Vietnam In Search of Pragmatic Foreign Policy

Khmer Times, 19 October 2015
Vietnam is preparing for the 12th National Party Congress to be held early next year. Foreign policy will be one of the core issues for discussion given the increasing complexity of regional security and competition by major powers.
Vietnam has gone a long way in conceptualizing and adjusting its foreign policy after the doi moi (renovation) in 1986. It has gradually turned from a foreign policy heavily structured in ideological considerations to a foreign policy model based on national interests and pragmatism. Vietnam has adopted a foreign policy of multilateral diversification, independence, non-alignment and hedging against major powers.
The key concern for Vietnam is to avoid being trapped in the politics of major powers and becoming a pawn in their strategic games. Meanwhile, how to transform such regional security and strategic issues and challenges into a source of national security and socio-economic development is another core objective of Vietnam’s foreign policy. Economic development constitutes the core element of national security and regime legitimacy.
Multilateral Diplomacy 
Vietnam has actively participated in promoting and strengthening multilateral institutions, particularly the United Nations and Asean. Asean has become the cornerstone of Vietnam’s foreign policy since it became a member in 1995. In his remarks at the UN Summit last month in New York, President Truong Tan Sang emphasized the role of Asean in maintaining regional peace and stability.
To date, Vietnam has established diplomatic ties with 186 nations and is an active member of more than 70 international organizations. Vietnam was elected to be the non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2008-2009 term, and sucessfully chaired Asean in 1998 and 2010. It has also chaired other important international forums such as  the Francophonie [French-speaking countries] in 1997, the Asia-Europe Summit in 2005,  the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2006 and the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) this year. It will be chairing another APEC Summit in 2017.So far Vietnam has concluded strategic partnerships with 14 countries. It aims to expand its bilateral strategic partnership with other key partners in the coming years. More importantly, Vietnam will upgrade its strategic partnership with the US in the near future. It is part of a robust and dynamic strategic diversification as well as balancing act.
Foreign Economic Policy 
Vietnam’s foreign economic policy has gained even more achievements. Vietnam has attracted over $250 billion of foreign direct investment, and is one of the few countries to participate in all important economic links in the region, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Vietnam will continue to focus on multilateral diplomacy through active partipation in international institutions.  Recently, Vietnam has sent its peacekeeping forces for the first time to conflict zones in Africa under the UN framework. Vietnam is striving to get elected into the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for the 2016-2018 term, and non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2020-2021 term.
On the foreign economic policy front, Vietnam will accelerate reforms and open up to attract more foreign direct investment, expand trading relations, and deepen international integration. Vietnam is going to play a more important role in the  regional production network and global supply chain but it needs to invest more in institutional reform and technological innovation.
The main challenge for Vietnam is to maintain an international environment favorable for economic development, national security and regime legitimacy. Balancing relations with China and the US is the most challenging task for Vietnamese leaders. The dispute with China in the South China Sea is the top external security threat to the country.
The border dispute with Cambodia is another potential destabilizing factor. Domestic political changes in Cambodia will seriously impact bilateral relations between the two countries. Vietnam needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to engage and strengthen ties with Cambodia, and also be more sensitive to the rising nationalism in the Kingdom.
To play a more important role in multilateral institutions, Vietnam needs to develop its own soft power, which includes economic and cultural power, diplomatic persuasion power, and universal human values.
The widening socio-economic gap is another challenge for Vietnam’s foreign policy. Vietnam needs to revise its development strategy to further link foreign direct investment and international trade with poverty reduction, and inclusive and sustainable development.

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