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.
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.