After nearly 30 years since the implementation of a foreign policy of the renovation period, Viet Nam has realized deep and extensive international integration, actively participated with responsibility in forums and international and regional organizations, broadened and deepened foreign relations with countries in the world. Thirty years are an important opportunity to renew and assess theoretical and practical issues of Viet Nam’s foreign relations, perception and implementation of the foreign policy of the Party and State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, and draw lessons and recommendations for continued renewal of foreign policy in the coming time.
The evolution of perception on foreign policy
Prior to and during the renewal process, with a new vision of the world and clearer perception on national interest and demands for national development in each stage, the Communist Party of Viet Nam set out goals, leading viewpoints and orientations on foreign relations.
On goals, each Party congress put forth goals of foreign relations in different forms but identified consistently as for the interest of the country and the nation. Ensuring security, maintaining a peaceful environment and creating favorable conditions for development and raising the country’s status are the most important elements for the interest of the country and the nation in foreign relations. The 11th Party Congress made it clear that protecting the interest of the country and the nation was the highest goal and principle of foreign relations. Connotation of the interest of the country and the nation in foreign relations was clarified and concretized into tasks: “to firmly maintain a peaceful environment and create favorable conditions for speeding up industrialization and modernization, firmly defending independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity; to raise the country’s status; to contribute actively to the struggle for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress in the world.” (1) Clear definition of the interest of the country and the nation as the highest goal of foreign relations means confirmation that the goals and ideals of the Communist Party of Viet Nam are the country and the nation. The pursuit of the interest of the country and the nation has opened up new possibilities for consolidating national unity, international solidarity, and rally of force, cooperation and struggle in the process of implementing foreign relation activities.
Concerning foreign relation principle and motto and adapting to rapid development of situation, the Communist Party of Viet Nam since early advocated diversification and multilateralization of foreign relations in the spirit of more friend and less enemy, in the principle of ensuring independence, sovereignty and for mutual benefit. Accordingly, Viet Nam, from the 7th Congress expressed its spirit “to be friend” to the 9th Congress “to be ready to be friend,” from the 10th Congress affirmed that it “is a reliable friend and partner” to the 11th Congress it committed to be “a reliable member” of the international and regional community.
Renewal of perception is also demonstrated in the process of combining cooperation and struggle in foreign relations. The 3rd Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 7th Tenure in 1992 identified the motto for resolving issues in foreign relations was to firmly combine cooperation and struggle in international relations. The 8th Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 9th Tenure in 2003 developed and concretized this viewpoint through concepts of “partner” and “target.” The Plenum’s resolution stated those who respected independence and sovereignty, established and broadened friendly relations and equal cooperation for mutual benefit with Viet Nam were our partners. Whatever force which attempted and sabotaged our goals for national construction and defense were targets of our struggle. On the other hand, in rapidly changing and complicated situation at present, it is necessary to adopt a dialectical perspective that in each target, there were aspects we could take advantage of and in some partners, there were still differences and contradictions to our interest. The 8th Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 11th Tenure in 2013 continued affirming this approach. The viewpoint on “partner” and “target” marks a new breakthrough in foreign relation thinking of the Communist Party of Viet Nam in realizing the principle of combining cooperation and struggle. This dialectical viewpoint both shines the way and put responsibility for Viet Nam on differentiating which should be fought against and which should be capitalized on in relation with each partner, in each issue and in each period of time. The indicator for differentiation between “partner” and “target” is the interest of the country and the nation.
On orientation of foreign relations, each congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam marked a new step of supplement and development, especially orientation on relations with big powers, neighboring countries and orientation on international integration. Viet Nam has always respected big powers and harmoniously settled relations with powers. In recent years when Viet Nam has established relations with almost all countries and big international organizations, the Communist Party of Viet Nam directed: “Deepen established international relations and make them stable and sustainable,” (2) promotion and development of stable relation framework with powers has also been considered as priority in realizing this orientation. For neighboring countries while renovating approach to security to emphasize security inter-dependence of Viet Nam and other countries in Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific, Viet Nam has been aware more clearly of the importance of friendship and cooperation with neighbors in the region. Subsequently, Viet Nam has increasingly set store by ASEAN’s status and role in foreign relations.
Especially, through 30 years of implementing renovation policies, the Communist Party of Viet Nam has been fully and more profoundly aware of international integration. The 8th Congress of the Party in 1996 for the first time mentioned the policy of international economic integration: “Build an open economy with regional and international integration.” The 9th Congress in 2001 affirmed: “Proactively integrate into international and regional economy in the spirit of maximizing inner-strength and enhance effectiveness of international cooperation.” The viewpoint on international economic integration was later defined concretely in Resolution 07-NQ/TW of the Politburo of the Party Central Committee, 9th Tenure in 2001. The 10th Congress in 2006 further developed: “Proactively and actively integrate in international economy while broadening international cooperation in other fields.” The 11th Congress in 2011 marked a fundamental change in perception on international integration by identifying: “…be proactive and active in international integration.”
Parallel with the development of perception on international integration, Viet Nam has become fully aware of the need to satisfactorily settle relations between international integration and ensuring independence, self-reliance, firm maintenance of national sovereignty and combination of national strength with that of the time. The 7th Congress in 1991 affirmed: “In the new conditions, it is necessary to attach importance to applying the lesson of combining national strength with the strength of the time, inner-strength with international strength, tradition with modern elements for the cause of socialist construction and defense” (3) and “Broaden, diversify and multilateralize foreign economic relations in the principle of firmly maintaining independence, sovereignty, equality and mutual benefit, attract external resources to strongly promote advantages and inner-resources….” The Resolution of the 3rd Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 7th Tenure in 1992 also identified one of the mottos for resolving international issues was firmly maintaining independence, self-reliance and promoting multilateralization and diversification of foreign relations.
The 8th Congress in 1996 pointed out: “Broadening of international relations should be based on firm maintenance of independence, self-reliance, equality and mutual benefit, preservation and promotion of identity and fine traditions of the nation.” (4) The 9th Congress elaborated on the relation between independence, self-reliance and international economic integration: “Proactively integrate into international and regional economy in the spirit of maximizing inner-strength, enhancing the effectiveness of international cooperation, ensuring independence, self-reliance and socialist orientation, protecting national interest and security, preserving national cultural identity and protecting environment.” (5)
The Communist Party of Viet Nam has also early drawn lessons on the necessity to promote inner-strength to ensure successful international integration. The 10th Congress conceded mistakes and weaknesses in the way of thinking on building an independent and self-reliant economy and international economic integration while pointing to lesson learnt: “Only by intensifying inner-strength could we ensure economic independence and self-reliance and successful international economic integration.” (6)
By the 11th Congress, the Communist Party of Viet Nam affirmed the relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration was one of the big relations which needed special attention for well settlement. Resolution 22-NQ/TW dated 10 April 2013 of the Politburo on international integration also emphasized the leading viewpoint: “Be proactive and active in international integration on the basis of firmly maintaining the foreign policy of independence and self-reliance for the interest of the country and the nation, peace, cooperation and development, open foreign relation policy, multilateralization and diversification of international relations….”
For successful international integration, Viet Nam has made important renovation in perception on comprehensive diplomacy. The 3rd Plenum of the Party Central Committee, 7th Tenure defined major contents of comprehensive diplomacy were foreign relation activities in political, economic, cultural and social domains. By the 11th Congress, the comprehensive diplomacy was understood as unified diplomacy under the leadership of the Party to mobilize all foreign relation forces/sectors/channels; apply all foreign relation forms/tools; operate in different aspects/areas, aim at different targets to bring to play aggregated strength and effectively realize foreign relation goals of the Party and State. This diplomacy is built on the three major foreign relation forces including Party’s foreign relations, the State’s diplomacy and people-to-people diplomacy, synchronous implementation of three pillars of political diplomacy, economic diplomacy, and cultural diplomacy together with the work on overseas Vietnamese and citizen protection.
Achievements, constraints and lessons in implementation of foreign relation policy
The above-mentioned changes in foreign relation thinking are firm ground for the Communist Party of Viet Nam to develop and implement an efficient foreign relation policy. Thereby, during nearly 30 years of renovation, Viet Nam has gained considerable achievement in foreign relations.
First, Viet Nam broke embargo and sanction, has built and firmly maintained the environment of peace, created favorable conditions for national development; opened and staged successful international and regional integration; established normal relations with all big powers and almost all of countries in the world; become a member of ASEAN and participated in almost all important international organizations; for the first time successfully assumed the role as a Non-permanent member of the United Nations’ Security Council in the 2008-2009 term; and has strengthened its position in partners’ regional policies.
Second, Viet Nam has consolidated and strengthened relations with neighboring countries; and firmly defended sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. The special solidarity and friendship especially economic cooperation, trade and investment relations between Viet Nam and Laos have continued to develop and deepen. Relations between Viet Nam and Cambodia have also been unceasingly consolidated and developed in all fields. Relations with China have witnessed developments since normalization of relation; China has become Viet Nam’s biggest trade partner. The two sides completed land border demarcation and planting of border markers; ratified the Agreement on the Demarcation and the Agreement on Fishery Cooperation in the Bac Bo Gulf; and established comprehensive strategic partnership. As China has unilaterally caused tension and new complexities in the East Sea, Viet Nam has persistently defended its sovereignty, sovereignty right and jurisdiction, at the same time upholding the banner of peace and justice, advocating settlement of disputes through peaceful means on the basis of international law, especially the United Nations’ 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. It has consistently respected agreement between ASEAN and China on conduct of parties in the East Sea (DOC), together with related countries Viet Nam has striven to build the Code of Conduct of parties in the East Sea (COC) which is truly effective in resolving disputes and preventing conflicts in the East Sea; persistently develop bilateral agreements between Viet Nam and China to manage and resolve sea disputes. Especially when China illegally planted its Haiyang Shiyou-981 oil rig in Viet Nam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, Viet Nam has resolutely defended its sea and island sovereignty while exerting maximal efforts, using diplomatic means as well as external communication in dealing with China to firmly defend sea and island sovereignty and maintain the peaceful, stable and favorable environment for development.
Third, Viet Nam has normalized and established stable and lasting relations with countries, especially big powers and gradually deepened those relations. By now, Viet Nam has established strategic partnership with 15 countries, and comprehensive partnership with 11 countries. Relations between Viet Nam with other powers such as the United States, Japan, India, Great Britain, Germany and France have rapidly developed. In the relations with these countries, beside economic relations, relations in other fields such as science and technology, education, health, culture, security and military have gradually established. In addition, in the spirit of cooperation and struggle, Viet Nam has resolutely opposed attempts and actions of forces under the cover of “democracy, human rights, and freedom of religion” to intervene in Viet Nam’s internal affairs.
Fourth, Viet Nam has deepened and broadened its international and regional economic integration, proactive and active international integration, creating big changes in the way of thinking of all levels of administration, businesses and society; expanded considerably market, capitalized on investment, knowledge, new technologies and other important resources, actively contributing to growth and modernity-oriented economic restructuring; and developed competitive branches, products and businesses, serving economic development and asserting and consolidating its position in international labor division. Viet Nam has become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is negotiating to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP).
Viet Nam has acceded to almost all important regional and international organizations, expanded cooperation in politics, national defense and other aspects in those mechanisms. Viet Nam’s increased participation in multilateral forums has gradually affirmed its image of a proactive, active and responsible country in the regional and international community, improving the international community’s understanding of its culture, people and country.
Beside the above-mentioned achievements, limitations in the process of foreign relation policy implementation still remain:
First, the peaceful and favorable environment for national development has not been sustainable. Relations with partners, especially important partners have not been stable and lasting. There remain obstacles in developing relations between Viet Nam and important partner countries.
Second, effectiveness of foreign relation activities in some places have fallen short of expectation; results and agreements has not been implemented on time; and coordination among levels and branches have not been harmonious and synchronous.
Third, the Party’s lines and orientations on foreign relations, and international integration have not been duly studied, concretized and institutionalized. Viet Nam has not yet fully been aware of new opportunities to proactively take advantage of as well as newly-arising challenges to take proactive response.
Fourth, international economic integration has not yet closely associated with improvement of efficiency, sustainable development, protection of political security and social order and safety, and preservation and development of national cultural identity. The process of international integration has not been implemented synchronously with the process of inter-region association acceleration throughout the country; and constraints in direction, execution, supervision and coordination in the integration process from Central to local levels remain. International integration in national defense, security, culture, society and other aspects has neither been deepened nor associated with and generated positive impacts on the international economic integration. In many cases, Viet Nam was in passive state.
The above-mentioned limitations have clarified the need for continued renewal of perception and activities in foreign relations, particularly in following issues.
First, there must be higher unanimity and consensus in perception on the interest of the country and the nation. In the context of deepened and broadened international integration, three important integral components of the interest of the country and the nation - development, security and international status - continue to make important changes in terms of connotation and forms and in their relations. When protection of the interest of the country and the nation is the task of the entire political system, the cause of the entire people including overseas Vietnamese who are working living and studying abroad, the unified connotation of the interest of the country and the nation in foreign relations and the guarantee for the concentrated management of the State in the process of implementing the interest of the country and the nation should be considered essential.
Second, clarify the connotation of national strength, strength of the time and seek optimal methods to combine these strengths in the new context. Combine national strength with that of the time is a cross-cutting lesson throughout the revolutionary struggle of the Vietnamese nation. To successfully apply this lesson in the international integration stage, it is necessary to clarify and agree on the perception of national strength in political, economic, cultural, security and national defense aspects and methods to promote the strength in the new context. For strength of the time, it is necessary to clarify and agree on tendencies and big trends of the world and regions; opportunities and challenges posed by those tendencies and trends to the Vietnamese people. Next is to find a method to combine those strengths to keep abreast of rapid changes in situations of Viet Nam and the world.
Third, clarify the implementation of lines “diversification and multilateralization” and “deepened relations” to make it clear what “diversification and multilateralization of relation” mean in the context that Viet Nam has established relations with almost all countries and territories and Viet Nam has opened relations in all aspects through foreign relation channels. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand what “deepened relations” are while Viet Nam is promoting its relations with partners. “Diversification and multilateralization” should avoid scattering and “deepened relations” should be focused in the overall foreign relations.
Fourth, balancing the relation between international integration and ensuring independence, self-reliance, firm maintenance of national sovereignty continues to be an urgent demand in the changing international and regional context. International integration brings about the right to participate in making decisions on issues beyond national boundary and the possibility to tap more external resources to solve national issues. At the same time, countries should abide by regulations and common standards in the integration process. Reality shows that, in the process of international integration, independence and self-reliance are preconditions for firmly maintaining national sovereignty, and at the same time contributing to ensure effective international integration. Country without independence and self-reliance will not receive international concern or can become “a tool” of international economic and political forces in the process of international integration. To protect independence and self-reliance, Viet Nam should enhance national aggregated strength from economic, political, security, national defense, cultural and social fields. This is a decisive factor to ensure independence, self-reliance and firm maintenance of national sovereignty in the context of international integration. That is why effort to find a “golden formula” for the double demands to boost integration and firmly maintain national sovereignty should be continued.
Fifth, it is a necessity to build mechanisms for unified management of foreign relations and improve capacity of cadres performing foreign relation work to resolve increasingly complicated, multisectoral and multilayer issues in foreign relations. A comprehensive diplomacy all the more needs effective management mechanisms and capable cadres.
Amid continued complicated development in the world and regional situation, the urgent demand for Viet Nam to become a modernity-oriented industrialized and modernized country and firmly defend sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Fatherland, Viet Nam’s foreign relations are facing greater tasks. These tasks require cadres who are performing foreign relation work at all levels and branches to quickly equip themselves with new thinking, new capacity while making more efforts to contribute to the process of renewing perception of the Communist Party of Viet Nam on the world, foreign relation lines and policies, the implementation of foreign relation lines and policies and lift the cause of foreign relation of the Vietnamese Party and people to new height.
(1) Document of the 11th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House - Truth, 2011, p.236
(2) Document of the 10th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2006, p.112
(3) Document of the 7th National Party Congress, the Truth Publishing House, Ha Noi, 1991, p.88
(4) Document of the 8th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 1996, p.74
(5) Document of the 9th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 2001, p.120
(6) Document of the 10th National Party Congress, op. cit., p.179
This article was published on Communist Review No 862 (August 2014)