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Vietnam heads into the future with a faulty compass

Vietnam heads into the future with a faulty compass


In October 2023, Vietnam's ruling Communist Party adopted a strategy to safeguard the homeland in the new situation. Reiterating an assessment that has underpinned all major Vietnamese strategies since the late 1980s and confirmed by the 13th Party Congress in 2021, the the strategy states that peace, cooperation and development remain the main global trends.

The United States said in its October 2022 report National Security Strategy that the post-Cold War period is definitely over. In January 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping REMARK that the world is experiencing profound changes unprecedented in a century. This evaluation has become a slogan in high-level Chinese speeches ever since. But Vietnamese strategy sees no fundamental difference between the world today and that of thirty years ago.

With this in mind, the year 2023 marked the culmination of Vietnam's efforts to weave its safety net on the international stage. In September, US-Vietnam relations deteriorated pupil from a simple global partnership to a global strategic partnership. In November, Vietnam and Japan also strengthened their bonds to a global strategic partnership. These improvements have catapulted Vietnam to the rank of comprehensive strategic partner for all major powers in the Asia-Pacific region (China, Russia, India, South Korea, United States and Japan), with Australia hoping in 2024 for a feat without equal.

To balance these improvements in the spirit of its bamboo diplomacy, Vietnam agreed in December to join China's Community of Common Destiny, which Beijing translated into foreign languages ​​as a community of destiny. This ended Hanoi's years of resistance to Chinese pressure to side with Beijing, during which China intensified its encroachment on Vietnamese waters in the South China Sea. In June 2023, when asked about a month-long operation by Chinese survey and law enforcement vessels in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin. replied that there is no entry into the exclusive economic zones of other countries.

Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea remained intact after Beijing and Hanoi pledged to build a community with a shared future. In the weeks before and after Xi's visit to Hanoi in December, China Coast Guard 5901, China's largest Coast Guard vessel at 12,000 tons, conducted operations intrusive patrols Vietnamese oil and gas deposits off the southern coast of Vietnam.

The Sino-Vietnamese community with a shared future amounts to Hanoi's acceptance of Beijing's new normal in the South China Sea and gives Beijing powerful leverage to further pressure Hanoi on various issues. Still, the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive strategic partnership reinforces Washington's respect for Hanoi's sovereign choices and promises to make Vietnam a high-tech and semiconductor hub in the global supply chain. Dozens of top executives from the US high-tech sector visited Vietnam several times in 2023, with Amkor Technology inaugurate a chip factory worth $1.6 billion near Hanoi in October.

Although guiding Vietnam into dancing with the giants is imperative to maintaining a peaceful environment for economic development, the highest goal of Vietnam's domestic politics is to preserve Communist Party rule. The main way Hanoi achieves this goal is to fight corruption. In 2023, the Party continued its anti-corruption campaigneven going so far as to dismiss the president of the state and imprison several senior officials.

As the anti-corruption campaign enters its 13th year, corruption shows no signs of decline. Instead of build public trust in the regime, as the campaign wants, this primarily benefits the regime's law enforcement while paralyzing the government bureaucracy, with officials tending to play it safe and refuse to make decisions when they don't personally benefit from it.

The repression of young civil society is another major axis of Hanoi's efforts to maintain Communist Party rule. Citizens were arrested and received heavy sentences to enjoy the rights to freedom and democracy and spread anti-government propaganda. When these accusations proved too far removed from the facts, as was the case with activists and experts working on environmental and energy issues, the authorities preferred accused them of tax evasion.

The arrests of these activists and experts in recent years follow Vietnam's commitments, under the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement, to allow civil society organizations to monitor implementation of the agreement, and within the framework of the Partnership for a Just Energy Transition, involve all of civil society in the green transition.

These arrests effectively removed some of the last accountability mechanisms. Authorities detained Luu Binh Nhuong, vice chairman of the National Assembly Ombudsman Committee, in November 2023 for allegedly aiding and abetting extortion. A former lawmaker, Nhuong is widely known for speaking out against law enforcement.

Vietnamese leaders see the war between Russia and Ukraine, the rivalry between the United States and China, and tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea as warnings of great storms to come. They prepare for bad weather by acting like a bamboo in the international environment and like a hammer in domestic politics. But they are poorly prepared for the future. Vietnamese bamboo risks being eaten by the Chinese panda, while the Party's hammer risks shattering Vietnam's dynamism and resilience.

Alexander L Vuving is a professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu.

All views expressed in this article are entirely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the DKI APCSS, the US Department of Defense, or the US Government.

This article is part of a series of EAF special features on 2023 in review and the year to come.




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