Member of the Politburo, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh. Image: vov.vn
The year 2016 ended with more complicated and unpredictable development in the regional and world situation. The world economy was unstable; the growth rate fell to its lowest level in many years. The populist and national movement was on the rise. Brexit and political changes took place in many countries unexpectedly. The process of globalization, and international integration faced with new challenges. Competition in strategy and rally of force among major countries was complicated, making multi-dimensional impacts to small and medium countries. Many "hot spots" in the Middle East, East Asia, and South Asia continued to stand at stalemate, running the risk of explosion. Disputes over territorial sovereignty, sea, islands and natural resources became fiercer while non-traditional security challenges such as climate change, water security, cyber security, migration, terrorism emerged sharply, threatening the security and stability of many countries, including Vietnam.
In this gloomy panorama, Asia-Pacific has continued to emerge as the world’s most dynamic developing region. ASEAN has achieved an average economic growth rate of 5%, stepping up efforts to build the Community, and continuing to maintain a central role in the evolving structures in the region. More attention from the international public has been given to the role of international law in dealing with regional disputes than before, especially following the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on 12 July 2016 in the lawsuit filed by the Philippines on the East Sea.
In this context, Vietnam has proactively and actively implemented external relation activities with focus and priority, paying attention to efficiency, effectively serving foreign policy objectives "to ensure supreme national interest" as set out by the 12th National Party Congress following the five major directions:
First, we have promptly disseminated and concretized major lines on foreign affairs mapped out by the 12th National Party Congress, especially supplements and new development on international integration. Shortly after the Congress, the Government instructed relevant agencies to carry out overall review of international economic integration since Vietnam became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), frankly pointed out causes to constraints of the international integration over the past time, deeply analyzed opportunities and challenges from the implementation of commitments to new generation free trade agreements, and made recommendations on effective integration in the new period. In November 2016, the Party Central Committee adopted Resolution No. 06-NQ/TW dated 5 November 2016, on "Effective international economic integration, and maintenance of socio-political stability in the context of Vietnam's participation in new generation free trade agreements." The 29th Diplomatic Conference on "Improving the efficiency of foreign affairs and international integration, successfully implementing the foreign policy of the 12th Party Congress" was organized to promptly study the foreign policy set out by the 12th Party Congress, determine the focus of foreign affairs in the coming time and find out the new measures, methods to coordinate more closely with defense, security and economy to effectively realize the goals of development, and national security.
Second, we have strongly carried out external relation activities, particularly at high level, considering it as an important direction to strengthen in-depth and stable relations, bringing about practical benefits for the country. In 2016, the Vietnamese Party and State leaders made 16 foreign visits; welcomed nearly 30 high-ranking leaders of foreign countries to Vietnam. In which, Vietnam gave priority to exchange high-level visits with neighboring countries, such as Laos, Cambodia, China; ASEAN countries, such as Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, and the Philippines; with big countries like the United States, Russia, Japan, India, France and traditional friendly countries, such as Cuba and Iran. These important diplomatic activities are implemented, aiming at increasing intermingled interests between Vietnam and partners, improving the efficiency of the cooperation mechanism and enhancing political trust between the two sides. Besides, we have also used more effectively established mechanisms through high-level exchanges to promptly handle issues that have arisen in the relationship with partners.
Third, we have stepped up the work on border and territory and strengthened the country’s defense line. In 2016, we completed the project to increase the number of border marker and upgrade the border marker system, signed a protocol on border and border marker, the Agreement on Border Management Regulations and Border Gate on Land with Laos; achieved more than 83% of the workload of land border delimitation, and planting of border markers with Cambodia. We have effectively realized the Agreement on exploiting tourism resources within Ban Gioc Waterfall and the Agreement on the free movement of vessels in the Bac Luan River mouth signed with China. On maritime matters, we have conducted negotiations on the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone with Indonesia, the government-level talks on borders with China, and together with ASEAN promoted the effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), and the early development of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (COC).
Fourth, in multilateral diplomatic activities, we have shifted from "attendance" to substantially, "actively and positively participate in" the process of building and shaping general rules of organizations, and regional and international forums. We have actively contributed to the activities of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC), the Organization of the Francophonie, the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Mechanism, the General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU); successfully hosted the 7th Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Summit on economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), the 8th Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam Cooperation Summit (CLMV), and the 1st World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Mekong region. Vietnam’s proposals and initiatives in ASEAN, APEC, ASEM, among others, have been responded positively by friends and partners. We have well fulfilled the role of a member of important organizations of the United Nations, such as the Human Rights Council, the World Heritage Committee, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and UNESCO's Executive Board. For the first time representatives of Vietnam was elected to the International Law Commission of the United Nations (ILC). Preparations for the 2017 APEC Vietnam Year was completed; the topic suggested by Vietnam "Creating new dynamism, fostering a shared future" is supported strongly by member countries. In defense and security mechanisms and other fields, we have engaged deeper, more substantially, especially in the ASEAN-led forum such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM), the Conference of ASEAN Defense Ministers+ (ADMM+), and the ASEAN Chiefs of Police Conference (ASEANAPOL).
Fifth, we have expedited the "Overall Strategy for International Integration through 2020, vision to 2030" in most of the fields. Vietnam and its partners officially signed the Agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), began implementing the Vietnam-Eurasia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and the Vietnam-European Union (EU) Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). Vietnam is about to officially sign the Vietnam-EU Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), and continues to negotiate other important FTAs, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), and Vietnam-Israel FTA. In recent years, Vietnam has mobilized another 7 countries to recognize its market economy status, bringing the total to 66. Vietnam’s in-depth political, diplomatic, defense and security international integration has been manifested through its active contribution in UN peacekeeping operations, exchange and consultation mechanism, joint exercises within the framework of ASEAN and with major partners, such as China, the US, Japan, India, and France.
Following the above-mentioned directions, Vietnam’s external relations in recent years have contributed positively to maintaining a peaceful international environment favorable for development, firmly defending independence, and national sovereignty. It can be said that external relations have made important contribution to economic achievements in 2016, helping raise Vietnam’s exports of goods to US$ 175.9 billion USD, up by 8.6%; FDI to US$ 15.8 billion, up by 9%; the number of international visitors to a record-high figure of 10 million, up by 25% compared to 2015.
Entering 2017, the world and regional situation is predicted to be more complex and unpredictable than before. Many countries will organize elections; make certain adjustments in development strategy and foreign policy. These will create multidimensional impacts on the world and regional situation, including essential issues for the security and development of Vietnam, such as regional environment, centrality and unity the ASEAN, maintenance of peace, stability and prosperity in the East Sea. We are facing new challenges. However, we already have reached a new position and strength. On foreign affairs, we have built up a network of strategic partnership, and comprehensive partnership, which are strong enough to maintain country’s international status in face of changes in situation. What is needed is foreign affairs must redouble efforts with a more active, positive and more creative spirit.
Accordingly, the main directions of foreign affair work in 2017 is to deepen external relations, increase level of interwoven interests with neighboring and bordering neighbors of Laos, Cambodia, China, with major countries, and the ASEAN countries; carry out programs of action to implement Resolution No. 06-NQ/TW on the effective implementation of the process of international economic integration; maintain socio-political stability; be actively prepared to satisfactorily handle problems arising in relations with other countries.
The most important external relation activity is to fulfill the role of APEC host country and effectively take advantage of this activity to promote bilateral relations with other countries, especially with China, the United States, Russia, Japan and some other important partners; turn multilateral, high-level diplomatic activities into opportunities for national security interests and development.
To do all these, in 2017, attention should be paid to implement the Resolution of the 4th Plenum, 12th Tenure on "Strengthening Party building and rectification; preventing and reversing degradation of political ideology, ethics and lifestyle, manifestation of "self-evolution," and internal "self-transformation," in association with the implementation of Directive No. 05-CT/TW of the Politburo of the 12th Tenure on "Stepping up learning and following Ho Chi Minh Thought, morality and style" - an eminent diplomat of wisdom and personality, to build a contingent of external relation cadres who are both virtuous and capable and meet requirements of the stage of deep integration into the region and the world. At the same time, further efforts must be made to improve efficient coordination of foreign relation channels, and between diplomacy with economy, defense and security.
Under the wise leadership of the Party, with these efforts, we believe, the foreign affair sector will fulfill the task as a vanguard in peacetime, continuing to serve faithfully and effectively national interests, however complex and unpredictable the situation is.
* Headline chosen by Communist Review
This article was published on Communist Review No. 892 (February 2017)