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International integration of Viet Nam: From theory to practice
26/5/2014 21:28' Send Print
Viet Nam increasingly participates in international life. Image source: chinhphu.vn

International integration in theory

First, in terms of lexicology, most of researches undertaken over the past years maintained that international integration originates from foreign word “integration” (1) and is translated into Vietnamese as “lien ket” (association). Comparing explanation of the term “integration” of European countries with the meaning of this word in the Party’s documents such as the Resolution 22-NQ/TW on 4 October 2013 of the Political Bureau on international integration, this understanding seems not appropriate. In automation, “integration” is a process of combining several subsystems to work together as one large system. In Foreign Affairs Dictionary of the former Soviet Union, “integration” in politics or economy is a process of national accession in wider international community such as the European Economic Community (EEC), the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (SEV) or the process of association of many countries at high level (2).

So, from national policy perspective, “integration” relates to national accession to international mechanisms and institutions having at least three members. In official documents of Viet Nam “international integration” is understood in the broadest sense of the word. It is Viet Nam’s participation in international activities from bilateral to multilateral perspective. In this case “international integration” should be understood as integration in international community.

Second, if integration is understood in broad sense as mentioned above, identification of its content and orientation of policy become easier as compared with traditional term of “integration”. A country’s participation in international affairs at different levels depends on two basic factors: 1- Resources and policies of that country; 2- Acceptance of the environment which the country is heading for manifested through member partners’ acceptance of content of issues which the country participates in. Thus, each country has the right to choose mechanisms (bilateral or multilateral, subregional, regional or global) and contents (economic, political or social and cultural) which conform to its objectives and resources. This is the measurement of that country’s dynamism in its international integration.

Third, in the current international context, bilateral and multilateral relations complicatedly intermingle and associate as a global network, gradually establishing obligatory norms and laws at increasingly higher and wider international scope and scale. In other words, international integration of a country by nature is the process linking internal activities to common regulations of the entity which it joins in. At the same time, international integration for a country is to strengthen its prosperity, safety, maintenance of sovereignty and national integrity because international integration is tantamount to the process of solving difference between the private and the common. This is the measurement of a country’s dynamism in international integration.

Fourth, in the context of globalization, demands of each country are increasing with time, making its international integration continuous and spreading. Take one example, when the relations of Viet Nam with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) develop, there will be demand for accession into ASEAN. When becoming an ASEAN member, Viet Nam will essentially have demand to join other international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). On the other hand, Viet Nam establishes economic cooperation with developed industrialized countries, gets accustomed to industrial life and management which will become habits of first of all labourers who join those cooperative activities and eventually the whole country. When Viet Nam joins economic linkages within APEC or WTO, its administrative system and legislation should be readjusted to conform to the “rule of the game” of these linkages. Accordingly, international economic integration is only the beginning. From economic integration to international integration (from concrete to overall) is the indicator of success of a country’s international integration policy.

Fifth, in the context of globalization, all countries should be engaged in bilateral and multilateral relations for the sake of national interests. Moreover, in some cases, a country’s participation in international life is sometimes mandatory, even if it is beyond the country’s capacity or it does not conform to the country’s immediate needs. Sound settlement of this issue is the measurement of a country’s flexibility in its international integration. Thus, international integration policy does not only reflects dynamism of a country in its participation in international life but also its capacity (from low to high, from near to far). Nowadays, international integration is also manifestation of international environment’s pressure on each country.

International integration in practical perspective

Based on interpretation of the term “international integration” above, right from its establishment, international integration was included in foreign policies of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. In a letter to the United Nations (UN) in 1946, President Ho Chi Minh declared: “For democratic countries, Viet Nam is ready to implement the open door and cooperation policy in all aspect” (3). However, due to objective elements, mainly opposition of the two blocs in the cold war period, Viet Nam’s foreign policies limited to mainly socialist countries. Moreover, in these relations, even when having acceded to the UN in September 1977, Viet Nam was fundamentally an aid recipient from other countries than an actor in international activities. Nevertheless, the strengthening of relations with the Soviet Union and other East European socialist countries with the peak was the joining in SEV as well as its relations with many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement or other North European countries show that international integration has been followed by our Party and State.

Viet Nam’s international integration polity originated from the orientation of “international economic integration” officially stated in the Party’s documents since the 8th Party Congress in 1996 as a result of national, regional and international changes. The end of the cold war and globalization helped Viet Nam implement open and renovate foreign policy of “Viet Nam is ready to befriend other countries”. Realities show that since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Viet Nam’s regional and international integration has been rapid. Right after normalization of its relations with China and ASEAN in 1991, Viet Nam became an official observer in 1992 and a member of ASEAN in 1995. Viet Nam was also a co-founder of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994 and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 1996. In 1998, Viet Nam joined APEC and in 2007 became the 150th member of WTO. At present, Viet Nam has diplomatic relations with almost all member countries of the United Nations and economic and trade relations with 160 countries and 70 territories and a member of almost all important regional and international organizations.

Looking back at the international integration process since 1996, we see clearly some strong points in the implementation of the orientation of international integration as follows:

First, the process of integration conforms to objectives and current potentiality of the country. Viet Nam started normalizing bilateral relations to break the isolation and hostile policy of foreign forces. It is the development of bilateral relations which creates conditions for Viet Nam to join multilateral linkages.

Second, the process of integration has always been associated with the country’s objectives. The orientation of “international integration” was the major guideline of the 8th Party Congress. However, during the integration process, when we have faced with all sorts of traditional and non-traditional threat on our security, beside economic development objectives, security and national defense or cultural and social safeguard objectives are of no less imperative. Thus the Party advocated expansion of international integration to other aspects, even to sensitive area as military cooperation.

Third, the process of turning from “learner” to “organizer” was also quick which was clearly demonstrated in the development of bilateral relations, from “opponent” to “partner” and to “strategic partners.” Within 10 years since the establishment of the first strategic partnership with the Russian Federation in 2001, by now Viet Nam have established strategic partnership with 13 countries of which 5 are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Within the framework of multilateral relations, Viet Nam successfully organized some important regional multilateral conferences. Typically, within ASEAN, three years after its accession, Viet Nam successfully hosted the 5th ASEAN Summit in 1998.

However, in this process of international integration, there are constraints which should be overcome:

First, the effectiveness of international integration is not really high. When joining international organization, we often have to negotiate for certain privilege due to delay in implementation of common norms. Indispensable implication is quite a few people, and first of all businesses of Viet Nam have not been fully aware of changes before and after international integration. This situation was assessed in the Resolution 11-NQ/TW of the Party Political Bureau on international integration: “International economic integration has not been closely linked to improving quality, effectiveness and sustainability of economic development, national defense, political security, social security, preservation and promotion of national identity. International cooperation in national defense and security has not been fully promoted and failed to link with international economic integration”.

Second, flexibility is not high. Due to lack of resources and experience, Viet Nam has not been able to link bilateral relations to multilateral relations. Moreover, readjustment of integration policy is slow and has not kept up with changes in the region and the world.

Assessing the whole process of Viet Nam’s international integration, we can see that with limited resources, given unfavourable international environment, the policy on international integration has yielded achievements as well as constraints. Like other developing countries, this situation is not only due to our weaknesses but also to external factors.

Recommendation for future

Though there are discrepancies between theory and practice, and though the world situation and especially regional changes have caused difficulties and challenges, it is indisputable that Viet Nam continues its international integration policy. The Resolution 22-NQ/TW of the Political Bureau on international integration pointed out: “Proactive international integration is a major strategy of the Party to successfully implement the tasks of national construction and defense of the Socialist Viet Nam”.

As international integration is the cause of the entire people and the whole political system (5), and from now to 2020 - when Viet Nam basically becomes an industrialized country, the following solutions are recommended to achieve highest effectiveness:

First, integration in ASEAN community is certain to be one of the primary tasks. It is less than two years before the deadline for the formation of the three ASEAN communities (Economic, Political and Cultural and Social). In the 23rd ASEAN Summit on September 2013 organized in Brunei, ASEAN leaders already discussed post-2015 strategies. However, understanding of people, especially of businesses is unclear. Communication on and psychological preparation for participating in ASEAN communities should be stepped up. People should know more clearly and accurately Party and State’s policies on this issue.

Second, if negotiations on Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement is successful, it will be a much greater linkage than the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). Nevertheless, understanding on TPP of businesses, especially state business sector is worrying. We have been told that like other free trade agreements (FTA), TPP will bring about opportunities, first free market access to businesses. This is a more political than economic approach simply because Vietnamese businesses’ competitiveness is too low. It is time for the Vietnamese State to organize short-term training of businesses on TPP in particular and FTA in general.

Third, there are challenges in broader and deeper participation in UN activities. Take for example Viet Nam will join UN peacekeeping force while Viet Nam’s army has not yet much experience required. Thus, coordination between the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs is of great importance. Coordination mechanisms in Shangri-La defense dialogue (ADMM and ADMM+) should be upgraded to meet this new task.

Fourth, beside deepening bilateral relations, it is important to make strategic partnership or comprehensive strategic partnership become substantive in the interest of security and development in the coming time. International integration policy in bilateral relations should be highly flexible. It is very necessary to study and make clear the Party and State’s policies and points of view to partners to avoid being trapped (which often occurs) in these complicated intermingled relations.

In a nutshell, the Party and State emphasize that the comprehensive international integration strategy completely conforms to regional and international cooperation and linkages which have become stronger and deeper. International integration also brings to each Vietnamese concrete tasks, the first one is to adapt to this strategy. By fulfilling these tasks, each people will contribute to the success of the policy on international integration./.


The article was published in the Communist Review (January 2014)


(1) Pham Quoc Tru: “International integration: Problems and Practice”, The International Studies magazine, No 2 (85), June 2011, p. 78

(2) A.A. Gromyko, Diplomatic Dictionary, Scientific Publishing House, Moscow, 1985, Vol. 1, pp. 404 - 405

(3) Ho Chi Minh: Complete Works, National Political Publishing House, Ha Noi, 1996, Vol. 1, p. 470

(4), (5) Resolution 22-NQ/TW on 10 April 2013 of the Political Bureau on international integration, p. 3

PhD. Do Son HaiDiplomatic Academy of Viet Nam