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Vietnam’s 13th National Party Congress: Agenda, Achievements and Expectations

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Photo: VGP

Vietnam is holding its 13th National Party Congress from January 25to 02 February, 2021. While the party congress is going to decide about the new leadership and also look for possible future blueprint to evolve as a middle power and develop relations with the countries and multilateral organizations it is also necessary to look back at the tremendous achievements made by Vietnam under the Party’s leadership in the areas of economic development and integration with the region and globally and commendable progress made in the foreign policy domain as also in other fields.

 One of the most significant factors contributing to Vietnam’s present success have been the Doi Moi political and economic reforms that were ushered in over three and half a decade back in 1986 which led to a transformation of economic scenario in Vietnam. From a meagre total world trade of approximately 3 billion USD in 1986 that too with a deficit of 1.5 billion USD, Vietnam’s trade has grown to over 517 billion USD (i.e. over 172 times) with a surplus of 11 billion USD. And despite the Covid-19 the trade surplus for 2020 (for 11 months till November 2020) has grown to 20.01 billion USD with a trade turnover of 540 billion USD. Further, as per World Bank report the GDP per capita has grown with a multiple of 2.7 times in 2018 when compared to that of 2002. The GDP per capita in 2019 was USD 2700 which is a tremendous achievement. This has resulted in lifting a very large portion of the population (45 million) out of poverty. It is axiomatic that such a success would not have been possible without good economic policies and political guidance and governance by the leadership.

Vietnam’s Total World Trade Turnover 1986-2019 Source: http://news.chinhphu.vn/Home/Viet-Nam-after-35-years-of-Doi-Moi/20208/41323.vgp

Last year also saw the successful completion of Vietnam’s five year economic development plan (2016-2020) and the ten year social-economic development plan as envisioned by the earlier National Party Congress. The positive trajectory of economic development however, was interrupted by Covid-19. Even in 2020 the economy remained in a positive territory and Vietnam was one of the ten nations’ in the world that showed highest GDP growth. Vietnam is expected to return to a growth rate of 6.8 to 7 percent in 2021, and this rate of growth is expected to be maintained in the coming years. This growth is the highest in the South East Asian region.   This is also a reflection of the fact that Vietnam under the leadership of the Party has been able to overcome many challenges thrown up during its journey to current period. Annual plans, five year plan for 2021-2025 based on ten year socio-economic development plan anchored in 13th National Party Congress are also being set in motion. Moreover, achievements based on the aforementioned plans have laid a firm foundation for transforming Vietnam into a modern industrialized country with a high average income country by 2030 and a developed nation by 2045.

 On the diplomatic and foreign policy front Vietnam not only has successfully chaired a multitude of ASEAN meetings  but was also instrumental in coordinating a cohesive and joint ASEAN responsive in order to contain the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnam also successfully fulfilled its role as President of the 41st ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA 41), and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). At the UNSC Vietnam organized a UN-ASEAN meet for preventing conflict and settling regional issues. This was among many other such conferences organized by Vietnam concerning international security and regional security issues at the UNSC. Another notable achievement was completing of negotiations and signing of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the European Vietnam Free Trade Agreement.

Vietnam has shown extremely important leadership role in the last few years and this year it would also be aiming to raise issues related to Southeast Asian and Pacific region as it will continue to be in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member for two years.  Thus Vietnam would be able to play a significant international role at global forums.

It would also not be out of place to reiterate that Vietnam as the ASEAN Chair   was able to rally around other countries like Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Brunei to evolve a common view as announced in ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Joint Communiqué of 2020 and ASEAN Chair’s statement of 2020. These statements underlined the fact that UNCLOS 1982 is the basis for settling maritime claims and sovereignty and other allied issues like extended continental shelf. Such clear cut statements (which were absent during earlier years) with Vietnam as ASEAN Chair are seen as a significant achievement.

Such initiatives with support from Japan, France, UK, and America in addition to international media/scholars around the world in response to China’s activities in South China Sea has further created a huge positive endorsement of Vietnam’s approach on the issue. This can also be said to be as a result of Vietnam’s leadership’s successful efforts in the area of multilateralization and adopting multi-vector foreign and security policies.    

In so far as India -Vietnam relationship is concerned it has never been stronger with the last summit between two countries having been held on December 21 last year. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2016 between the two countries has several areas of mutual cooperation including political engagement, economic and defence and security cooperation besides many other spheres which are likely to be further strengthened under the coming new leadership of Vietnam. Earlier in 2007 both countries had signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement thus bilateral relationship has been on the upward trajectory. During last summit held virtually due to Covid-19 pandemic Prime Minister Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc and PM Modi signed a “Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People” which would further enhance the bilateral relationship.   A Plan of Action for the years 2021-23 to realise the Joint Vision was also signed between the two sides’ Foreign Ministers.

 Over the years Vietnam and Indian leaderships have been successful in forging stronger bilateral ties. This is more so because strategic and security perceptions of both the countries are in sync with each other. India has been a consistent supporter of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and has endorsed Vietnam’s defence and security policies especially so on the issues of South China Sea. PM Modi in various international forums has articulated the need for free and open Indo-Pacific, adherence to international norms and rule based order and implementation of UNCLOS 1982 while determining maritime claims and sovereignty issues in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

At both regional and international arena India and Vietnam have been cooperating and coordinating their responses in multilateral forums like the ASEAN and the UN. India has been appreciative of Vietnam’s leadership’s role and contributions at such forums.   India and Vietnam both as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in 2021 would be best positioned to evolve common outlook on the regional and international issues as both have a strategic convergence such issues.

It is also a given that India would continue to work with the coming leadership of Vietnam after the 13th National Party Congress as it has done so with the earlier Party leaders. The bilateral relationship is expected to gain more substance and expansion in scale and scope in the coming years. 

Vinod Anand is a Senior Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a New Delhi based think tank.

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Southeast Asia

Transforming Social Protection Delivery in the Philippines through PhilSys

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Social protection helps the poor and vulnerable in a country, especially in times of crises and shocks that may threaten the well-being of families. When COVID-19 hit and quarantines began, the Philippines needed a massive expansion of social protection coverage to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Countries that already had good and inclusive digital infrastructure (including internet connectivity, digital identification, digital payments and integrated data ecosystems) were better equipped to quickly adapt their social protection programs to meet urgent needs. They also fared better in maintaining continuity of services when in-person interactions could be moved online.

For the Philippines, it presented a challenge, and strain was felt in the delivery of social assistance under the Bayanihan acts.

Fortunately, the country is moving to address digital infrastructure gaps, including through the development of the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys). PhilSys is one of the most complex – but also game-changing – projects undertaken in the country.

The Philippines is one of only 23 countries without a national ID system. As a result, Filipinos need to present multiple IDs (and often specific IDs that many do not have) when transacting, including with government, creating barriers to services for the most vulnerable among the population. Information across government databases is often inconsistent. These undermine the Philippines’ transition to a digital economy, society and government. The PhilSys will help address this by providing all Filipinos with a unique and verifiable digital ID (and not just a card), while also adopting innovative and practical data protection and privacy-by-design measures.

The new partnership agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for DSWD’s adoption of the PhilSys is a milestone for the Philippines’ social protection and digital transformation journeys. DSWD will be the first agency to utilize the secure biometric and SMS-based identity authentication offered by the PhilSys to uniquely identify and verify its beneficiaries. Pilots with the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program will begin within the next few months, before PhilSys is used by all DSWD programs.

Adopting PhilSys will enable DSWD to further accelerate its digital transformation. By automating verification and business processes for its programs and services, DSWD will be able to improve the impact while reducing the costs of social protection programs. PhilSys will assist with identifying and removing ghost, duplicate and deceased beneficiaries to address leakages, fraud and corruption, and thus boost transparency and public trust. The unified beneficiary database that DSWD is developing with the help of PhilSys will contain up-to-date and consistent beneficiary information across all programs.

The World Bank is supporting these DSWD initiatives through the Beneficiary FIRST (standing for Fast, Innovative and Responsive Service Transformation) social protection project.

Importantly, these changes will translate to benefits for Filipinos.

Those who interact with the DSWD will face less paperwork, queues, hassle, costs and time. With their PhilSys ID, they will also have better access to a bank or e-money account where they can potentially receive payments directly in the future, promoting financial inclusion. Indeed, more than 5 million low-income Filipinos have already opened bank accounts during PhilSys registration. And the resources that DSWD saves can be redirected to addressing the needs of beneficiaries who live in remote areas without easy access to internet and social protection programs.

Beyond the advantages for social protection, the digital transformation PhilSys will catalyze in the public and private sectors can be fundamental to the Philippines’ pivot to reviving the economy and getting poverty eradication back on track. Success in utilizing PhilSys for social protection will have a significant demonstration effect in accelerating digital transformation by other government agencies as well as the private sector.

But digital transformation is not easy. It is not about simply digitizing things. It is about re-imagining how things can be done for the better, with technology as an enabler. Digitizing bad systems or processes just leads to bad systems or processes digitalized. Digital transformation therefore depends on and can only be as fast as process re-engineering and institutional and bureaucratic changes to overcome inertia.

Digital transformation must also be inclusive to avoid exacerbating digital divides or creating new ones.

The effort will be worth it. And the World Bank is firmly committed to scale up our support to the Philippines’ digital transformation agenda. A digital Philippines will not only be more resilient to future shocks – whether they are natural disasters or pandemics – but also be poised to take advantage of the opportunities brought by COVID-19 (shift of activities online) and those that lie ahead in the post COVID-19 world.
 first published in The Philippine Star, via World Bank

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Southeast Asia

Bringing “the people” back in: Forest Resources Conservation with Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma

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With a lifetime dedicated to forest conservation, Dr. Apichart Pattaratuma reflected back on his career and what forest management means to Thailand. In the year 1978, he received the prestigious United Nations and Ananda Mahidol Foundation Scholarship to attain higher education at the College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, USA. After graduating in the year 1985, he returned to Thailand with a commitment to teach and research at the Department of Forest Management, Faculty of Forestry, Kasetsart University until his retirement with full professor position. The excerpts below encapsulated a conversation between Dr. Pattaratuma and Dr. Rattana Lao on forest conservation.

Beyond the classroom: An anthropological perspective

I dedicated my life to study the anthropological aspect of forest management to His Majesty King Bhumibol Aduyadej of Thailand. I studied cultural dimensions of forest management in many areas of Thailand. I began with Huay Hin Dam with Karen hill tribe (Pra-ka-ker -yor) Suphanburi Province. I tried to review the international literature on land use and combine it with in-depth interviews with the hill tribes to understand the cultural dimensions of their livelihoods. I observed how they built their houses and how their managed their forest. There are three characteristics of the Karen tribe. Firstly, they lived on small plots of lands and their houses are very small. Secondly, they conserve their forest land with water resources. Thirdly, they refrain from using pesticides. Culturally, there is a clear division of labor amongst men and women. While men will clear the lands, women will cultivate agricultural goods such as papaya, guava and banana. There is limited drugs use.

It’s liberating to do research beyond the classrooms. To observe real live, real changes. I learnt more than I set out to do and they are all interrelated to a bigger picture.

Intersectionality between culture, migration and forest management

Karen hill tribes migrate in a cluster. There are more than 3 families migrating together to the new fertile forest land. They will migrate together when land is exhausted. This is most evident in the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back then they did not have official documentation but slowly they do. There has been an influx of hill tribes from Myanmar to Thailand due to political conflicts from Myanmar. From my observation, they are very conscious about forest conservation and resources management. They said: “no forest, no water”. They are compelled to protect the forest from pesticides in order to keep the water clean and their health well. They are very logical. Although they grow rice, it’s very subsistent and only for household consumption. They don’t grow rice for commercial purpose. This is the land use for Karen hill tribe.

I also studied in Kampeangpetch, Nan, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Lumphun. Each place is diverse and the situation is really different. Some local tribes are preserving of the forests, others are more detrimental. We need an in-depth study to understand the cultural dimension of land use for each tribe.

The heart of forest management

People. It’s the people. People must particulate in the forest management. Otherwise, it is very difficult. When we go into each location, we must approach people and bring them into the conversation. I have tried to do all my life. Civil servants must approach people, not other way around. People are looking up to our action. They look into our sincerity and commitment. If they see that we are committed to study about their livelihood, they will share the right information and they will help.

Indonesia is a good example of successful forest management. The state get people involved. In every kilometer, there are four actors involved in protecting the forest: soldiers, policemen, villager and forester. They help each other protecting the wildlife and forest resources.

Can legal change help the people?

Legal relaxation can help lessen the pressure between man and forest. Before the legal requirement was very strict. Any kind of forest intrusion would be caught including small hunters gatherers. I think that is too strict. That put people against the law. People should be able to go into the forest and pick up some mushroom and bamboo and some wild products to lessen their poverty and hunger.

As long as people are still hungry, it’s very hard to manage the forest. There must be a way to balance the two: people livelihood and forest management.

Capitalists invasion

Much of the legal attention is paid to small farmers use of the forests. However, the real issue is big corporations invade the forest. This is very significant. Deforestation happens mostly from large scale corporation rather than small scale farmers. There are many loopholes in the system that lead to systemic corruption and mismanagement of land use. Many wealthy houses are built on large scale timber to exemplify wealth and status. It saddens me.

Would the next generation get to see large tree in the forest?

Less likely.

What can we do to protect the forest?

There are many organizations that responsible for the forest protection such as Royal Forest Department, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Department of Marine and Coastal Resources. But the manpower are not sufficient to cover the large area of forest in Thailand. There are not enough permanent manpower to go on the ground and protect forest resources, while the intruders to National Parks are equipped with more advanced weaponry.

To protect the forest, the state must be committed and the people must participate in the process.

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Southeast Asia

Possibilities for a Multilateral Initiative between ASEAN-Bangladesh-India-Japan in the Indo-Pacific

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In the Indo-Pacific context, there are multiple partners all aiming for economic fulfillment along with maritime security and safety. Countries ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea seem to be more worried about the freedom of navigation and overflight as Chinese aggressiveness is rampant and expansionist is a scary idea. The region from India to Bangladesh has a huge potential of interconnectedness and if connected to the Southeast Asian countries, it would also help in India’s Act East Policy and India’s neighbourhood first policy and further help out in strengthening relations to the far East as in Japan. All these countries combined can create an interconnected chain of mutual and common interests with balanced ideas of economic, military, social, political and people to people exchanges which would in turn help develop a multilateral.

Who can lead this Multilateral Initiative and Why?

Japan can be the prime crusader for this multilateral as it has excellent relations with all the parties and is the pioneer of the free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan has excellent diplomatic, economic and infrastructural relations with all the possible partners as it provides ODA loans, aid and assistance. Japan being the pioneer of Free and Open Indo-Pacific can be guiding force for this multilateral in the maritime domain which would help create a new regional grouping consisting of South Asia and Southeast Asia primarily based on maritime. Japan is the only developed country among all the other players and with its expertise, it can surely guide, help, support and take along all the countries. Japan most importantly is a non-aggressive nation and believes in mutual respect unlike China. Japan has no dept trap issue unlike China. Japan is known for quality in infrastructural development and with their expertise in science, technology and innovation can well lead these countries. Japan’s reputation of honesty, no corruption and extreme detailed paper work is commendable.

What are the benefits from this Multilateral Initiative?

This multilateral would help connect the Indian Ocean (India) to Bay of Bengal (Bangladesh) to the South China Sea (ASEAN) and the East China Sea (Japan)- would help in the creation of water interconnected network from South Asia to Southeast Asia. This could be the first regional maritime grouping covering South Asia to Southeast Asia. This maritime grouping can create a network of ports which could also become an economic hub and intersecting points of investment and infrastructural development (already Japan is investing in a big way in all these countries). India’s Northeast would get a greater economic, infrastructural and people-to-people exchange as it would connect India to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor already exists and could pave the way for Bangladesh and Kolkata greater port exchange which could be developed as nodal points in Bay of Bengal and would help in easy and cheaper freight. These countries can also aim for the strengthening of defence and security relations in the domain of maritime and can also aim for a logistics support agreement and a network from Indian Ocean to Bay of Bengal to South China Sea to East China Sea and would help tackle Chinese aggressiveness and China has been mapping the waters in all these waters and so, to protect one’s territorial sovereignty and integrity, defence relations must be build.

An ecosystem based on Digitalization, Science, technology and Innovation can be formed which would help create a united cyber security law and all this could ultimately lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution. South Asia and Southeast Asia would be lucrative markets and labour distribution and generation of employment can be done through the ports, logistics network, economic and trade exchanges and interactions. This multilateral would form a resilient supply chain in the region of South Asia and Southeast Asia in the domain of Indo-Pacific. Marine economy can be a major factor of this multilateral initiative as it would be a major success in the maritime domain. This multilateral can also work on vaccine diplomacy and work on future health hazards mechanisms.

Why Bangladesh must think of adopting the Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Bangladesh must adopt the Indo-Pacific strategy and create its own objects and call it the SAMODHRO NITI. Bangladesh has the capability of being an excellent maritime power and it is a major leader in the Bay of Bengal and to be an effective part of this multilateral. The Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B) would be a key binder. Bangladesh must realise that China by building dams on the Brahmaputra River would actually create issues for Bangladesh’s fishery catchment areas as it would get inundated with salt water and to stop that Bangladesh must work to strengthen its position to tackle China. Also, China could also create water issues for Bangladesh and Bangladesh must look at ways to safe guard its water resources. Thereby, Bangladesh must work towards countries who face similar issues with China. The Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor is an excellent example of cooperation but this Multilateral if formed can be a stronger initiative and Bangladesh benefits from it as being a hub of textile, leather and pharmaceuticals and this Multilateral has all the efficiency of becoming an economic hub which would benefit Bangladesh too. If Bangladesh adopts an Indo-Pacific Policy, then its market in Japan, the US and Europe would become stronger due to shared interests and can also sign a Free Trade Agreement with EU like Vietnam did.

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