With regard to defense diplomacy, General Phung Quang Thanh had many strategic initiatives and directives.
Each decision comes from deep understanding of values of peace
As a soldier of the VPA who participated in the resistance war against the U.S. imperialists and the northern border defense war and experienced many life and death situations, General Phung Quang Thanh clearly understood how terrible and painful war is and how precious peace is. Therefore, when alive he paid special attention to and gave timely direction on defense diplomacy, contributing to the efforts of the Vietnamese Communist Party, military and people in keeping peace.
I remember the time when I undertook the duty as Director of the Department of Foreign Relations in 2011. When handing over the promotion decision to me, General Phung Quang Thanh said, "The situation in the world and the region is currently complicated and unpredictable, and the risks of conflicts and wars are also difficult to predict. Therefore, the implementation of defense diplomacy is very important. Our comrades and troops laid down their lives for peace and national independence. We cannot lose it, but have to promote cooperation and build trust. In foreign affairs as well as in daily life, we must use our sincerity to enhance cooperation and flexibly apply the principle of "fixed in goals, flexible in strategies and tactics" to protect national interests.
Strategic instructions and contribution of General Phung Quang Thanh to the defense diplomatic service left good impression on the personnel of the Department of Foreign Relations. I also remember the time when the Ministry of National Defense proposed and hosted the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM+) in 2010. During this time, although ASEAN made remarkable achievements and attracted the attention of countries outside the region, the ASEAN members still faced traditional and non-traditional security challenges and were affected by the competition among powers. The situation required the formation of a cooperation mechanism where ASEAN members and powers outside the region could discuss defense cooperation measures to contribute to regional and global peace, stability and development.
Aware of the situation, at the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) in Thailand in 2009, General Phung Quang Thanh announced that Vietnam would host the meeting between defense ministers of ASEAN member states and its partners (called ADMM+) in its ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2010. At the first meeting, General Thanh said, "In modern world history, we rarely see a situation that defense ministers and representatives of defense ministries of 18 countries around the world sit together not to discuss wars, but talk about practical defense and security cooperation measures for peace, stability and development like what we are doing today."
It is true that ADMM+'s role in the regional security structure has been widely acknowledged, contributing to the sharing of assessment and viewpoints on regional security, promoting understanding and transparency in defense policies and strengthening trust among countries. This is can be seen as the great success of ASEAN with the remarkable contribution of Vietnam during its ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2010. The ADMM+ mechanism with groups of experts was set up, becoming one of the important mechanisms to regional defense and security and continuing attracting attention of countries outside the region.
In 2013, the Central Military Commission issued a resolution on international integration and defense diplomacy by 2020 and beyond. This was the first time that Vietnam had had a comprehensive strategy on international integration and defense diplomacy.
General Phung Quang Thanh also paid attention to building solidarity and friendship and fostering defense cooperation with other neighboring countries, including three Indochina nations. He devised many initiatives to promote the cooperation with neighboring countries in an effective and practical manner. Particularly, in 2012, under the chair of General Phung Quang Thanh, the meeting of Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian defense ministers was first organized in Vietnam's Da Nang city to exchange defense and security situation in each country and agree on cooperation contents between the three militaries. The meeting between defense ministers of the three countries has been held annually since 2017. 2014 also marked a milestone in the development of Vietnam-China defense cooperation when the two sides set up the Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange mechanism, opening a new defense diplomacy form. With its important contribution to the efforts and determination to build a borderline of peace, friendship, cooperation and sustainable development, the mechanism is held annually and has become a model in border defense cooperation.
Apart from initiatives and contribution to defense diplomacy and regional security, General Phung Quang Thanh also made important decisions to contribute to raising the status of Vietnam in the world. Particularly, after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's statement on March 27, 2013 on Vietnam's participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations, the Vietnam Peacekeeping Center (now the Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations) was established a year later, and Vietnam officially sent its officers to a U.N. peacekeeping mission. We were proud to see the national flags of Vietnam flying in front of U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa. From a war-torn country, Vietnam is now contributing to building peace in the world.
In the time when Vietnam faced a big security challenge at sea, General Phung Quang Thanh directed the Department of Foreign Relations to spread senior leaders' messages and aspiration of settling issues by peaceful means. He also requested the department to promote defense diplomacy to take full advantage of the international community's support to Vietnam. At multilateral forums and meetings between defense ministers, General Thanh discussed and spread Vietnam's viewpoints.
Forever special sentiment
I often hear of foreign defense ministers' good comments on General Phung Quang Thanh's sincerity, frankness and respect. After General Phung Quang Thanh retired, defense leaders of many countries wanted to meet him during their visits to Vietnam to recall their memories and pay gratitude to his contribution to bilateral defense ties.
Over the years, General Phung Quang Thanh paid special attention to and gave timely direction to the Department of Foreign Relations. He always said to young personnel of the department that, "Carrying out defense diplomacy is like conducting an operation, you have to turn passive positions into active and always win," or "You know foreign languages, you have to understand their land, people and culture, especially their thoughts, so as to bring countries closer together." Thanks to those teachings, many young officials of the Department of Foreign Relations have grown up, well meeting requirements of missions.
Having accompanied General Phung Quang Thanh during his foreign trips, personnel of the department all felt his friendliness and warm heart. He always inquired after everyone and their families. These trips were filled with laughter and good memories. Many officials of the department told me that these business trips have greatly helped them be more responsible for the nation.
For personnel of the Department of Foreign Relations, General Phung Quang Thanh was both a commander, who was strict and decisive, and a father and brother, who always loved them. When meeting with international friends, he always requested the department's staff to strictly observe regulations and carefully mind their manners. He always gave timely encouragement and complement to service staff when they fulfilled their missions. The valuable care of General Phung Quang Thanh became a great source of encouragement to personnel of the Department of Foreign Relations.
Although General Phung Quang Thanh has passed away, his sentiment as well as his teachings for personnel of the Department of Foreign Relations in particular and the defense diplomacy sector in general will be forever remembered. May his soul rest in peace. We, all personnel of the Department of Foreign Relations, promise to continue bringing into full play the good outcomes of defense diplomacy, contributing to the national protection cause.
From Lieutenant General Vu Chien Thang, Director of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Ministry of National Defense
Translated by Tran Hoai
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