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Elements to be taken in to consideration in Vietnam’s foreign policies in global integration
7/8/2019 14:13' Send Print
Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab and the heads of delegations take picture at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in September 2018 in Hanoi. Image:

An overview of foreign policies

Foreign policies are strategies, decisions, and actions of a country targeting entities outside its domestic political system to gain different purposes and suit its national interests. The initial orientation of foreign policies is to expand national influence in international relations. It’s a key point to differentiate foreign and domestic policies of a nation.

Although scholars have diverse views on foreign policies, they share one thing in common that foreign policies consist of strategies, goals, and actions that a nation will carry out in relationship with other nations. Thus foreign policies of a nation are strategies and policies that the nation uses to interact with other nations and international organizations regarding politics, defense, economics, culture, and society to achieve targets suitable for national interests. (1)

Foreign policies of powerful countries in the region and the world have always drawn attention of the international community, because their foreign policies have big impacts on regional and global peace, stability, and security. In the globalization and international integration, home affairs and domestic politics have an increasingly important role in foreign policies and policy-making process. Foreign policy is seen as an extended arm of domestic policy, contributing to national defense and economic prosperity and protecting and maximizing national interests, via cooperation, competition, dispute, and even war.

Identifying factors that Vietnam should take in to consideration in foreign-policy making process

It’s a complicated process to make foreign policies for a nation and policy-making agencies need to consider together inside and outside factors appropriately in each period. Nations with different political institutions have different legislative apparatus. In general, key factors in making foreign policies for a nation includes national interests, status, and influence in the regional and international arena and situation.

In the context of strong global integration, Vietnam’s foreign-policy making process also covers the following factors.

Firstly, interests of the state-nation. National interests has become an ultimate principle of foreign policy and affairs of all nations in the world, including Vietnam. National interest is the lodestar and the principle guiding external-policy making process, thus Vietnam’s foreign policies and affairs must take in to consideration and serve the interests of the state and nation.

Renovated foreign policy initiated by the Party in 1986 were supplemented and fined tune through Congresses, confirming the important role on national interests in foreign policy. The 3rd session of the Party Central Committee, 7th Tenure (June 1992) confirmed that “peace and development” were standards in Vietnam’s foreign relations to serve the ultimate interest of the nation “to quickly get over the crisis, maintain political stability, develop socio-economy for strong nation and prosperous people, firmly protect national independence and freedom.” (2) With that spirit, “foreign relations must serve these interests of a nation…, and consider national interest an ultimate and most sacred goal.” (3) The 8th session of the Party Central Committee, 9th Tenure (July 2003) confirmed again: “Be steadfast in the goal of national independence and socialism and to regard maintaining a peaceful, stable environment for socio-economic development and pursuing socialist-oriented industrialization and modernization as the national ultimate goal.” (4) The 9th Party Congress (2011) said the goals of Vietnam’s foreign relations in the new period “to serve national interests” and “for a prosperous, powerful Vietnam.” (5) Documents of the 12th Party Congress made clear and set ultimate goals for external affairs to “ensure the supreme interests of the state and nation, with respect to basic principles of international law, equality, and mutual benefit.” (6) National interests have always played a key role in identifying, determining, and implementing foreign policies of the Vietnamese Party and State. Vietnam’s national interests in foreign affairs are categorized into two groups: vital interests and development interests.

The group of vital interests includes defending national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity; maintaining exterior peace and domestic stability and order; ensuring safety for people, ensuring national economic security; preserving national identity. The group of development interests includes continuously improving the ability to defense national sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity; continuously improving people’s quality of life; expanding development space; promoting national identities, promoting Vietnam’s role and status internationally. (7) Vietnam’s national interests in the current period are to ensure a favorable international environment for development, take full advantage of external resources to serve national industrialization and modernization. Vietnam’s foreign policies and affairs in the coming time should more effectively serve national interests in international relations.

Secondly, national position in the international arena. While making foreign policies, all countries take in to consideration their status and power. Foreign policies should be appropriate with national interests and compatible to national status and power.

It’s important to examine Vietnam’s national status and power in making foreign policies in certain historical periods. In each historical period, Vietnam has different status and power in the region and the world, thus external law making process should be different.

After 3 decades of implementing renewal policies, Vietnam has a more positive role and position in the region and the world. Vietnam is an active member of the international community, contributing sizably to regional, international, and multi-lateral organizations. National position has been raised which has facilitated Vietnam to carry on with its foreign policies of independence, self-reliance; a foreign policy of openness, diversification, multilateralisation of international relations.

In addition to national position, internal strength or combined power of a nation is an important factor in making foreign policies for Vietnam in the new period. President Ho Chi Minh said: “Real ability is a Gong. Diplomacy is sound; a big gong has loud sounds.”(8) State power or national strength is a combination of forces, internal ability of a nation materially and spiritually, such as economic, politic, military, culture, knowledge, ideology, political institution, orientations, policies (9). Thus, Vietnam’s national power at present is an aggregate power of the State and people, under the wise and correct leadership of the Party, an aggregate power of “hard strength” and “soft strength,” a harmonious combination of tradition and modernity, and Vietnam’s increasingly important position in the region and the world. (10) New position and strength continue to create favorable conditions for Vietnam to implement its open foreign policies of diversification and multilateralization in a new period.

Thirdly, regional and international situation. In addition to internal factors, external factors, such as regional and international situation, have influenced and impacted the external-policy making process of all countries in the world, including Vietnam. No country can exist and develop separately from the rest of the world. All countries are directly or indirectly affected by outside factors and the surrounding environment. In rapid globalization and international integration, cooperation among countries has been enhanced and interdependence has deepened.

Highlights in regional and international situation at present:

1.Power distribution in the world: The major powers are still the centers of great power in the world, the international "political playground" is greatly influenced by these power centers. The distribution of power in the world has seen important shifts. The US has outstanding power, but its relative strength in the world has been declining. The rapid recovery of Russia, strong rising of China, and the increasingly important role of other regional powers such as India, Brazil, and South Africa, among others have narrowed the power gap between these countries and the US.

2.Relations between world powers: World powers at present have cooperated and competed fiercely. The struggle for power and influence among world powers have been fiercer, even tough confrontation, which have made international relations more complicated and unexpected. Russia, the US, and the West have cooperative relations in some sectors, but limited, unthawed, and tense. The US-China-Russia Triangle is seeing a closer relation between Russia and China, but has not been close enough to be an alliance to confront pressure from the US and Western countries. The relations of China, the US, and Western countries have seen both cooperation and fierce competition in economic and trade. Other world powers, such as Japan and India, don’t want to be pulled in the whirl of confrontation between Russia and the West and have sought measures to improve relations with both sides.

3.Major trends in the modern world, namely globalization, primarily economic globalization, is prevailing strongly and being a dominant trend for all countries and regions. Besides globalization, the scientific and technological revolution has been developing rapidly worldwide. Knowledge has played a more important position in the global economy. The boom of information technology has changed the competitive advantages of major economies and many knowledge-based economies have appeared. Giant steps in science and technology has led to the 4th industrial revolution, bringing human evolution to a new level. The role of law and international norms has been more important in guiding international relations. When countries integrate deeply in the global economy, it means they have to abide by regional and international standards and “rules” of the game.

In such context, Vietnam has given top priority to expanding external economic relations, diversifying markets, and taking advantages of resources, managerial experience, and scientific and technological advancement for national industrialization and modernization.

Vietnam’s external relations guidelines and policies at present

Inheriting basic content of external relations guidelines of previous Party Congresses, the Party has developed and made important supplements for Vietnam’s external relations in the new period. At the 7th Party Congress, for the first time, external affair tasks was mentioned as a component of the Congress, confirming the important role of external relations in national development and defense guidelines in the coming years. Besides four components of the Party’s leadership and fighting spirit, national aggregate power, national reform, and national construction goals set at the 11th and 12th Party Congresses complemented the 5th component of “firmly defending the nation, maintaining peace and stability.” The supplement affirmed two important tasks of foreign affairs are to defend the nation and maintain a peaceful and stable environment. Vietnam’s foreign policies and activities will focus on the two tasks.

Regarding foreign affairs goals, the 12th Party Congress confirmed to “ensure the ultimate interests of the state-nation, based on fundamental principles of international law, equality, and mutual benefits.” The Party affirmed that state and national interests are identical and Vietnam’s state-national interests are identified based on the fundamental principles of international law, equality, and mutual benefits. Ensuring state-national interests is the prime principle of all external affairs, policies, and activities.

About guidelines for external affairs, the 12th Party Congress said: “With the motto of cooperation and fight, external affairs serve the goals of maintaining a peaceful and stable environment, taking advantage of external resources for national development and people’s life improvement.” The Communist Party of Vietnam affirmed that external affairs missions must base on cooperation and fight, which are the two faces in partnership and dealing with arising issues so as not to miss cooperative opportunities while not lack of vigilance.

About international integration, the 12th Party Congress had specified Vietnam’s international integration orientation, including: firstly, international integration is a cause of all people and the political system; secondly, boosting international integration on the basis of promoting internal strength in close association with national aggregate power, competitiveness; thirdly, international economic integration is a key, integration in other sectors will facilitate economic integration; fourthly, international integration is a process of cooperation together with fighting, active forecast, flexible solutions for all circumstance to avoid being on the defensive and negative confrontation.

Regarding principles for foreign affairs, all external activities must ensure national prime interests; while abiding by the fundamental international law in the process of building and implementing foreign affairs policies and dealing with arising issues in relationship with partners.

In summary, Vietnam’s external guidelines and policies at present have inherited major contents of previous Party Congresses together with supplements in line with the new conditions and situation inside and outside the country. The process of making foreign policies in the new period must serve the state-national interests, abide by international law, base on real national strength and position, and suit regional and international development trend.


(1) Dao Minh Hong, Le Hong Hiep (Chief Editors): Handbook of international relations terms, Ho Chi Minh City National University, Ho Chi Minh City, 2013, p. 53
(2) Nguyen Manh Cam: “On the path to implementing foreign policies towards new orientation,” in the book Reforming foreign policies and international integration, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2009, p. 65
(3) Hong Ha: “World situation and our foreign policies,” Communist Review, December 1992, p. 12
(4) The Party Central Committee’s Commission on Ideology and Culture: Documents to study resolutions of the 8th session of the Party Central Committee, 9th Tenure the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2003, pp. 46- 47
(5) Documents of the 11th National Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Truth, Hanoi, 2011, p. 236
(6) Documents of the 12th National Party Congress, the Office of the Party Central Committee, Hanoi, 2016, p. 153
(7) Dang Dinh Quy: “Discussion on national interests in Vietnam’s foreign policies in the new period,” in the “Vietnam’s foreign orientations and policies in the new period,” Pham Binh Minh (Chief Editor), the National Political Publishing House, Truth, 2011, pp. 208-209
(8) Ho Chi Minh: Complete works, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2009, vol.4, p.126
(9) Nguyen Duc Hung: “Combining national strength and contemporary strength in the new time,” in the “Vietnam’s foreign orientations and policies in the new period”, Pham Binh Minh (Chief Editor), p. 340
(10) Nguyen Duc Hung: “Combining national strength and contemporary strength in the new time,” pp. 355-356
This article was published in the Communist Review, No. 921 (July 2019)

Phan Thi Thu DungMinistry of Public Security