if you have given Secretary Carter here today assurances that Vietnam will stop those, and if you could characterize the threat, the maritime threat, posed in the South China Sea by China.


And I have a quick follow up.


GEN. THANH (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Firstly, thank you very much for the question. And that's what, exactly, Honorable Ashton Carter writes to me in the meeting.


And our view on this is very persistent and clear, that is, to deal with any differences and disputes in terms of sovereignty and territory by peaceful manners.


And at the same time, we also have to respect and observe international law including the UNCLOS 1992 and the Declaration of Conduct (DOC) not to expand in the future. And other nations will work together with China to have the COC – the code of conduct soon.


And Vietnam in recent years, we have some activities to enhance and to consolidate the islands that are under our sovereignty.


As you may well aware, finally, we have our military personnel stationed in 19 of the remote islands and others, (inaudible) Island -- (inaudible).


And for the (inaudible) Islands, we do not expand those islands, we just consolidate to prevent the soil erosion because of the waves, to improve the livelihood of our people and of our personnel who are working and living there.


And for the submerged features, we have built small houses and buildings, which can accommodate only three people, and we do not expand those features. And the scope and the characteristics of those features are just civilian in nature.


SEC. CARTER: No, I think we did discuss the matter, and I think he spoke very clearly to it. And he mentioned one other thing, in addition to the proposal that we were discussing and the government of Vietnam is considering, as the general indicated, for a permanent halt to reclamation and further militarization. He mentioned also the ASEAN code of conduct, and I should also mention we're strongly supportive of that, as well. That is another multilateral, peaceful, and negotiated way of addressing some of the issues of the claimants in the South China Sea. And I commend the general's role in the ASEAN process, and we're strongly supportive of that, also.


Q: (UNTRANSLATED)


STAFF: So we'd like to ask you once again, before putting a question, please say yourself, what news agency or office you work for. Thank you.


Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I am from the Labor newspaper. And a question for Secretary Carter. You mentioned that the two sides discussed about defense threat and the production. So can you explore and expand a little bit further about that?


SEC. CARTER: Yes. We had a very indepth discussion that extended well over an hour and a half, because there's so much that we're doing together. I mentioned a number of items, as did the general, areas of maritime security, not just in equipment, but in operations, in the sharing of information. All these things are provided for by the joint visions statement that we signed today. Also, our joint activities in helping Vietnam to develop its peace keeping capabilities, which it can offer world wide. We discussed various multilateral, in addition to bilateral defense activities. And so, there, in every category of defense cooperation, the joint vision statement provides us the opportunity to follow up on those and more.


STAFF: To Mr. Carter -- (inaudible) -- we'd like to have more questions.


Q: I have -- I'm Yetang from the VN Express online newspaper in Hanoi. I'd like to -- I have question from Mr. Carter. China, it's deployed a weapon to the South China Sea, what do you think? The second point, if there is conflict in South China Sea, what the U.S. is going to do? Thanks.


SEC. CARTER: Well, in the first place, I will just repeat what I said, both in Honolulu and in Singapore, namely, that the United States opposes militarization and the creation of tensions in the South China Sea. Even though we are not a claimant to the South China Sea we, like every other country in Asia and really around the world, have an interest in freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas and peaceful resolution.


And you ask what we're doing. Two things.


The first is none -- no actions by any party will change the United States' behavior. We will fly and sail and operate wherever international law permits and that will remain unchanged.


Second, we're calling for a multilateral and peaceful resolution of this issue of both through our suggestion to the claimant states to halt permanently and any further reclamation or militarization, all claimants. And we support the ASEAN and other legal processes regarding these claims. And that is the U.S. position.


We've discussed that with our colleagues in Vietnam. I've discussed it with a number of countries in the region, including claimant and non-claimant countries in Singapore. And we'd like to see, obviously, everyone pursue this in a peaceful way.


But it won't change the U.S. Military or other activities that have been going on for decades here and that have been part of the critical system that has allowed -- not allowed, but enabled and supported peace and security here in this region and therefore the prosperity in which all countries of the region can rise and prosper. That's what we want.


STAFF: Our final question comes from -- (inaudible).


STAFF: The last question from an international journalist.


Q: Hi, Matthew Rosenberg with the New York Times.


Two questions. To the general, I want to know what, specifically, what weapons and equipment you're looking for from the U.S. -- and what you'd like.


And, for Secretary Carter, you know, we're at a -- we're at a press conference, for instance, where reporters are not free to ask whatever questions they see fit or right, with stories they please.


Vietnam has a very well-documented history of human rights repression. Do you think that this should hinder the defense relationship and -- (inaudible) -- or do you think it should hinder the defense relationship, or do we have to look past this, because of other issues that are more pressing?


GEN. THANH (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And responding to your question, presently we welcome the decision from the -- (inaudible) -- to properly remove their restriction on lethal weapons to Vietnam so that we can open to the access of maritime equipment for Vietnam.


But what we do hope and wish is the full removal of the restriction on lethal weapons against Vietnam. And I do believe that as we are friends and -- (inaudible) -- benefit to each other, so the fully removal of the restrictions we'd like the respect and the trust between the two countries.


And that is also, I do believe, in line with the interests of both countries.


And I think we should not attach that decision to the human rights issues. And Honorable Secretary Ashton Carter will answer your second last question regarding human rights, but from our perspective, we have ensured the rights of our people, but we are doing very well in the human rights aspect.


And as you follow the situation in Vietnam, our government, our state has several mechanisms and policies that respect the rights of our people, the freedom, the democracy of our people, the right of our people to pursue happiness according to our laws.


And regarding the equipment that we propose and request from the United States, we actually do not only request from the United States. I have mentioned and talked to international friends from the Shangri-La Dialogue, from the (IDM-plus) meeting, meaning the Asian ministers of defense plus the ministers from other 80+ countries, as well as the (ADM-plus-1), Asian plus China.


That is regarding our Vietnam Coast Guard policy that established some 50 years ago a new and young policy of our government. And we need the sharing of experience and information, the training for the personnel of Vietnam Coast Guard as well as the equipment without any conditions. And as long as those countries respect our independence and sovereignty we will highly appreciate and value support from any country. And we also propose the support from other countries to provide the partnerships to Vietnam Coast Guard, in order to carry out law -- maritime law enforcement. And to protect to -- the fishermen of Vietnam, and we will prefer -- much more prefer and appreciate the new equipment. Thank you.


SEC. CARTER: Matt, you asked about both defense affairs and political affairs and their relationship. We discussed both of them, our governments do, as the same time in parallel, very candidly. Obviously the defense minister and I are focusing on security affairs. But Deputy Secretary of State Blinken was here just a week ago. And so I -- it's a sign of the maturity of the relationship of our two countries and how far we've come together in the last 40 years, that we're able to have very candid discussions about all topics, all of the security and non-security, economic, political, international, internal all together.


Q: (off-mic)


SEC. CARTER: They clearly intersect. And that's the reason why our government raises them both. That's why Secretary Blinken was here, I talked to him about his trip here. And in all of our conversations, including our senior leadership conversations, all these topics are discussed, for sure.


Q: (UNTRANSLATED)


SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

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