Analysis: Vietnam’s new diplomatic impetus

(From L to R) Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, National Assembly Chairperson Vuong Dinh Hue and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh pose for a photograph before the start of the opening session of the newly-elected 15th National Assembly’s first parliament session in Hanoi on July 20, 2021. (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)

Vietnam has come a long way since it began its “Doi Moi” (renewal) 35 years ago. Now, fresh from serving as a two-year non-permanent member of United Nations Security Council, the country has gained more confidence and would like very much to expand its regional and international role. It also comes at the time when Southeast Asia has become the centre of strategic competition among all great powers. Therefore, it was not surprising when, yesterday (Wednesday) Vietnam’s leadership called for a more active and broad-based foreign policy that will showcase the country’s new diplomatic strength.

Today, Vietnam is rated as one of the most stable countries in the world, with a dynamic economy that has attracted foreign investors from all around the world. Its wide-ranging free trade agreements are testimony to the pragmatism of Vietnam’s Communist Party. Its economic-oriented policies have already raised the standard of living of Vietnamese.

Vietnam feels that the time has come to increase its international engagement, which would bring stability and prosperity to the country and the region. Since joining ASEAN in 1995, Vietnam has now fully integrated with regional economic and other schemes. At the First National Conference on Foreign Affairs, Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng minced no words in saying that Vietnam has been building a unique and special diplomacy with strong “Vietnamese bamboo” characters.

As is well known, Vietnamese bamboo has strong roots, solid stems and flexible branches. “Vietnamese diplomacy is soft and clear, but is still persistent and resolute, flexible, creative but consistent, valiant and resilient against all challenges and difficulties for national independence and people’s happiness, united and humanitarian but resolute, persistent and patient in safeguarding the national interest,” he said.

Phú Trọng added that Vietnam’s diplomacy is a combination of softness and power, based on the foundation of understanding itself and others, as well as the situation. Judging from Vietnam’s current international standing, it has pursued a practical foreign policy, especially in the past two decades, which is aimed at promoting economic growth and integrating with the multilateral system. Vietnam has been successfully elected to and participated in various UN-related activities.

Now it is time for Vietnam to move forward. If Vietnam wants to up its ante in the new geopolitical paradigm, Hanoi has to be more adroit and pragmatic in handling the future challenges emanating from the US-China rivalries, as well as dramatic turnarounds in regional events. While the fraternal ties between Vietnam and China, as the world’s two most successful communist countries, remain solid and deeply connected, Vietnam’s ties with the US have also gained more strategic value. Therefore, Hanoi has to ponder ways to harness benefits from both powers while maintaining equilibrium in their relationships.

Experiences from the two-year stint at the UN Security Council have provided ample opportunities for Vietnam and its diplomats to learn and practice global politics, especially in conflict situations. Vietnam was active in the peace making process in various parts of the world, especially in South Sudan. During its ASEAN chairmanship in 2020, Hanoi was also able to promote the ASEAN profile at the global level in key issues related to climate change and COVID-19, among others. The UNSC performance has further instilled a sense of urgency for Vietnamese diplomats to be bolder and take new initiatives related to peace-building and promotion of multilateralism.

“Without continued renovation and gaining a proper grasp of the situation, we cannot catch up with the development of the reality. We need to adopt a new stature and position in behaving and dealing with relations with other countries both bilaterally and multilaterally,” Phú Trọng reiterated.

From now on, with bamboo-like diplomacy, Vietnam hopes to join the league of developed nations, especially in renewable energy, biotech and other hi-tech related industries. Furthermore, more efforts are needed to revitalize the economy, through deeper integration with regional and international supply chains, especially those in semiconductors, chips and vaccines.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn

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