Enhancing foreign affairs and international integration

10:05 | 02/01/2017 Cooperation

The year of 2016 has drawn to a close alongside a number of complicated and unpredictable situations in the region and the world taking place, in addition to the unstable global economy and the lowest economic growth rate in recent years.

Politburo member and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh

Populist and nationalism movements in the world have escalated. Brexit and unforeseen political changes in many other countries also occurred. The process of globalisation and international integration is facing new challenges. Strategic competition and the gathering of forces among powers is becoming increasingly fierce, multi-dimensionally impacting on medium and small countries.

Many hotspots in the Middle East, East Asia and South Asia continue to remain at a standstill, at times being at risk of being further exacerbated or blowing up. Territorial, seas and islands and natural resources disputes are fierce, while non-traditional security challenges, such as climate change, water and network security, migration and terrorism, have emerged, threatening the security and stability of many countries, including Vietnam,

Over the past year, Asia-Pacific continued to be the most dynamically developing region in the world. ASEAN achieved an average growth rate of 5%, stepping up efforts to build the ASEAN Community and maintaining it’s central role in the evolving regional structure. The role of international law in resolving disputes in the region drew more international public attention than ever before, particularly after the decision was handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12, 2016 in relation to the dispute between China and the Philippines over the East Sea.

In this context, Vietnam’s foreign affairs were carried out proactively and efficiently, serving the goal of ‘ensuring the supreme interest of the nation and the people that were set out at the 12th National Party Congress with five major directions as follows:

Firstly, the country urgently and thoroughly grasped and concretised the major foreign policies of the 12th Party Congress, particularly new supplements and developments on the path towards international integration. Immediately after the Congress drew to a close, the Government directed relevant agencies to build projects to thoroughly review the process of international economic integration ever since Vietnam became a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The projects also frankly pointed out the causes of weaknesses in the integration process in recent times and gave an in-depth analysis of opportunities and challenges from the implementation of the new generation free trade commitments as well as proposed orientations for improving the efficiency of the integration process in the new period.

In November, 2016, the Party Central Executive Committee approved Resolution No.6 on ‘Effectively implementing the international economic integration, and maintaining social political stability in the context of Vietnam’s participation in new-generation free trade agreements’. The foreign affairs sector also held the 29th Diplomatic Conference themed ‘Improving the Efficiency of Foreign Affairs and International Integration - Successfully Implementing the Resolution of the 12th National Party Congress’ in order to promptly and thoroughly grasp the foreign guidelines set out at the 12th Congress, define the focal points of Vietnam’s foreign affairs in the coming time, and determine new measures and techniques, particularly closely co-ordinating with defence, security and economic sectors to more effectively serve the goals of the country’s development and security protection.

Secondly, the country strongly developed external activities, particularly high-level ones, which were considered as an important direction to strengthen the relations both in depth and stability, bringing practical benefits for the country. In 2016, leaders of the Party and State paid 16 official visits to foreign countries; meanwhile Vietnam welcomed nearly 30 foreign senior leaders. Furthermore, the country gave priority to facilitating high-level exchanges with neighbouring countries of Laos, Cambodia and China; ASEAN countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, and the Philippines; large countries such as the United States, Russia, Japan, India and France; and others with traditional friendly relations including Cuba and Iran.

These important diplomatic activities were carried out with consideration given to interwoven interests of Vietnam and its partners as well as improvement of the efficiency of co-operation mechanisms and the enhancement of political trust between the two sides. In addition, the country more effectively used the mechanisms that were established through high-level exchanges to promptly handle arising issues in the relationship with it’s partners. For example, at the meeting with Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi, Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte committed to immediately release 17 Vietnamese fishermen; and Indonesia handed over fishermen to Vietnam in its waters for the first time.

Thirdly, Vietnam enhanced border and territorial work as well as consolidated its borders. Over the past year, the country completed project to increase and enhance the border marker system; signed a protocol on the border line and national border markers and an agreement on regulations to manage land border and border gates with Laos; and finished 83% of the land border demarcation and marker plantation workload with Cambodia. The relevant agencies also effectively implemented an agreement on co-operation in protecting and exploiting tourism resources of the Ban Gioc Waterfall and an agreement on free movements of vessels in the Bac Luan River mouth with China.

Regarding maritime issues, Vietnam conducted negotiations on the delimitation of exclusive economic zones with Indonesia; and continued government-level exchanges and border talks with China; as well as joined efforts with ASEAN to promote the efficient implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and adopt a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).

Fourthly, in relation to multilateral diplomatic activities, the country changed its status from ‘attending’ to ‘proactively and actively participating’ to the process of building and shaping the general rules in the regional and international organisations and forums. Vietnam actively contributed to the activities of the Asia–Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), the La Francophonie community, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Mekong-Lancang co-operation mechanism, the General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA), and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The seventh Ayeyawady – Chao Phraya – Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Summit, the eighth Co-operation Summit of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV 8), and the first World Economic Forum on Mekong region (WEF Mekong) were all successfully held in Vietnam. The proposals and initiatives made by Vietnamese delegates at ASEAN, APEC and ASEM received positive responses from international friends and partners.

The country also well performed its role as a member of the important agencies of the United Nations (UN) such as the Human Rights Council, the World Heritage Committee, and the UN Economic and Social Council. A Vietnamese representative was elected to the International Law Commission of the UN for the first time. Preparations for the 2017 APEC Year were mainly completed; and APEC members expressed their support for the theme ‘Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future’ proposed by Vietnam. Vietnam also more substantially engaged in co-operation mechanisms in defence, security and other fields, particularly at forums hosted by ASEAN including the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM), the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus (ADMM+) and the ASEAN Chiefs of Police Conference (ASEANAPOL).

Lastly, Vietnam strongly implemented the ‘master strategy on international integration until 2020, with a vision to 2030’ in all fields. The country and its partners officially signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, commenced the implementation of the Vietnam-Eurasia Economic Union Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Vietnam – EU Partnership and Co-operation Agreement; as well as is soon due to sign the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), and will continue negotiations for many other important FTAs such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Vietnam – Israel FTA.

In 2016, Vietnam also received recognition of its market economy status from seven additional countries. The country’s international integration in politics, foreign affairs, defence and security also developed in depth with positive contributions made by Vietnam in UN peacekeeping operations as well as in mechanisms for exchange, consultation and joint exercises within the framework of the ASEAN and with major partners such as China, the US, Japan, India and France.

With the abovementioned major directions, foreign affairs over the past year have significantly contributed to the maintenance of the peaceful and favourable international environment for developing and firmly safeguarding the country’s independence and sovereignty. It can be said that foreign affairs also made important contributions to the general economic achievements of Vietnam in 2016, including the export turnover of US$175.9 billion (a year-on-year increase of 8.6%), the estimated foreign direct investment (FDI) of US$15.8 billion, up 9%; the record of 10 million international visitors to Vietnam, an increase of 25% compared to 2015.

Situations occurring in the region and the wider world were predicted to be more complicated and unpredictable in 2017. Many countries will hold elections as well as make certain adjustments on development strategy and foreign policies, which will have multidimensional impacts on the regional and international situations, particularly in relation to vital issues for Vietnam’s security and development including the regional environment, the centrality and unity of the ASEAN, and maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the East Sea.

The country is facing new challenges but has a new position and strength in creating a strategic and comprehensive partnership network to stabilise the international status of Vietnam under the volatility of the situation. It is highly essential for the diplomatic sector to continue to redouble its efforts in the spirit of being more active, proactive and creative.

Accordingly, the main orientation for foreign affairs this year is the development of in-depth relations and increase of interwoven of interests with neighbouring countries sharing borders with Vietnam including Laos, Cambodia and China as well as with other large countries and ASEAN member nations. In addition, the diplomatic sector should strongly accelerate the action programme to implement the Party Central Executive Committee’s Resolution No.6 on improving the efficiency of international economic integration and maintaining social political stability; and proactively prepare to handle arising problems experienced in relations with other countries.

The most important activity in 2017 will be the fulfilment of the role as the APEC host country. Vietnam should effectively take full advantage of the event to promote the bilateral relations with foreign countries, particularly China, the US, Russia, Japan and a number of other important partners; as well as ensure that multilateral and high-level diplomatic activities can become opportunities to enhance the country’s security interests and development.

In order to gain more outstanding achievements, Vietnam’s prioritised foreign affairs should focus on the implementation of Resolution No.4 of the 12th Party Central Committee on enhancing the building and rectification of the Party and preventing and curbing ideological, ethical and lifestyle degradation, as well as the manifestation of “self-evolution” and “self-transformation” inside the Party. In addition, the sector needs to pay much attention to the implementation of the Politburo’s Directive No.5 strengthening the study of and adherence to the thought, morals and style of President Ho Chi Minh, a distinguished diplomat both in intellectual thinking and personality, in order to build a team of staff with good ethics and high professional capacity, meeting requirements of the process of deeper integration in the region and the world.

The diplomatic sector must also make more efforts to improve the efficiency of the co-ordination among foreign channels as well as between foreign affairs with defence and security. Under the wise leadership of the Party, it can be believed that the sector will fulfil its tasks as a pioneer soldier in peacetime and continue to faithfully and effectively serve for the nation’s interests, despite the complicated and unpredictable situation.

PHAM BINH MINH, Politburo member, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs