Multi-Vector Foreign Policy of Vietnam and Cooperation with China
Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF

The end of cold war in 1991 and dawn of a new era in the global politics also had its concomitant impact on Vietnam and its approaches to foreign policy. While the earlier decades witnessed a series of conflicts the nineties saw Vietnam engaging multiple international players and becoming member of many multilateral organizations like ASEAN and others. For instance, it reestablished its full diplomatic ties with China in 1991 and was also able to reach a land border demarcation agreement in 1999 after having fought a war with China in 1979.

Vietnamese political leadership and diplomatic establishment had recognized that peace and stability and balanced relationship with members of the international community was an imperative in order to pursue its national goals. The nineties ushered in trends of development, economic integration and emphasis on non-traditional areas of security even though a variety of conflicts and acts of terrorism remained prevalent. In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world with ever growing economic interdependence it was necessary for Vietnam to pursue pragmatic policies and shape its foreign relations in a manner that achieved an optimum outcome.

Not only Vietnam reinvigorated its domestic policies especially the economic reforms in 1990s that led to flow of foreign capital it also began to integrate with regional and global economy by joining many international organizations. Beginning with joining the ASEAN in 1995 it became member of Asia Pacific Community in 1998. In 2005 Vietnam attended the first East Asia Summit. It also became member of institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank and WTO; all with an eye on becoming integrated with new economic world order.

Overall objective of Vietnamese leadership is to build a strong and a prosperous nation state that is people oriented, democratic with a civilized society. The Communist Party and State of Vietnam in its documents and pronouncements has laid stress on pursuing a foreign policy of independence, sovereignty, openness, multilateralism and proactive integration with the international community.

With political and social stability as its two pillars of strength the 21st Century presented Vietnam with many opportunities and challenges. While Vietnam’s economic growth has been commendable it still lags behind economically several countries in the region and the world. Corruption, bureaucracy and complex developments in security arena are seen as some of the primary challenges.

As part of its proactive engagement of countries in the region and elsewhere Vietnam has concluded several agreements that contribute to peace and stability. For instance, some of the important frameworks concluded in recent years are the Viet Nam-US Bilateral Trade Agreement, Viet Nam-China Land Border Treaty, and Viet Nam-China Agreements on the Delimitation of the Tonkin Gulf and Fishery Cooperation, and the Viet Nam-Indonesia Agreement on the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf Boundary. These agreements have gone a long way in creating and maintaining a conducive environment for national construction.

The successful conclusion of 132nd Assembly of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) hosted by Vietnam for five days in end March 2015 indicated that the country has come of age in diplomacy and has been well integrated into the international system. The Assembly in Hanoi had the major theme of ‘Sustainable Developmental Goals: Turning Words into Action’.

The Vietnamese representatives called for a stronger commitment from all nations to avoid the use of cyber warfare, and urged the United Nations to build an international convention ensuring cyber security and safety. Recent terrorist attacks in Paris and recruitment by the terror organizations through online propaganda indicate that cyber security is of utmost importance for the international community. Further, contribution by Vietnamese representatives to the adoption of a draft resolution on international law relating to national sovereignty and non-intervention in the internal affairs of States and human rights was quite significant. This was in consonance with the stated objectives of Vietnam’s approach to its foreign and security policies. Without doubt the event also contributed towards strengthening relations between the National Assembly of Vietnam and other parliaments.

Earlier, Viet Nam's active role in the UN had been recognized and highly valued by many countries, thus serving as the solid ground for Viet Nam's candidacy for a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2008-2009 term.

In so far as Vietnam’s engagement with China is concerned it has been endeavouring to pursue a very balanced and cooperative relationship with China despite Beijing’s assertive claims in East Sea/ South China Sea (SCS). As part of its cooperative efforts it needs to be remembered that Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong had visited Beijing in April last year in an attempt to improve strained bilateral ties. Recent visit of China’s President Xi Jinping to Hanoi, as a response to Trong’s visit, showcases Vietnam leadership’s flexible approach in its foreign and security policies. However, in May last year China had sent a drilling HD-981 for oil exploration purposes within the territories claimed by Vietnam creating a conflict situation. Thereafter, Beijing has increased its reclamation activities through creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea, a move that has been condemned by the international community.

During his visit to Vietnam President Xi said China will "strive together with Vietnam to well control differences at sea, and maintain overall China-Vietnam relations and peace and stability" in the South China Sea. But given China’s known position on the issue and its coercive activities in SCS a settlement is unlikely in the near future. Nevertheless, Vietnam and China signed a number of cooperation agreements covering party-to-party relations, investment, infrastructure, culture and a $200 million loan from the China Development Bank to the Bank of Investment and Development of Vietnam. Already, China is Vietnam’s largest trading partner with bilateral having crossed US Dollars 58 billion.

Further, in its multi-vector foreign policy approach Vietnam has forged cooperative relationship with the US, Japan, India and Russia among many other powers. Vietnam’s Communist Party Chief, in a first, had visited the US this year to reinforce its burgeoning political and security ties with the US. Vietnam’s is also a member of Trans Pacific Partnership that has its own idiom and strategic connotations besides its economic component. Similarly, Hanoi is part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations which is seen to be China led.

Thus, in the emerging world order and complicated regional economic and security scenario Vietnam is determined to follow policies that secure its national interests with peace, stability and development as its primary goals.

Published Date: 24th November 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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