Re-elected Vietnam prime minister vows to defend sovereignty

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam’s prime minister vowed to defend the country’s sovereignty in the South China Sea as he was re-elected Tuesday by the rubber-stamp National Assembly.

In his acceptance speech broadcast live on state television, Nguyen Xuan Phuc called on parties to respect and comply with international law and not to further complicate the situation.

“We must resolutely and firmly defend our independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, be determined to defend Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea and call on parties to respect and comply with international law and not to further complicate the situation,” Phuc said referring to the South China Sea in Vietnamese term.

An international tribunal two weeks ago rejected China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea in a case initiated by the Philippines. Vietnam is among the other claimants in the disputed area. China is ignoring the ruling, saying The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration has no authority in the matter.

The 62-year-old Phuc won 485 votes from 494 assembly deputies elected in the general elections in May, after becoming prime minister in a vote of the old assembly in April.

In addition to the sea dispute, Phuc’s government faces a serious budget deficit, soaring public debt, an inefficient state economic sector and the worst drought in nearly a century in the southern Mekong Delta, the country’s rice bowl.

But Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute that studies Southeast Asia, said Phuc has surprised many observers and his critics by his pro-business attitude and down-to-earth approach in managing the economy.

“From his interventions to facilitate businesses to his comments on various economic issues, he has demonstrated that he is an active, capable and reform-minded leader that investors can rely on,” Hiep said in an email.

In his speech, Phuc also pledged to speed up reforms, fight corruption and build a transparent and accountable government.

Hiep said the current conditions of the economy force Phuc and his government to explore more reforms to maintain economic growth,

“Vietnam has reached the point of no return, where the government can’t afford to delay the much-needed reforms forever, especially regarding SOEs,” Hiep said referring to reforming the state-owned enterprises which have been slow when only small portions of shares of many major state companies were sold.

Economist Pham Chi Lan said Phuc has initiated many policies to facilitate businesses, but much more needs to be done to push his government agencies to implement them.

“Local and foreign experts have all recommended specific solutions … it’s now time to implement them,” she said “But it requires (the government) to go beyond itself.”

The assembly, with 96 percent of deputies being members of the Communist Party, is scheduled to approve Phuc’s 27-member cabinet before wrapping up its first session on Friday.

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