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Forecasting relations among big countries and their impact on Vietnam
5/5/2017 9:27' Send Print
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Relations among big powers in the coming time

The relations among big countries in the coming time will be mainly directly influenced by development trends within these countries as well as developments in international relations. The results of the US presidential election on November 2016 and the process of selecting high-level staff of the new president are important basis for forecasting US policy in the coming years. Initial moves show with changes in the new cabinet of President Donald Trump, it is likely that US foreign policy will significantly change, both in terms of security (reduction of international commitments, adjustment of the US-Japan, the US-South Korea, the US-Japan-NATO alliances) and economy (withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (WTO), cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), and imposition of import tariffs) as well as the tendency to seek compromise between big powers because Trump represents the conservative political tendency in domestic polity and inward-looking foreign policy. (1) This will have a multi-dimensional impact on international relations in the future.

Prompted by the interests of the United States, especially maintaining the "world hegemony" position, it is likely that the new US administration will continue its involvement in the world in general and in Asia-Pacific in particular, (2) with increasing adjustments in policy (both in terms of content and approach). Uncertainty and instability in international relations will rise as domestic situation in countries becomes more complex; interaction in relations between powers will be more multi-dimensional while "hot spots" in the region have not yet cooled down.

In China, the anti-corruption campaign continues to be used as a "tool" to promote reform. On economy, China will continue to face pressure on economic reform to cope with growth slowdown and the risk of inflation. Therefore, through its initiatives of "One Belt, One Road" and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China will step up its investment in infrastructure development projects in and outside the country to create new growth engines and rally new international and regional forces in order to become a power in 2049. Accordingly, relations with big and neighboring countries continue to be China's foreign strategic focus.

Despite pressure from the West and economic difficulties, Russia has not fallen into political crisis thanks to the high public support for President V. Putin and its effectively operating mechanisms to ensure political stability. President V. Putin’s term will expire in 2018 and even if he is not reelected, he has a lot of influence in the selection of a successor to continue his policies, focusing on strengthening and expanding relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States (SNG) and improving relations with the European Union (EU). On the other hand, Russia will continue implementating its "look-east" policy aimed at restoring its power and expanding its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and overcoming difficulties caused by the West’s embargo. Meanwhile, under the newly-elected President D.Trump’s administration, US policy towards Russia may be adjusted in the direction of reducing tension, and increasing cooperation. This will be a factor that affects relations between Russia and China, Russia and the United States and their relations with third parties in the future.

The United States will also continue to strengthen its relations with the EU and NATO allies to respond to Russia and relations with Japan, Australia, India to respond to China. Meanwhile, Russia and China continue to get closer together to deal with the United States. However, both the United States and its allies/partners will not give up the policy of economic cooperation with China and Russia, gradually expanding and advancing to cooperate in other fields, especially in addressing the challenges in non-traditional security. For their parts, China and Russia will continue seeking ways to improve relations with the US and the EU. The peripheral areas around Russia, China, and multilateral and regional cooperation initiatives and forums, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, will continue to be places of fierce competition among big powers.

However, competition coupled with cooperation is maintained. Big countries continue to work together to cope with common challenges, such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons, climate change, cyber security, among others. Even in "hot spots" and key competitive areas temporary detente will exist at different times.

Big impacts on Vietnam

In the complicated evolution of relations among big countries, Vietnam continues to be affected in many aspects and in many ways. It is possible to forecast the policy of countries toward Vietnam as follows:

China will strengthen relations with Vietnam in both directions: on the one hand, promoting comprehensive cooperation; on the other hand, feverishly pursuing its interests in the East Sea. In particular, China can: 1. Strengthen détente and avoid making bilateral relations more tense by capitalizing on strengths, and emphasizing the "overall situation"; 2- Be strategically consistent but tactically flexible, harmoniously "advance" and "step back" in the East Sea issue; 3- Promote cooperation in all aspects, particularly economic cooperation, putting relations with Vietnam (as well as relations with ASEAN) in the overall relations with the United States and through the lens of US-China relations.

Russia continues to affirm Vietnam's important role in Russia-Vietnam bilateral relations as well as relations between Russia and ASEAN. Key areas of cooperation between the two countries, such as energy and defense, will be emphasized by Russia as the "pillars" in bilateral relations. Concerning the East Sea issue, Russia will maintain its neutral stance. The Vietnamese factor plays a smaller role in Russia-US relations and Russia-China relations.

The United States will continue to attach importance to Vietnam's role in the overall US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region; continue to support Vietnam in promoting its role in addressing regional and global security issues as well as global challenges, such as climate change, anti-terrorism, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Other regional powers, such as Japan, India and Australia, want to strengthen relations with Vietnam, both bilaterally and multilaterally, for counterbalance to China's increasing strength, thereby fostering relations with the ASEAN.

All of these will have some impacts on Viet Nam:


First, when big countries are intensifying competition, and restraining each other they will try to win over Vietnam. This will provide an opportunity to elevate Vietnam's strategic value in each country's policy as well as enhance Vietnam's role and position in the region and international arena. In addition, the dynamic, socio-political economy has been steadily stronger and stronger after more than 30 years of innovation, as well as the strategic, comprehensive partnership frameworks that Vietnam has set up with other countries and as an active member of the ASEAN, Vietnam has created important foundations for in-depth and effective relations with these powers. Vietnam will receive more attention from big countries, especially from geo-strategic perspective. For example, in the US-Vietnam relationship, the United States wants to strengthen its relations with Vietnam in order to maintain its involvement in Southeast Asian affairs to restrain the growing influence of China in the region. From a geo-strategic perspective, the Vietnam-US relations if develop will reduce the pressure on democracy, human rights issues and at the same time create opportunities for the two countries to expand economic and defense cooperation.

Second, interaction between the big countries facilitates Vietnam's continued multilateral foreign policy and diversity of international relations and extends policy options for Vietnam. This expands areas for Vietnam to develop external relations in the future. On the other hand, competition among powers, especially between the US and China in the process of shaping international security, economic and financial order contributes to diversity of choice and facilitates Vietnam's international integration. 

Third, the deeper intervention of big countries contributes to establishing counterbalance, maintaining balance in regional forces, and averting manipulation and control of a country.


First, the tendency of both cooperation and fighting, especially strategic competition among strongly developed powers, makes it difficult for Vietnam to maintain a harmonious relationship with these countries. The development of the Vietnam-US relationship would increase the possibility of the latter’s pressure on democracy, human rights and religious freedom. On the other hand, in the overall policy for the region, big countries can affect other countries in the region.

Second, increased strategic competition between the United States and China may lead to the risk of trade-off or compromise for their own interests, negatively affecting the interests of small states. Among them, it is noteworthy that: 1. China continues to use its economic power to rally forces, thereby limiting other countries’ support to Vietnam on strategic issues, including sea and island affairs. 2. In the long run, China continues to affirm "strategic interests" but in reality it will selectively accept US order and standards to maintain a stable relationship towards the goal of G2.

Third, it is more difficult to combine the goals of deepening relations with big countries and the goal of protecting territorial sovereignty and socialist orientation. In the Vietnam-US relations, although officially recognizing Vietnam's political system, the US continues to emphasize "US values" and a section of US political circle still publicly proclaims to use "the US norms" as conditions to step up relations with Vietnam and does not conceal their intention to continue the "peaceful evolution" with the ultimate goal of changing Vietnam's political regime. Against this backdrop, China lays stress on ideological similarity, and maintenance of overall situation but still pursues its policy of sovereignty and island sovereignty dispute. This would poses difficulties for us in the planning and implementation of policies towards both the United States and China.

By analyzing the positive and negative impacts of the world situation and the relations among big countries, it can be seen that in general advantages are greater than challenges. In order to shape and consolidate this external environment, we need to be proactive in our relations with each country with appropriate steps and strategies in each period, giving our country the most favorable position to work with one country, promote relations with others, and create an international environment of peace, long-term and sustainable stability for development and enhancement of position in international arena.

First, properly assess strategies and tactics of big countries, relations between them and possible impacts on Vietnam, benefits, partners as well as opposers of each power in their relations with us. Then, cleverly combine cooperation and struggle to increase partnerships, limit and reduce opposition, harness and exploit cooperative relations and struggle among big countries in our interests (enhancement of position, cooperation) and avoid the risk of being entangled in conflicts and interest dispute among big countries. On the basis of properly assessing partnership and opposition as well as the nature and characteristics of relationship among big countries, we must: 1. Make our policies transparent to avoid misunderstandings by powers of our motives and intention; 2. Develop specific strategy to promote relations with each country; 3. Be consistent in lines and policies on foreign affairs.

Second, build strong internal strength which can be understood as independence, self-reliance, stability, unity, and internal unanimity in policy implementation with big countries. From the perspective of external relations, consolidation of internal strength is the promotion of deeper, broader and more comprehensive international integration, building and bringing into play Vietnam's role and position in regional and international mechanisms of which we are a member, thus enhancing our strategic value and position in relation to big countries. International integration must go hand in hand with institutional reform to make the most of the positive side, and limit the negative side. Extensive and interdependent international integration, especially strategic interests in relations with big countries, can help us limit both negative possibilities of struggle and compromise between big countries that affect the interests of Vietnam. Experience and development success stories of small and medium countries show: On the one hand, it is necessary to promote cooperation and integration on the viewpoint of "win-win" solution, mutual benefits, support and assistance in hard times. On the other hand, small countries must develop their own strategies based on competitive advantage in economy or science and technology, and take advantage of contradictions among big countries.

Third, balance among big countries. As discussed above, the dominant relationship for the region in the near future is still the US-China relationship. However, the balance strategy here implies not only a balance between the United States and China but also the balance with other big countries. In other words, the decline in relations with a country can be offset by strengthening relations with another country or groups of countries. In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan, India and Australia are key and important partners in the strategic balance of powers. In regional cooperation mechanisms, especially in the ASEAN, Vietnam should actively propose and promote initiatives to play up ASEAN’s central role in relations with big countries and positive side, limit negative side and ensure our national interests. In short, the balance policy is not only manifested in bilateral and multilateral relations but also in the overall relations with other countries. Well implementation of the policy of balance will increase Vietnam's potential and strength, and "resistance" in response to the growing trend of mixed strategic cooperation and competition among big powers.

(1) See Uri Friedman: "How Donald Trump Could Change the World," The Atlantic Monthly, November 2016

(2) See ASEAN focus, Issue No.5 (November 2016)

Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Vu Tung, PhDDiplomatic Academy of Vietnam