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Effectively handle the relation between independence, and self-reliance and international integration of Vietnam in the new context
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Documents of the 12th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam continue confirming that the thorough and effective handling of relations including the relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration is one of the key tasks of Vietnam in the coming period.

The relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration of Vietnam during the 30 years of innovation.

In the mid-1980s of the 20th century, Vietnam faced serious difficulties. The prolonged centrally-planned, bureaucratic and subsidized economic mechanism annulled development motivation; the country was isolated, subject to embargo and dependent on external aid. People’s life was very difficult, poverty rocketed, the socio-economy could collapse at any time, and worries spread. The political regime was confronted with big challenges.

Facing these difficulties, the 6th Congress of the Party in 1986 initiated a comprehensive renovation of the country which advocated "joining international division of labor," "expanding economic and scientific-technical relations" with other countries. (1) The spirit of the 6th Congress led to a new approach that shows independence, self-reliance does not mean isolation, and "closed door" to the world, thereby opening up a new way of thinking about international economic integration in the first years of renovation. The 7th Congress of the Party in 1991 took a step forward with more specific guidelines: "Expansion, diversification and multilateralisation of external economic relations" following the guiding principle "attracting external resources to strongly generating internal advantages and resources." (2) However, hardly had the renovation taken place when the Soviet Union and the East European socialist countries fell into a crisis and collapsed, causing concern among people about which part Vietnam would follow. In this context, the Platform for National Construction in the Transitional Period to Socialism was adopted in 1991, confirming the acumen and wisdom of the Communist Party of Vietnam in leading the country to persistently implementing the renovation and successfully building socialism. It was lively and meaningful evidence about the importance of maintaining independence, self-reliance in choosing the development path of Vietnam in face of upheavals of the times.

From a centrally planned, subsidized, closed and subsistent economy, Vietnam has carried out reform, opened and shifted to the socialist-oriented market economy, promoted exports, received development aid and foreign investment. From being isolated and subject to embargo, we took initiative to break that siege; normalized relations with big countries; implemented the line of befriending all countries in the international community; and strengthened independence, self-reliance. Coming out of the serious crisis, in mid 1990s, Vietnam's economy achieved high growth rates and initially integrated into the region. This fact confirms the correctness of the renovation. The 8th Congress of the Party in 1996 established a firm confidence in the foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, openness, multilateralisation and diversification of external relations, (3) and expanded international economic relations in order to enlist resources for growth. However, the implementation of commitments on regional economic integration and reform of Vietnam in that period was still very slow due to the fear of competition and hesitation and worry of negative impact from outside, especially when the financial-monetary crisis in Asia broke out.

Not until 2001, for the first time in the documents of the 9th Party Congress, the phrase "active integration into international economy" was introduced, marking a paradigm shift in thinking about development and integration of Vietnam. The 9th Party Congress also pointed to the guiding stance: to safeguard independence, sovereignty, first policy independence and self-reliance. Build the independent and self-reliant economy along with proactive international economic integration; combine internal with external strength into aggregated strength to develop the country. Expand relations with other countries, but do not let the economy depend on and be manipulated by external forces. (4) In 2006, the 10th Party Congress added the word "positive" and set out the line: "positively and proactively integrate into international economy while expanding international cooperation in other fields ... ." (5) Though the supplement was not really a breakthrough, it clearly affirmed confidence in the necessity and benefits of international integration. The 10th Party Congress set out the guiding stance that international economic integration "must be carried out with appropriate roadmap, positive and firm steps, without hesitation, haste, and simplicity." (6)

Since becoming an official member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007, Vietnam's economy has fully integrated into the global economy. Vietnam’s commitments with WTO are a common framework to promote domestic reforms, perfecting the socialist-oriented market economy. On that basis, the 11th Party Congress in 2011 elevated the line into "proactive and positive international integration" (7) as specified by Resolution No. 22-NQ/TW of the Politburo, 11th Party Congress in April 2013 to assert that international integration is no longer confined to economic field, but is extended to all other areas, including political, defense, security cultural and social fields. Also since the 11th Party Congress documents of the Party have used the term "independence, self-reliance" (adding "," in between) instead of "independent self-reliance" to reflect the two faces of "independence" and "self-reliance" of national sovereignty in development and defense.

The full awareness and successful handling of the relations between independence, self-reliance and international integration have made an important contribution to helping Vietnam make tremendous achievements of historical significance during the 30 years of renovation. Vietnam has entered a new depth in the orbit of international integration, performed basic adjustments, raised the position, size and competitiveness of the economy; national independence has been strengthened, and national self-reliance has been consolidated. In 1986, Vietnam had diplomatic relations with more than 30 countries. By now, Vietnam has established diplomatic relations with 187 countries and economic relations with more than 223 countries and territories. (8) Vietnam's relations with all big countries have been developing well; in particular, in-depth, substantive and effective relations with some countries have been established through comprehensive cooperation and strategic partnership. (9) From standing aloof, Vietnam has become a member of more than 70 regional and international organizations. Departing from only loose bilateral economic agreements, Vietnam have reached agreements with economic institutions at all levels, including new generation free trade agreements (FTA), such as the Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Vietnam-European Union Free Trade Agreement (VEFTA). These show Vietnam’s proactive and positive efforts to accelerate the process of in-depth and extensive international economic integration. (10)

Lessons learned from full awareness and effective handling of the relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration in recent years include:

First, independence, self-reliance in assessing changes in the international and regional context to adopt response policy relevant to the conditions of the country, and in line with international practices and approach. In the recent period, our awareness on international integration has fallen short of changes in the world. We have not yet fully assessed challenges and opportunities that international integration brings about, hence subjectivity, haste, sometimes hesitation and wait-and-see attitude. Businesses’ awareness and preparedness as well as State support for enterprises to prepare for integration have been limited. Enterprises, especially state-owned enterprises, have still relied on State subsidy and protection. Thus, many lines, mechanisms, laws and policies have been slowly renovated to suit the requirements of integration, and have not taken full advantage of all the opportunities for reform and development.

Second, it is essential to always be independent, self-reliant in determining lines, policies and methods of development. It is necessary to maintain independence, self-reliance when choosing steps for integration: participate in which international organizations, sign which agreements with which conditions and roadmap. Independence, self-reliance must be reflected in the negotiation and accession; actively and creatively implement international commitments to take advantage of opportunities and cope with challenges.

To avoid external high pressure, we do not only persist but also wisely address the pressure, taking into account trends and tendencies in the world to arrive at appropriate policy decisions. However, we have not reached high consensus in perception and action when considering international integration and ensuring independence, self-reliance as the cause of the entire people and political system.

Third, to build an independent, self-reliant economy in the process of international economic integration, internal capacity plays a decisive role to neutralize external risks to capitalize on opportunities offered by integration.

New international context and issues relating to Vietnam’s independence, self-reliance and international integration

The situation in the world and the region have rapidly and complicatedly changed, profoundly affecting Vietnam’s handling of the relationship between independence, self-reliance and international integration.

Uncertainty, unpredictability of global development tendencies have resulted in significant risks to Vietnam’s international integration. The world economy has been unstable with uneven growth, many emerging economies have fallen into stagnation or recession; prices of many basic goods, energy and raw materials have dropped sharply; exchange rates of major currencies have fluctuated; investment flow has been unpredictably. The rapid "spreading" effect of external shocks will brings about complex challenges, especially when Vietnam’s response is still not strong enough, and the intrinsic weaknesses of the economy have not been handled.

The mixture of multilateral and bilateral integration have resulted in a "matrix" of FTAs in multiple lines and multiple levels including new generation FTAs and "super FTAs" such as TPP. Those countries, which become the focuses or the focal points of these FTAs will have more opportunities for development, and play a more important role in the global economic system. However, changes in policy during increasingly comprehensive and profound international economic integration have caused powerful impact on Vietnam’s independence, and self-reliance. The decision to join new generation FTAs is a shift as well as a new challenge for Vietnam's economy. Pressure to change policy coming from many channels and directions will create multi-dimensional impact, which is difficult to cope with and control. Groups of different economic interests constituting a potential cause to contradictions in society, putting Vietnam in a difficult policy-making position when dealing with problems arising from the integration process. Moreover, FTAs themselves are not enough to help Vietnam realize the objectives of national development. Although they can help Vietnam’s better access partners’ market, increasing trade volume and investment in the short term, FTAs cannot help Vietnam's economy come out of the lower rank of the global value chain and generate more jobs with higher productivity because these mainly depend on internal reforms. Amid fiercer competition, challenges to Vietnam's economy have existed while opportunities offered by integration come in the form of potential.

The fourth industrial revolution have taken place quickly, especially with technology breakthroughs in areas such as artificial intellectual, robot, the Internet, 3D printing technology, Nano technology, biotechnology, energy storage, among others have resulted in tremendous changes in the quality of life, employment, production and socio-political relations. The trend of technological innovation has taken place at high speed, posing several issues on development models and "shortcuts" to countries. The quick transition to knowledge economy and the importance of scientific and technological advances in the context of globalization have brought about three new development approaches: 1. High-tech- and knowledge-based comparative edge and competitive advantage; 2. The most important development resource is human knowledge and wisdom; 3. By participating in production networks and global value chains, countries and manufacturers have had the most effective development opportunities. These pose a huge challenge for Vietnam’s economy when its industrialization and modernization develops by width and relies on low-skilled labor and resource exploitation. Over the past years, this model has created many jobs and generated income for a large segment of population. Nevertheless, if Vietnam continues to maintain this model, the more it integrates the higher the possibility of falling into the "trap" of contracting and assembling and entangling in the lower rung of the global value chain. Moreover, the expectation to leverage tax rate equal to 0 that FTAs provide for Vietnam to boost exports is vulnerable to reversal. With the application of new technologies such as robots, labor-intensive production will shift back to developed countries; due to greater cost reduction, these countries will have the advantage of exporting their goods to Vietnam. New generation FTAs such as TPP or VEFTA run the risk of becoming the "Trojan horse" and the "integration trap" for Vietnam’s development in the coming period.

With the uncertainty of the global economic environment, political environment and world security are also unpredictable, containing risks for development. Big countries have competed fiercely with each other to expand their influence. The balance of strength and force rally of big countries have rapidly changed, thus small countries have faced difficult policy choices. The complexity of relations between big countries requires Vietnam to be cautious, flexible and prudent to balance relations, intermingle interests, maintain independence and self-reliance, avoid confrontation or dependence, pressure or being dragged by other countries to create a favorable external environment for development. Situated in a strategic important location, it will be very difficult to choose partner strategy and be "neutral.” It is necessary to show clear attitude. Establishing "strategic trust" and respect the independence and sovereignty of each other has always been a challenge of small countries in relations with big countries.

Besides, terrorism, migration, global climate change, sea level rise, extreme weather, natural disasters and infectious diseases, environmental pollution, among others, have become challenges to non-traditional security, and required Vietnam to build capacity and resources to respond to emergencies. Global increased imbalance and shortage of natural resources, energy, land, and water may present more difficulties such as competition and disputes. Strengthening cooperation and finding reasonable solutions to manage and resolve conflicts and disputes with neighboring countries to build a regional community of peace and prosperity are issues that Vietnam should pay special attention to in the coming period.

The situation in Southeast Asia and East Asia have been changing rapidly with the formation of the ASEAN Community (AC), showing the strong efforts of this group to become the focus of integration in Asia. As a big country and the second largest economy in the world, China has stepped up competition to occupy development space. (11) China’s sea and ocean strategy sets the economic objectives of rapidly shifting its priority from “mainland” to “sea” breakthrough, turning coastal areas into "bridges" and "gateways" to the outside world, while increasing seizure and control of disputed areas at sea, causing tension in its relations with neighboring countries. By implementing a series of initiatives on economic linkage, China shows it attempt to regulate development process in the Mekong Subregion and Southeast Asia, using it as a springboard to reach out to the world. The formation of the new mechanisms proposed by China from border gate economic zones, North-South economic corridor of the Mekong sub-region, trans-Asian railway to entities of global influence such as "a belt, a road," (12) Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and internationalization of the renminbi are opportunities, and challenges, creating great pressure to adjacent countries in choosing participating policy.

With changes in policy, moving from foreign investment reception to active investment to foreign countries, China is "shifting" energy- and raw material-consuming, labor-intensive and environmental polluting industries to less-developed countries. In addition, China is still in need of raw materials, energy, and market for redundant goods. With the motto: preserve national resources, increase harnessing and use of external resources, first from afar and latter from nearby, China’s imbalanced development and huge shortage will put pressure on adjacent countries in the region. (13)

Fully aware of the 12th Party Congress’ lines on the relationship between independence, self-reliance and international integration

Maintaining independence, self-reliance and effectively implementing international integration are cross-cutting issues in the content of the 12th Party Congress documents, and tasks are summarized in the fourth of the six key tasks of this tenure. The 12th Party Congress highlighted some viewpoints and lines in fully grasping and handling the relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration in the coming period as follow:

First, national interest is the highest goal of fully understanding and handling the relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration.

Independence and self-reliance are the lofty aspiration, but not the ultimate goal of each nation. President Ho Chi Minh once said: "If the country is independent but people cannot enjoy happiness and freedom, that independence makes no sense." (14) Independence and self-reliance of each country are associated with the fundamental interest of each nation, each country and are a means to achieve national interest.

In different stages, and circumstances, national interest and priority and specific objectives also change hence awareness on independence and self-reliance have to change. For effective integration, it is impossible to think only of absolute and unchangeable independence and self-reliance. At the same time, integration should not be considered as a “panacea" for development in the era of globalization without the necessity and capability to maintain national independence, self-reliance and sovereignty. Effective and relevant application of the motto to maintain independence and self-reliance will open up many opportunities for rapid national development and synergy. Vice versa, wrong application can lead to loss of opportunities, growth prevention, and national strength erosion. Vietnam’s Overall Strategy for International Integration through 2020, Vision to 2030 was issued in January 2016 affirmed "the overall objective of international integration through 2030 is to contribute to strengthening national aggregated strength." (15) Vietnam needs to be cautious but not slow in applying the concept of independence, and self-reliance in the context of deeper international integration while being flexible, smart, and open for appropriate adjustments to ensure security, development and raise the country’s position.

Second, be persistent in the principle of independence, and self-reliance; maintain the motto of multilateralisation and diversification in international integration; resolutely, perseveringly defend national interest, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Accelerate integration, multilateralism and diversification of relations will help strengthen national independence and self-reliance through the increased interdependence between Vietnam and partners. Therefore, the 12th Party Congress continues the motto: Vietnam is "a reliable friend and partner and responsible member of the international community," "proactively and positively contributes to building and shaping multilateral mechanisms," "Promote and deepen relations with partners, especially strategic partners and big countries having an important role for national development and security." (16)

In economic aspect, the 12th Party Congress emphasized the need to "diversify and multilateralise international economic relations to avoid dependence on one specific market and partner," (17) and "unbalanced interdependence." This is a significant point of paramount importance in the current context of Vietnam. Limited choice of partners is one of the causes to loss of independence, and self-reliance as it makes the country dependent on this choice. Diversification and expansion of external relations with multiple partners, integration through different ways with flexible roadmap, different directions, channels, and layers will create a range of choice, helping Vietnam avoid dependence on other countries. By joining several FTAs, Vietnam can diversify international economic integration; strengthen independence and self-reliance of the economy. However, Vietnam should aim at new generation FTAs with high standards and participation of developed economies to be able to carry out reforms following international standards.

Third, build capacity, boost national aggregated strength, lay the foundation to ensure national independence, self-reliance, and international integration.

Strengthen the synergy of the country, focusing on the economic capacity - the most fundamental orientation to neutralize the risk of losing independence, self-reliance and make the best use of opportunities for development offered by integration. To do so, first of all Vietnam needs to be proactively and positively address weakness, imbalance internal development with potential harm to independence and self-reliance in the integration process. Increased pressure from the integration process exposes weaknesses and even exacerbate existing constraints. However, integration also suggests solutions and brings in new resources to handle the weaknesses and shortcomings. Therefore, there is a need to ensure harmonious coordination between domestic reform and deep, wide and fast integration. If in the first period of renewal, international economic integration was the major pressure to reform the economy, at present internal reform decides the effectiveness of international integration.

Studying documents of the 12th Party Congress, it is necessary to be aware of the following fundamental issues in addressing relations between independence, self-reliance and international integration in development fields:

In economic field, the focus is renovating model of growth in association with economic restructuring, accelerating industrialization and modernization; and complete institutions, develop the socialist-oriented market economy. Attention should be given to enhance capacity to absorb technology and knowledge and encourage innovation in the economy. Policy must be directed at supporting entrepreneurs overcome barriers, risks of capital and high quality human resources to realize start-ups in the field of technology and innovation. In the process of international economic integration, Vietnam’s economy must adjust to become a link in the world production network and global value chain of transnational companies. Therefore, for effective integration, linkage between domestic and foreign businesses using several technologies must be consolidated. It is not acceptable to attract foreign investment at all cost; instead, call for more investment in intermediary services and modern technology-based industry to, on the one hand, push up the development of these sectors, modernize the backbone infrastructure systems for connectivity and technological availability; on the other hand, overcome constraints of limited resources, knowledge, administration skills and lack of experience of Vietnam enterprises. (18)

Modern market economy, which embarks on international integration, must be set up. (19) This is the first theoretical point confirmed in the 12th Party Congress documents but it is very necessary and relevant to Vietnam’s integration and development to turn its economy into an integral part of the world market economy. Emphasizing full and modern economic integration is the affirmation to comply with the world standards of development, and more importantly, is to comply with the international commitments, step up internal reform, and meet the criteria of market economy. In its efforts to completing the market economy, the State must shift from direct intervention to support and manage development, focusing on macroeconomic stability, addressing internal weaknesses of the economy, such as bad debt, and public debt, exchange rate risk and inflation, state-owned enterprise reform, making commercial banking system healthy; establish legal frameworks, policies and enforcement entities to ensure continuous completion of markets, transparency, efficiency and equal competition. In addition, with a new and more flexible way of thinking and perceiving independence, sovereignty and national sovereignty, the 12th Party Congress set out the line: "to build some special economic zones to create a growth pole and pilot breakthrough regional development." (20)

In political field, the focus is to build and perfect the rule of law socialist state, promote socialist democracy, ensure the implementation of the people's right to mastery. To accelerate the renovation, economic reforms must be synchronously and harmoniously carried out with political, administrative, legislative and judiciary reform. (21) The key solution is to constantly enhance the Party leadership and the State administration in the process of integration, build a righteous, service-oriented and development supportive government. Under the pressure of integration and thanks to scientific and technological progress, particularly in the field of information and communication, the exercise of legislative, executive and judicial power of the State will certainly be subject to supervision, growing critical oversight of society, businesses and citizens. This must not be considered as a decline of self-reliance. Strengthening of democracy, transparency and accountability must be considered as an important factor to create consensus and social support to State decisions; Democracy must be promoted to ensure more opportunities for equal competition in the economy.

In the field of security and national defense, the focus is to firmly defend the socialist Vietnam in the new situation. International integration needs maximum sympathy and support of the international community; firmly safeguards national independence and sovereignty, the Party, State, people, socialist regime, and the renovation; affectively addresses transnational challenges and non-traditional security issues; and maintains an environment of peace, political stability, national security and order, and social security. (22) Special attention must be given to strengthen people’s national defense and security; build the regular, elite and modern revolutionary army and public security force capable of dealing with new challenges in the complicated international context, and incidents which take place in the technology era, such as loss of network security, information security when external impacts are becoming more serious, such as terrorism, riots, attempts to instigate and sabotage the regime; risks which are likely to happen more often, such as epidemics, natural disasters and industrial catastrophes. The whole country and localities must heighten response capacity while actively join common efforts of the international community to cope with non-traditional security challenges for development.

In the field of social, cultural and human development, the focus is on achieving social progress and equity, building comprehensive culture and man of Vietnam. Proactive and positive integration, independence and self-reliance are humanistic attributes of Vietnam’s socialist regime, which is people-oriented, for the people, people-centered, inclusive and for the benefit of the majority of the people. Therefore, it is necessary to correctly identify the nature and causes of contradictions and conflicts in society, especially those originated from economic, ethnic, religious, and environment areas, and thereby select and implement measures, persistently embark on dialogues and flexibly settle them. Attach importance to solving agricultural- farmers-rural area issues to narrow the rich and poor gap. At the same time, build the socialist-oriented market economy, focusing on building compatible social institutions to predict and prevent risks, and conflicts during the process of industrialization, urbanization.

To successfully implement and put the Resolution of the 12th Party Congress into life we must continue renovating the way of thinking, take synchronous and innovative solutions, have high political will, take resolute and concrete acts and closely follow practical development. New and flexible viewpoints on independence, self-reliance, national sovereignty, strengthening internal strength, ensuring synchronous coordination between the reform with the process of international integration, between economic and political system renewal should be fully aware of and properly interpreted for effective handling of the relation between independence, self-reliance and international integration in the next development stage.

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(1) Documents of 6th National Party Congress, the Truth Publishing House, Hanoi, 1987, p. 81

(2) Documents of the 7th National Party Congress, the Truth Publishing House, Hanoi, 1991, p. 119

(3) Documents of the 8th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1996, p. 120

(4) Research Paper of the 9th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001, pp. 216-217

(5), (6) Documents of the 10th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006, pp. 112, 180-181

(7) Documents of the 11th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House - The Truth, Hanoi, 2011, p. 236

(8) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The proposed scheme "Effective implementing international integration, maintaining socio-political stability while Vietnam participates in new generation FTAs, including the TPP and the ASEAN Economic Community,” on 16 July 2016, Hanoi

(9) Vietnam has established strategic partnerships with 15 countries, and comprehensive partnership with 10 countries

(10) By now, Vietnam has participated in and is negotiating 16 FTAs

(11) Pham Sao Mai: "China and external relation strategy to 2020"; See: The World Arena by 2020, Pham Binh Minh (Editor). The National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2010, p. 454

(12) including: " Silk Road Economic Belt" and " The 21st century Marine Silk Road"

(13) Nguyen Hong Son, Nguyen Manh Hung: "ASEAN Economic Community in the new international context," Review of World Economic and Politic Issues, Vol.7 (219), 2014

(14) Ho Chi Minh: "Letter to the People's Committees of regions, provinces, districts and villages," Complete Works, Volume 4 (1945-1946), the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, p. 56

(15) The Overall Strategy on International Integration through 2020, Vision to 2030, issued together with Decision No. 40/QD-TTg, on 7 January 2016 of the Prime Minister, p. 8

(16), (17) Documents of the 12th National Party Congress, Party Central Committee Office, Hanoi, pp. 153-155, 111

(18) Nguyen Xuan Thang (Editor): The World and Vietnam’s Economy during 2015-2016: Promoting Growth and Development in the Context of Changes. Draft, the Social Science Publishing House, Hanoi, 2016

(19), (20) Documents of the 12th National Party Congress, Ibid, pp. 102, 96

(21) Nguyen Viet Thao: "Ensuring the relationship between independence, self-reliance and international integration." The Political Theory Journal, No.5, 2011

(22) See: Documents of the 12th National Party Congress, Ibid, pp. 147-148

This article was published on Communist Review, No. 891 (January 2017)

Prof. Nguyen Xuan Thang, PhDMember of the Party Central Committee Director of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics