WASHINGTON DC —
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said Tuesday that the Southeast Asian country had learned “serious lessons” from the recent mass fish kills in four coastal provinces — an environmental disaster that sparked rare protests nationwide.
Phuc addressed parliament after being re-elected to head the government.
“The incident [caused by] Formosa serves as a serious lesson about getting and managing foreign investment projects, and it must not recur," he said, referring to Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Corp., which admitted to causing the April 2016 die-off. "We must review large projects as well as closely monitor their environmental commitments.”
Phuc, 62, made his acceptance speech nearly a month after the Taipei-headquartered corporation “took full responsibility” for causing millions of fish deaths with the toxic discharge from its steel plant in the central Vietnamese province of Ha Tinh.
The prime minister also mentioned the need for environmental protection in order to maintain fast and stable development. “We must not develop at the destruction of environment,” he said.
Nguyen Dinh Ha, a former independent parliamentary candidate, said he welcomed Phuc’s statements, but added that actions speak louder than words.
“Vietnamese are used to many promises. We now want to see actions. Those [Vietnamese] who acted irresponsibly in the case need to be dealt with on legal terms," Ha said. "Many people must be held accountable.”
The social activist also urged the newly elected parliamentarians to include the Formosa catastrophe as well as the South China Sea issue on their debate agenda.
Vo Kim Cu, member of the National Assembly Economic Committee, has been under fire for “opening the door” for the Taiwanese firm to begin operations in Ha Tinh when he was its party chief.
In his speech, Phuc vowed to defend Vietnam’s sovereignty over the South China Sea, where the country has overlapping claims with some other nations like China and the Philippines.
He also urged parties in the dispute to “respect and comply with international laws, and not to complicate the situation further.”
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese service.