Hoang Binh Quan, head of the Party Central Committee’s Commission for External Relations has unambiguously made known Vietnam’s commitment to pursue multilateralism and has pledged to “promote international integration with higher quality to take advantage of international cooperation and support for its renewal cause”. Speaking to media persons on the sidelines of the Congress at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Hoang Binh Quan stated that “Vietnam will make every effort to effectively and responsibly implement its international commitments as well as those to multilateral institutions,”
This commitment and confidence is a result of years of internalization of the concept of multilateralism and its practice. In fact there is continuity in Vietnamese belief in multilateralism. In 2017,during the General Debate of the First Committee of the 72ndSession of the United Nations General Assembly, Ambassador Nguyen Phuong Nga, Vietnam’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations had reiteratedhis country’s belief that it is extremely important to “uphold multilateralism as the core principle of negotiations, as the only efficient and rule-based approach in accordance with the international law and the United Nations Charter, as well as the effective tool for building trust among countries”.
First, at the international politico-diplomatic level. Vietnam has unswervingly supported UN and its institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), UN Development Program (UNDP), World Health Organisation (it recently made a donation of $US50,000 to fight against Covid-19), World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In fact it benefited from these UN arms and moved steadily from lower-middle income status by working with these institutions.
In its current role as the non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for 2019-2021, Hanoi has expressed commitmentto “advancing multilateral cooperation and supporting the work of the United Nations” as also “UN reforms, exemplified by progress in implementing Delivering as One”. Vietnam’s success at the UN can be gauged by the fact that in the first month it “presided over more than 30 meetings to discuss security issues in the Middle East, Syria, Colombia, the Central African Republic and West Africa. The operation of the UN peacekeeping and political missions in Yemen, Cyprus and Libya were reviewed”.
At the regional level, Hanoi recalls and practices an old Vietnamese adage that “a single tree cannot make a forest’. Since joining the ASEAN in 1995, it has toiled hard for ASEAN’s integration and unity. Vietnam has upheld its principles and worked with Member States on the singular principle of cooperation. It has been observed that “compared to the Vietnam of 1995 when it became a member of ASEAN, Hanoi has taken a more proactive posture to multilateral engagements in the years since”.
Even during difficult times such as the pandemic when it was holding the position of the Chair of the ASEAN, Hanoi delivered to the satisfaction of the ASEAN Member States on ASEAN’s centrality, showcased its strong commitment to multilateralism and dialogue, and worked hard to shape an inclusive rules-based regional architecture.
Second, Vietnam is party to 16 free trade bilateral and multilateral agreements. As far as the latter is concerned, the notable ones are the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); World Trade Organisation (WTO); the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP); EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA); and the recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Third, at the strategic level, Vietnam is supportive of number of cooperative organisations, multilateral structures, bilateral and multilateral arrangements that focus on dialogue as the organizing principle for State activities. It seeks a peaceful security environment and stability in the region. It is supportive of ASEAN led initiatives such as the ASEAN Regional forum (ARF), East Asia Summit (EAS), ADMM Plus and the ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF).
Perhaps what is noteworthy is that Hanoi is willing to lead from the front on behalf of the ASEAN Member States. The Chairman’s Statement of the 36th ASEAN Summit had “emphasised the need to maintain and promote an environment conducive to the COC negotiations”. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had urged China to accelerate talks on an effective and efficient COC in line with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.
Finally, today Hanoi is well positioned and primed to take multilateralism to new levels in its international and bilateral engagements. It sees multilateralism as the most appropriate paradigm of its foreign policy and security strategy.
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Consultant Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.