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External information contributed to Vietnam's achievements in foreign affairs in 2017, creating a solid premise for 2018
22/5/2018 9:43' Send Print
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The active and effective implementation of foreign information activities has helped disseminate far and wide the achievements of foreign affairs with powerful effect. It can be said that the foreign information sector had an exciting year with a high level of information and achieved significant results.

Foreign information work in 2017: Opportunities and challenges

In 2017, after many years of stagnation, the world economy developed with positive growth of key economies and the rise of global trade. Meanwhile, international and regional political and security situation changed quickly and complicatedly with increasing frictions among big countries, and political-economic centers. Major countries adjusted their policy and made internal changes. US President Donald Trump, during his first year in power, made many major changes in domestic and foreign policy towards "America first," giving priority to boosting domestic economy. China successfully organized the 19th National Party Congress, establishing the status of "core leader" of General Secretary and President Xi Jinping and "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” which aims to make China the world's leading power in the mid-21st century, enhance its potential in all aspects of economics, military, science and technology, among others. In Europe, a series of important elections took place (in Germany, France, Austria); The European Union (EU), despite its positive economic growth, continued to be divided on its development path, and negotiation on Brexit met numerous difficulties. The world situation after the cold war have shown signs of dramatic change while old mechanisms are facing the challenge of losing their role and status, and new sub-regional, regional, and inter-regional mechanisms have been set ups, such as the China-initiated International Summit “One Belt, One Road,” and the Russia-supported Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). On the other hand, political instability, ethnic conflicts have occurred in many parts of the world, traditional and non-traditional security challenges, such as climate change, terrorism, immigration strongly emerged. In Northeast Asia, tensions escalated on the Korean peninsula. In the Middle East, hot spots did not cool down, and were even more complex with the diplomatic crisis between the Persian Gulf states. Europe became a constant target of terrorism. It can be said that instability and uncertainty in international relation environment increased.

Such a context had a great impact on small and medium sized countries such as Vietnam, requiring that the foreign information work be flexibly adaptive to best implement foreign affairs priorities and tasks in face of new challenges. In such a complicated and unpredictable situation, the Party and State actively implemented foreign affairs tasks in realization of the foreign policy of the 12th Party Congress on international integration. This was one of the few years that had many important and successful external and bilateral events.

APEC Vietnam 2017, the country's biggest foreign affairs event concluded successfully with many "records" established: 243 large and small events taking place in 10 localities nationwide; The APEC Summit Week was organized in Da Nang with the attendance of leaders of all 21 economies, more than 11,000 delegates, including 2,000 international correspondents, 4,000 businesses and 121 cooperative agreements and contracts with a total value of nearly US$20 billion. In particular, we demonstrated outstanding professionalism in organizing, coordinating, leading APEC activities, regulating differences, building consensus, and maintaining core APEC values of international economic linkage, global trade and investment liberalization; at the same time, we proposed initiatives, boosting APEC cooperation and post-2020 vision.

On bilateral relations, it can be said that this was a particularly exciting year with unprecedented events in the relations between Vietnam and other countries. Vietnam exchanged a total of 53 high-level delegations, including 18 foreign visits of high-ranking leaders, participated in 8 multilateral conferences and welcomed 35 high-level delegations from other countries. Vietnam also launched a series of activities to commemorate the Vietnam-Laos Solidarity and Friendship Year, the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Year, established comprehensive partnership with Canada, and Myanmar and headed towards a strategic partnership with Australia.

These activities were rich material for foreign information, requiring wide dissemination to the public at home and abroad. However, apart from these remarkable achievements in economics, socio-political fields, security and defense, and improvement of people’s life, many complicated issues remained, causing impacts on the foreign information environment, more or less affecting the image of the country and foreign affairs of Vietnam. The rapid development of the media, and social networks have created new opportunities for information and communication, but also posed new challenges. As researcher Tom Fletcher pointed out, "The most dangerous weapon of the 21st century is not sarin or atomic bomb, but a smartphone," (1) lack of necessary sanctions, information security, information copyright, authenticity of sources, unregulated information have created loopholes for some users to take advantage of social networks to distort and misinform, causing negative effect on social order and safety as well as the image and prestige of the country. Foreign affairs must catch up and make use of new technology, including social networks in communication and information to, at the same time, avert and limit negative impacts on foreign relations, image and interests of the country.

External information achievements in 2017, taking advantage of opportunities, overcoming challenges

Despite objective and subjective complex issues, foreignl information services, ministries, departments and especially the media made concerted efforts to take advantage of new opportunities and favorable conditions to handle and overcome challenges, support foreign affairs, contribute to maintaining a peaceful and stable environment for development, and enhance prestige and status of the country.

First and foremost, Vietnam capitalized on its role as the host country of the APEC Year 2017 to create a "positive visual effect" of Vietnam on the international community. During the APEC Summit Week in Da Nang, the word "Vietnam" appeared on thousands of international news reports and articles linked to important APEC events, on social network Twitter; # APEC2017 was one of the prominent keywords in about 10,000 articles, used in about 1,500 tweets and there were nearly 30,000 searches for this keyword. Communication and information on APEC started very early, with focus and targets, creating communication “campaigns” on important conferences that culminated in the Summit Week in Da Nang. Communication on APEC events was professionally and systematically implemented, leaving good impression on foreign media; media people were able to work in the best conditions with the most modern equipment and technical services.

Vietnam's media actively involved with 2,119 reporters covering APEC Year 2017 activities in different platforms. Vietnam Television broadcast more than 300 programs, reports, and news items on APEC 2017. Vietnam News Agency produced more than 6,600 information items (news, photos, television news and graphics). Radio Voice of Vietnam aired over 1,600 items (news reports, photos, news items, pictures, reportages, panel discussion, specialized pages, columns). Of the thousands of foreign correspondents reporting on the APEC Year 2017, almost no correspondents reported unfavorable information about Vietnam. The general public appreciated both the organization and results achieved, saying that Vietnam could "be proud" of the successful organization of the APEC 2017; other countries could "learn" Viet Nam’s experience.

Foreign information has always accompanied and contributed to deepening relations and cooperation with other countries, especially with big important countries. In 2017, delegation exchanges were increased with a series of high-level visits: three high-level visit exchanges between Vietnam and China; two between Vietnam and the US; three between Vietnam and Japan; a visit to Russia by the Vietnamese President. In particular, Vietnam was the first country that General Secretary, President of China Xi Jinping visited after the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China; Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first leader of Southeast Asia received by US President D. Trump who, in his turn, visited Vietnam in the first year of his term; the Emperor and Empress of Japan paid a visit to Vietnam for the first time. Given the media vivid and impressive coverage, the visits left good impression on the public. Vietnamese and international media gave wide coverage showing photos of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong and General Secretary, President of China taking a walk and drinking tea; President Tran Dai Quang accompanying US President D.Trump to Uncle Ho statue in the Presidential Garden; warm welcome given to the Japanese Emperor and Empress by the people of Hue City or Canadian Prime Minister jogging, Australian Prime Minister enjoying street food in Vietnam, conveying to the people of other countries and the international community a peaceful, friendly, safe and hospitable Vietnam.

Foreign information has also contributed significantly to maintaining a peaceful and stable environment for national development. The media also gave wide coverage to borderline demarcation, marker planting, increasing and upgrading border markers and border management between Vietnam and other countries. Vietnam firmly and steadfastly upheld the position on protecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interests and security as well as the legitimate interests of Vietnamese citizens, at the same time, rejecting allegations and misinformation on democracy, human rights and religion in order to intervene in the internal affairs of Vietnam, preventing political opportunists in the country to take advantage of hot issues, and rally sabotage forces. Overseas Vietnamese representative offices have heightened their responsibility to protect the lives, property and legitimate interests of overseas Vietnamese, quickly implemented measures to protect citizens and proactively provided information to the media. While other countries have increasingly tightened immigration policy and foreign labor management, especially regional countries have stepped up measures against foreign fishermen for violating their sea areas, foreign information has been provided in time to support the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of Vietnamese citizens abroad and not to create negative reactions in the country.

Highlights of the external information work in 2017 was higher proactiveness reflected in the provision and guidance of information, more convincing counter-opinions and prevention of negative information. Through research, and problem identification, we were proactive in selecting ways to express views, standpoints in time and at the same time combined skillfully and smoothly internal and external information in order to create consensus in internal and external opinions, minimizing information gaps which may be capitalized by hostile forces to conduct sabotage activities. In 2017, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held 16 regular press conferences, answered about 230 questions, regularly provided information on major foreign affairs, and thousands of newsletters to domestic and foreign media. (2)

Important changes in external information in 2017 were both "quantitative" and "qualitative," with many innovations in terms of contents and implementation methods, a coordinated mechanism between related agencies, ministries, departments, media organizations, especially attention and direction of senior leaders. The success of 2017 was a solid premise for foreign information work in 2018 and beyond.

Foreign information in 2018, constant renovation for more successes

New problems will arise in 2018 and the following years, requiring constant innovation in foreign information. The process of comprehensive international integration requires foreign information to integrate, and keep up with standards and needs of international audience. Objectively, not only in Vietnam, but in many countries, the development of information society has far exceeded existing awareness and mechanism.

In the coming time, Vietnam will face increasing challenges from the explosion of "new media." With industrial revolution 4.0, the development of communication has surpassed existing institutional frameworks, beyond national borders as well as traditional management systems, posing common challenges to all nations. The spread of both positive and negative information on the Internet and social networks is happening more rapidly than ever before. (3)

Meanwhile, pressure from the public's "information needs" requires provision of more substantive and timely information, especially on "hot issues", issues of concern, and border, territory and foreign affairs issues. In addition, the "interactivity" nature of external information is increasing. Information is no longer a one-way communication from the media to the public as before. Today, interactivity with audiences is becoming increasingly important, particularly in assessing information provision as well as interacting with the public to learn lessons and experience.

The issue now is how foreign information catches up and avoids lagging behind new transformation in the context of rapid changes in the world, in the process of global integration and constantly changing information environment. In 2018, external information will continue to contribute to the implementation of key external tasks. It is to communicate to deepen relations with partners which were on the positive momentum of 2017; report on important external activities of our high-ranking leaders, especially at important international and regional organizations and forums, such as ASEAN, ASEM (Asia-Europe Cooperation Meeting), APEC, the United Nations, among others, important external events hosted by Vietnam, such as the ASEAN-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF), the Greater Mekong Subregion Summit (GMS), the World Economic Forum on ASEAN (WEF ASEAN), among others; provide timely information to localities and businesses on advantages and challenges in the process of international integration (from now to 2020, Vietnam will complete major international commitments, including the completion of all commitments to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) by 2018, the signing, ratifying and implementing some new generation free trade agreements (FTAs), communicate Vietnam's lines to handling sensitive, and complex issues, and report on the stable political situation, peaceful society, economic reform and peaceful and hospitable land and people of Vietnam.

The nature of foreign information is diverse, requiring "interdisciplinary, and multisectoral" coordination. The timely guidance, harmonious and smooth coordination between foreign information forces must be promoted, especially the coordination of the "three groups of agencies" including media organizations, both domestic and foreign media, the group of information coordinating agencies consisting of the Central Commission for Communication and Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Information and Communications, among others and the group of information providers (ministries, branches, localities as the focal point for information provision). This is a key issue for the timely implementation of foreign information tasks. Ministries, sectors and localities must reach common understanding on the role of foreign information to allocate sufficient resources for this work. Due to difficulty in "measuring" the results of external information, in some places the role of external information has not been attached importance to, and is even considered nominal. Reality shows that if branches and localities are fully aware of and interested in external information work, external information activities are well carried out. On the contrary, if branches and localities show less attention to external information work, external information activities are difficult, confused and ineffective. Many localities have been active and creative in foreign information work, bringing about concrete results and contributing to socio-economic development. (4)

Only by making innovations to avoid lagging behind, considering new technology as opportunity rather than challenge, can we minimize negative impacts of new media and social networks. In addition to maintaining the role of mainstream media, Vietnam should also make the most of information technology advances as well as the strengths of modern media and digital communication to reach out to larger audiences. The social networks are no longer a "virtual world" but increasingly have a real, and valuable role in life, especially in the information front. Therefore, the foreign information work in the coming time needs to optimize the use of social networks, creating a corridor to support the mainstream media.

Vietnam will enter 2018 with a new state of mind and position. Significant results in 2017 created a solid premise and a strong belief that foreign information has, and will continue to make important contribution to successful implementation of external relation tasks, and to national construction, protection and development.

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(1) Tom Fletcher: The Naked Diplomat, London, 2017, Harper Collins Publishers

(2) Source: Department of Press and Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(3) In today's notable trends, social networks will increasingly become an important source of information, attracting a wide variety of audiences due to its interactive nature, community links, and provision of multidimensional and less censored information. According to Social Media Statistics (November 2016), on an average, each Internet user in the world has 5.54 social network accounts

(4) The People's Committee of Hanoi signed a contract to advertise tourism on CNN in the period of 2016-2018, contributing to the strong growth of tourism, in 2017 Hanoi welcomed 23.83 million tourists (up 9%), among them, international tourists accounted for 4.95 million (up 23%). Total revenue from tourism was estimated at VND70.96 trillion, up 15% compared to 2016. The world's leading travel magazines, such as Business Insider, Discovery, CNN, Trip Advisor ranked Hanoi in the third place out of 20 tourist spots that many people dream of visiting, the top 10 cities with fast growing tourism and one of the most attractive destinations in the world.

This article was published on the Communist Review, No 905 (March 2018)

Ha Kim NgocVice Minister of Foreign Affairs