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Vaccine Fund: Preventing and Controlling Covid-19 Pandemic of Vietnam

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Ceremony of Vietnam's Vaccine Fund for Covid-19 Prevention and Control Photo: by Vietnam News Agency

Up to early June 2021, Vietnam has experienced four large-scale outbreaks of Covid-19. Compared to the previous three ones, the 4th outbreak was assessed to be the largest in scale, more complicated and more difficult to be controlled due to the appearance of new strains of virus. In addition to such epidemic preventing and controlling measures that have been applied during the previous three outbreaks as Wearing masks, Disinfecting, Medical Declarating, Keeping distance, and No gathering, the Government of Vietnam has recently come up with a new solution; that is the establishment of the Vaccine Fund. This new measure is evaluated as an initiative of the Government of Vietnam to mobilize the participation and contributions of many individuals and organizations domestically and abroad to give opportunities for about 75% of the population who will be protected by vaccine in 2021.

Up to now, Vietnam has experienced 4 outbreaks of Covid-19 epidemic

On January 22nd, 2020, the first case of Covid-19 that was from Wuhan-China was found in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. According to the division of the Ministry of Health, Vietnam is currently in the 4th outbreak.

The first outbreak lasted 85 days (from January 23rd, 2020 to April 16th, 2020) and had the least number of cases with 100 cases in the community. During this period, the disease spread to 13 provinces and cities of Vietnam with no deaths.

The second outbreak lasted 129 days (from July 25th, 2020 to December 1st, 2020) but peaked in 36 days (from July 25th, 2020 to August 29th, 2020), recording up to 554 cases in the community, 5.5 times more than the number of cases in the first epidemic, with 35 deaths.

 The third outbreak lasted 57 days (from January 28th, 2021 to March 25th, 2021), which broke out in Hai Duong from a labor exporter who was found to be positive when entering Japan. This outbreak recorded up to 910 patients with Covid-19 in the community, nearly twice as much as the second epidemic, with no deaths.

The fourth outbreak in Vietnam began on April 27th, 2021 with the case of a hotel staff member in Yen Bai, where the Indian experts were isolated. After that, more cases were continuously found in many provinces and cities of Vietnam, especially in Central Hospital II in Hanoi, Tropical Hospital II, Oncology Hospital III… These cases had a rapid spread in the community, causing the number of infected people to constantly increase.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Health, as of 6pm on June 26, 2021, Vietnam has a total of 13,515 domestic cases of covid-19 and 1,760 imported cases. The total number of deaths due to Covid-19 is 77 cases. The number of new cases from the first day of the fourth outbreak up to now is 11,945 cases. This number accounts for more than 80% of the total number of patients in Vietnam since the outbreak until now, 8 times higher than the 2nd outbreak and 7 times higher than the 3rd one, spreading to 40 provinces and cities of Vietnam with a complicated level and difficulty in control.

Three previous outbreaks of the disease in Vietnam mainly originated from immigration sources and residential areas, the fourth outbreak is considered to be more dangerous because of multiple outbreaks and sources of infection. Among those outbreaks, along with the previous infections in residential areas, there are also infections in some hospitals, some industrial zones, and some religious organizations. Up to mid-June 2021, although the number of new cases per day is still high, the epidemic situation in areas mentioned above has basically been well controlled.

The biggest challenge in the fourth outbreak is that Vietnam has to face a multi-variant source of infection. Therefore, unlike the previous outbreaks when the patients suffered from severe symptoms are the elderly and those who have underlying diseases, in this epidemic, even many young people with no underlying diseases have severe symptoms. In particular, a patient who died from Covid-19 was only 22 years old.

To deal with the above situation, the Vietnamese Government has found many new solutions for epidemic prevention and control. One of the most urgent solutions given is to quickly progress the vaccination campaign for citizens to create community immunity. Vaccines are considered to be a solid shield to gradually push back the pandemic.

Vaccine Fund – an initiative for the Government and people of Vietnam to join hands and to overcome the Covid-19 epidemic

On May 26th, 2021, the Prime Minister of Vietnam signed a decision to establish Vietnam Fund for Vacination Prevention of Coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as VFVC. The purpose of the Fund is to receive, manage and use the monetary and vaccine funding, supporting and contributions from domestic and foreign organizations and individuals as well as other lawful capital sources in purchasing and importing vaccines, researching and producing vaccines domestically to protect Vietnamese citizens from Covid-19. This fund operates for non-profit purposes, uses capital for the right purposes and complies with the laws of Vietnam.

To ensure the transparence of the Fund, the Government of Vietnam has assigned responsibilities to the relevant units. The Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front is responsible for mobilizing contributing resources from organizations and individuals to the fund, and also supervises to ensure proper management and use of the fund purposefully, openly, transparently and effectively. The Ministry of Finance is assigned by the Government to manage the Fund. The Ministry of Health coordinating with the Ministry of Finance summarizes the demand of purchasing and importing vaccines, doing research and producing vaccines against the Covid-19 epidemic. Not only the financial and payment receipts are reported to the Government and the National Assembly, the mobilized amount, the list of sponsoring organizations and individuals, and the amount of money contributed as well as the expenses, the remaining balance if any are all publicized. The fund will be terminated and dissolved after the competent authority announces the completion of vaccination against Covid-19 for all people.

In order to mobilize a large number of citizens domestic and abroad to contribute to the Vaccine Fund, the Government of Vietnam has opened two ports of receiving the donation amount; that is to set up one bank account to receive domestic donations, another to receive donations from abroad, and to set up a form of direct reception via telephone switchboards. The Vaccine Fund is an essential initiative, demonstrating the Vietnamese Government’s high determination in early prevention of the Covid-19 epidemic so as to give back daily safe life routine to all citizens.

As soon as it was established, the Vaccine Fund quickly received the sympathy and support from a large number of Vietnamese people throughout the country and overseas. Just for a short time, the Fund has received great and enthusiastic support not only from agencies, units, enterprises, corporations… but also from all classes of people, including children, the elderly, the retired officials and many overseas Vietnamese. According to Vietnam Television Station, up to 19:00 of June 20, there were 325,145 organizations and individuals supporting the Vaccine Fund with a total amount of 5,777 billion VND[1]. In the coming time, the amount of money contributed to the Vaccine Fund will continuously increase, creating favorable conditions for the Government of Vietnam in implementing a large-scale Covid-19 vaccination campaign for the people.

Evaluation of Vietnam’s Vaccine Fund

According to the Ministry of Health, to vaccinate 75% of the population, it is expected that Vietnam will need to buy 150 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine. The total cost is estimated at 25,200 billion VND, in which the cost of buying vaccines is about 21 trillion VND, the cost for transportation, preservation, distribution and organization of vaccination is about 4,200 billion VND. Currently, Vietnam is still a developing country. Covid-19 has caused great difficulties for the country’s economy. If the purchase of vaccines only relies on the State budget, the goal of 75% of the population vaccinated is really challenging, even impossible. Therefore, the establishment of the Vaccine Fund is a necessity and an effective initiative of Vietnam to mobilize the large contributions of all Vietnamese people.

Finding opportunities to access vaccines is the solution not only in Vietnam but also in many countries around the world. In fact, vaccination has helped many countries worldwide significantly reduce new Covid-19 cases every day. Therefore, Vietnam’s solution to promote vaccination to have community immunity is also a right direction, in line with the general trend of the world.

International organizations in Vietnam highly appreciate the initiative of Vietnam’s Vaccine Fund because it proves the Government’s quick adaptation. According to Dr. Kidong Park, the Representative of World Health Organization in Vietnam, the Government of Vietnam’s mobilization of resources to improve access to a Covid-19 vaccine is timely, in line with the global vaccinating initiative. Dr. Kidong Park highly appreciated Vietnam’s solidarity through contributing to the Vaccine Fund: “It is this solidarity that will help Vietnam end the pandemic. It is hoped that Vietnam will continue to be an example of a universal approach to ending the pandemic.”

Sharing the same point of view with Dr. Kidong Park, Mr. Kamal Malhotra – UN Resident Coordinator in Vietnam said: “This is a good initiative which the UN has been supporting for many months now”. From the perspective of the United Nations, Mr. Kamal Malhotra said that the Vietnamese Government’s establishment of the Vaccine Fund is the right solution. The Covid-19 epidemic is considered unprecedented for more than a century, a national emergency for any country. Only the Government has capacity to coordinate this fund.

Sharing about Vietnam’s initiative to establish a Covid-19 vaccine fund, Ambassador Giorgio Aliberti – Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Vietnam said that the establishment of the fund is an important part of the overall facing strategy with Covid-19 epidemic in Vietnam. The Ambassador believes that, in this strategy, the Government of Vietnam plays a key role in mobilizing and getting various resources involved. Ambassador Giorgio Aliberti said, “This shows that the Government has fully grasped the need, and so needs to take faster steps. This is a very positive thing.”

The Vaccine Fund is a humane solution of the Vietnamese Government in epidemic prevention and control. It is to create opportunities to access vaccines to many people under the motto of “leaving no one behind”. Moreover, the Vaccine Fund is a symbol of the solidarity and unity of Vietnamese people. Each VND contributed to the Fund is not only a contribution of efforts and money but also the sharing and community responsibility of the people to the Party and Government. The rapidly increasing amount of money contributed to the Fund every day is the evidence of trust of agencies, organizations and people in the right initiative of the Government in establishing the Vaccine Fund.

The prevention and control of the Covid-19 epidemic is a long and arduous battle. The Vaccine Fund is the Government of Vietnam’s new solution to create community immunity, step by step repelling the disease and bring the safe normal life back to the people.

[1] According to Vietnam Television’s 19 o’clock Newsletter, June 20, 2021

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Southeast Asia

Can ‘border guard’ diplomacy strengthen ties between Myanmar-Bangladesh?

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photo: The Irrawaddy

The 8th Border Conference between Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) has started. The conference, which started today Thursday (November 24, 2022) in Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw, will continue for 5 days.

A 10-member delegation led by BGB Director General Major General Sakil Ahmed participated in the conference. In addition to the senior officials of BGB, the delegation includes representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, a 15-member delegation led by Myanmar Police Force Deputy Chief of Police Major General Aung Naing Thuy participated in the conference. Apart from senior BGP officials, the team includes representatives from the ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, External Affairs and Immigration and Population Affairs.

The conference started with a formal meeting at 9 am local time in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw on Thursday (November 24).

In the conference, de-escalation of the tense situation on the border caused by the recent internal conflict in Myanmar, violation of airspace, combating inter-state terrorism and preventing the activities of cross-border criminal gangs, prevention of illegal infiltration, prevention of other drugs and human trafficking including yaba and crystal meth ice, increasing mutual cooperation in the overall security of the border, Exchange of various information related to the border, conducting joint patrols, organizing regular coordination meetings or flag meetings at the region and battalion levels, repatriation of detained or imprisoned citizens of both countries, return of forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens to their original homeland and discussion on various ways to increase mutual trust between BGB and BGP will be.

In addition, the conference will have very effective and fruitful discussions on the repatriation of detained or imprisoned citizens of both countries, the return of forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens to their original homelands and various ways to increase mutual trust between BGB-BGP. The Bangladesh delegation is scheduled to return to Dhaka after the conference on November 28.

A flag meeting was held between a nine-member Bangladesh delegation led by the captain of Teknaf 2 BGB Battalion and a nine-member delegation led by Lt. Col. Kao Na Yan Shor, commanding officer of Border Guard Police Branch No. 1, Myanmar Maungdu, at Shahpari Island in Cox’s bazar on Sunday at 10 am.

Last August and September, massive gunfire and mortar shelling erupted between the country’s army and the Arakan Army, an insurgent group in Rakhine state, inside Myanmar on the Tumbru border in Naikshyongchari. On August 28, two shells fired by Myanmar landed in the territory of Bangladesh. Bangladesh strongly protested by summoning the Myanmar ambassador several times over the incident of firing on the border.

In a flag meeting on October 30 at Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) both expressed remorse for recent border incidents. BGB discussed the issue of border shelling at the beginning of the meeting. Several times there were protests against mortar shells and helicopter flights violating the airspace inside Bangladesh.

Myanmar expressed grief over the border tension, helicopter flights, firing and mortar fire from Myanmar and the loss of life and property on the border of Bangladesh. Also, Myanmar’s BGP has promised that such incidents will not happen in future. At the same time, BGB-BGP agreed to work together on the border situation. The meeting discussed working to stop infiltration, drug smuggling.

BGP pledged to uphold a peaceful stance on the border in order to prevent the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar from being impacted by the civil war in Myanmar. Such a meeting demonstrates that all parties have a culture of open communication, mutual trust, and confidence that will serve to clear the road for the repatriation of the Rohingya.

The border conference between Myanmar-Bangladesh gives senior leaders of participating militaries and security personnel the chance to forge closer ties of friendship and collaboration. Participants are also able to share best practices and lessons learned.

Additionally, it strengthens participants’ mutual understanding of each other’s advantages and main challenges in border regions, fostering cooperation in the face of transnational threats.

The militaries cooperate to find solutions to problems that they share and to look for chances for training exchanges between the participating countries. Myanmar and Bangladesh both can consider the conference to be a crucial occasion for Armies to comprehend the regional ties.

Recognizing that it is more difficult to detect security issues such as transnational threats, narcotrafficking, illicit mining, illegal immigration, and other transnational crime in the border areas due to their thick topography.

The security of the border is a challenge and a shared goal for all neighboring states. Our two countries have long-standing cooperation, but it was strengthened between the two forces with this conference, strengthening cooperation and building trust measures, which is a key factor in achieving hemispheric security objectives. The participants can openly discuss the issues at hand as well as the successful solutions put forth in each nation.

Bangladesh and Myanmar must place a high priority on maintaining a secure state border and takes the necessary precautions to stop the flow of terrorist combatants, illicit drug and weapon trafficking, and other international organized crime.

Cross-border and other security threats have grown more complicated over the past few years, and difficulties are piling up quickly. Threats including international organized crime, human trafficking, terrorism, and drug trafficking are too great for any state to handle on its own. It is essential to increase cooperation on both a regional and global scale.

We encourage regional cooperation to increase readiness and foster confidence in fending off global dangers while upholding human rights.

In order to combat terrorism and violent extremism within border security and management and implement the holistic approach to security, both parties should emphasize the importance of enhancing cooperation between the government, law enforcement, and civil society. Results are only attained by employing comprehensive and constructive – hard and soft – solutions to border security management including both government, security and defense enforcement forces and civil society players.

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Southeast Asia

Sustain instability in Myanmar is censure to India’s Act East Policy: Time for Proactive measure

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photo: Wikipedia

Myanmar’s political situation is worsening and will remain so, as the UN special envoy for Myanmar warns of an acute political, human rights, and humanitarian crisis. The Arakan Army (AA), having a ceasefire with the military just before the coup, is now fighting against Tatmadaw (now Sit-Tat), and a fierce battle is going on in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The recent conflict poses considerable security implications for regional security in particular and India’s internal security in the northeast region, with the military resorting to harsh crackdowns with lethal weapons, even fighter aircraft.

Current situation 

The implication of AA raising arms against Sit-tat is huge as; first; AA is one of the most influential, more disciplined, well-equipped Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) and is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with for the military junta. Second, it will shift the balance of power toward the resistance forces. Previously, the AA has trained and provided technical support to numerous armed forces resistance groups. It enhances the National Unity Government (NUGs)-a group of ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) politicians, activists, and representatives of several ethnic minority group strength to fight Sit-Tat. Recently, NUG claimed that People’s Defence Forces (PDFs) and allied EROs effectively control half of Myanmar’s territory and demanded official recognition at the 77th UN general assembly. Seeing losing grip, the Sit-Tat extended its hand to negotiate with various armed groups. However, many armed groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and Chin National Army (CNA), refused to negotiate on the pretext that the peace talk is not inclusive without the participation of NUG. 

With Sit-Tat getting overwhelming support from Russia and China, India’s policy toward Myanmar is that of ‘Twin-Track.’ The policy maker fears taking any black-and-white approach considering the hard-earned peace in the northeast region after decades of insurgency.

Previously, under operation sunrise, Sit-Tat helped India to ambush insurgents in its territory. The ASEAN nations were initially hopeful of negotiations and came up with a five-point action plan to solve the crisis but now banned the Myanmar generals ASEAN until any progress on the peace plan. The Western sanctions remain primarily ineffective due to prolonged isolation and the self-sustaining economy of Myanmar, but a change in the policy, especially from India, with Western countries’ support, can change Myanmar’s situation.

Challenge to India’s Internal Security 

With people’s perception toward Sit-Tat is shifting drastically since the coup, and now people are calling it ရွံစရာ (jun zaja), which means loathsomeness and disgust. The image of Sit-Tat will continue to deteriorate, considering its human rights violations, which was not the case during the previous military rule. According to the UN report, more than 1.3 million people have been displaced, nearly 28,000 homes destroyed, and an undetermined number of innocent people, mainly children and women, have lost their lives following the coup. With over 40,000 Myanmar refugees taking shelter at 60 camps in Mizoram, the situation is posing a serious challenge to India’s national security. The current crisis has blocked India’s gateway to the southeast Asian nation and India’s ambitious Act East Policy (AEP) is at a standstill. AEP without a stable Myanmar is neither fruitful nor feasible. Also, continuous infighting and the increasing influence of EAOs have reduced the sit-tat capacity to support India’s counter-insurgency operations. Further, the reports of the Myanmar junta joining hands with the Indian insurgent group has forced India to contemplate reorienting northeast India’s security apparatus. 

On the other hand, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) repeated incursion at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) pushed New Delhi to deploy the Indian army at the border, keeping the responsibility of COIN operations with Assam Rifle. Currently, only one army brigade of more than 35 out of 46 battalions of Assam Rifle (AR) is available for COIN operation. There is a massive workforce shortage of AR personnel at the Myanmar border, and even the customs department faces a crunch of human resources and inadequate warehouse facilities, leading to increased drug trafficking and illegal trade along the border. Various reports show the increase in drug trafficking and smuggling of exotic animals in northeast India, Southeast Asia, and beyond following the Myanmar coup. The possibility that the ‘Golden Triangle,’ infamous for illegal drug trafficking, converting ‘into the ‘Golden Quadrilateral,’ i.e., the Northeast region becoming a prominent hub for drug smuggling, is relatively high and goes beyond ‘urgent attention.’ 

Changing Approach

India must change course from ‘Twin -Track’ to that of proactiveness and start supporting democratic forces. Myanmar, which is so critical and at crossroads to ‘India’s Neighbourhood First policy and AEP, is not finding a due place in India’s foreign policy initiative and lacks ‘Myanmar consciousness‘ as well advocated by Jaideep Chanda in his book ‘Irrawaddy Imperative: Reviewing India’s Myanmar Strategy.’ However, there is a sharp contrast in China’s policy initiative. Despite the situation in Myanmar, China vows to provide unconditional support to the military junta and is even considering pursuing EAOs to stop supporting pro-democracy forces and recognise the military junta. Therefore, India’s strategic manoeuvre must be in sync with India’s policy initiative and must be bold in taking any black-and-white approach. The resolution comes from the power of strength and not from maintaining the status quo. 

With the prevailing situation, chances are dim that Sit-Tat can establish control over the country. Further, neither the UN nor the ASEAN countries have recognized the military junta. Also, next year’s proposed election will undoubtedly fall short of international standards for free and fair elections, leading to further crises. In this regard, India’s foreign policy regarding Myanmar seems passive; thereby, India must make course corrections and support democratic forces. India’s support will strengthen New Delhi’s connection with Myanmar’s people and improve its global image as a democratic country, somewhat dented by India’s undeclared support to Russia in the ongoing conflict. New Delhi’s stake in Myanmar is very high; the Kaladan multi-modal project, which is supposed to connect the northeast region with the Bay of Bengal and a trilateral highway that extends India’s reach to Thailand, is yet to be completed. Further, apart from forging ties with the democratic forces, New Delhi must look into changing the security apparatus of Northeast India. This change in security apparatus requires making Assam Rifle purely a border guarding force and enhancing the capability and capacity of state police forces in dealing with the insurgency in the region. Therefore, New Delhi needs a holistic correction in its national security apparatus in northeast India and must keep its strategic initiative in line with its Act East Policy. Failing to do so allows other state actors like China and Russia to play a more significant role where India’s initiative could make a difference.

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Southeast Asia

‘Mr. Trong Goes to Beijing’: General Secretary Trong’s Beijing Visit Affirms Vietnamese Balancing Act with China

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Image source: China MFA

Between October 30 and November 2, Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in a decorous affair filled with a twenty-one gun salute and Xi’s presentation of China’s Friendship Medal to Trong.  Although notable for many reasons, Trong’s visit was the first by a foreign leader to China since Xi consolidated power and secured an unprecedented third term as the General Secretary. The trip signaled unity among two of only five remaining communist-led countries while resulting in more tangible outcomes like the signing of multiple economic agreements.

Despite its significance, the visit has inspired a slew of overactions claiming that this visit has brought “Chinese-Vietnam relations to [a] new stage” or “[the trip] affirms their ties as firm as ever” and “sends a strong signal that Vietnam is not going to side with the U.S. against China.”  Although the visit is significant, what these hyperbolic reactions are missing is that Trong’s Beijing visit is not an aberration of Vietnam’s China policy, representing a significant shift that signals a Vietnam firmly in the Chinese camp. Instead, it signifies a part of Vietnam’s longstanding, complicated approach to China that includes anxiety and distrust while rhetorically playing up the two countries’ shared ideological and political systems to maintain healthy relations, which is underpinned by growing its security ties with the United States.

A Statecraft Rooted in History

After a long history of invasion and colonization by larger powers, modern-day Vietnamese statecraft prioritizes sovereignty and independence. Beginning in 111BC, China invaded Vietnam, which kicked off a nearly 1,000-year reign of Chinese dominance in the country. In AD 939, Vietnam achieved independence but had to contend with Chinese aggression until the French established Vietnam as a protectorate in 1883. French domination lasted until the communist national movement led by Ho Chi Minh expelled the French after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and the subsequent American invasion in 1975 before unifying the country under the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Similarly, the Chinese Communist Party, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, unified China under the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As expected in the ideologically driven Cold War environment, Vietnam and China quickly developed close relations built on ideological fellowship and mutual trust. However, bilateral ties quickly deteriorated when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978 to remove Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. China responded by invading Vietnam in 1979, resulting in a brief, bloody border war.

The two countries normalized relations in 1991 and have since had a cooperative relationship, particularly with economic engagement, despite Vietnam’s anxieties and distrust of its larger neighbor. In 2008, China and Vietnam upgraded their ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership, a status that only China holds. Resultingly, the economic relationship has significantly deepened. China is Vietnam’s top trading partner, one of its most significant sources of raw materials, its second-largest export market, and Vietnam’s eighth-largest source of Foreign Direct Investment, which increased two-fold between 2011 and 2017.

Increasingly Negative Perceptions of China

Economic engagement is complicated by China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea as it relates to its overlapping claims with Vietnam. Vietnam lays claim over the Spratly and Paracel islands, arguing that they fall within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Meanwhile, China has openly called its claims illegal, militarized the region, built artificial islands including, 3,200 acres in the Spratlys, and prevented Vietnam from taking advantage of the resources there. Significant examples include a 2020 altercation where a Chinese coast guard vessel sunk a Vietnamese fishing ship near the Paracel Islands or when it agreed to pay about a billion dollars to two foreign oil companies after it canceled their contracts due to Chinese pressure.

Resultingly, negative perceptions of China and positive perceptions of the United States among Vietnamese remain high. The Singaporean-based think tank, the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, conducts an annual survey of prevailing Southeast Asian attitudes and concerns. In its most recent survey in 2022, when asked which country Vietnamese have the most confidence will provide leadership and uphold the rules-based order international law, 56.9 percent chose the United States, while only 11.8 percent picked China. More telling, when asked if forced to choose which superpower the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should align with, 73.6 percent of Vietnamese chose the United States. In comparison, only 26.4 percent opted for China.

The most violent manifestation of Vietnamese distrust of Beijing was in 2014 after violent anti-Chinese riots erupted following China stationed an oil rig in Vietnamese-claimed territory. In response, Vietnamese leaders sent a group of ships to the area, met by over eighty Chinese boats that deployed water cannons as a deterrent, and later two other Chinese ships armed with anti-air missiles. The reaction in Vietnam, where anti-Chinese nationalism is always smoldering, was visceral. Vietnamese citizens targeted Chinese citizens by attacking them, burning/destroying their businesses, and running many out of the country. Over twenty people lost their lives, while hundreds were injured.

The U.S. as a Hedge

While Vietnam has deepened its economic engagement with Beijing, it has simultaneously hedged against Chinese aggression by deepening security ties with the United States. In 2013, the two countries signed the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership, and three years after that, President Barack Obama announced the end of the U.S. arms embargo against Vietnam. This decision would mark a fundamental shift in U.S.-Vietnamese relations.

Since then, Vietnam has taken part in the United States Rim of the Pacific naval exercises (despite missing this year) and hosted the U.S. Secretary of Defense every year since 2018. Meanwhile, the United States has anchored multiple aircraft carriers in Vietnamese ports and provided Vietnam with over $60 million in security assistance between 2017 and 2020. As Vietnamese Prime Minister Chinh noted during the ASEAN-U.S. Summit in Washington D.C. earlier this year, where he extended his stay to deepen relations with key U.S. power brokers, the two countries’ relationship is “special.”

Vietnam’s security situation necessitates a strong relationship with the United States, which acts as a counterweight to Chinese aggression in the region, particularly in the South China Sea, with a robust military presence and consistent Freedom of Navigation Operations. Overall, Vietnam and the United States are aligned in their support of an international rules-based order that often puts them at odds with China, which many fear have revisionist intentions.

Lip Service Goes a Long Way

Having the United States as a hedge is critical as Vietnam strives to maintain healthy bilateral relations with China, despite Chinese aggression and unpopularity domestically and because of the sturdy economic interdependence.

This endeavor to maintain a healthy relationship often manifests in Vietnam picking and choosing its battles with China to prevent an unnecessary escalation of tension while paying lip service with diplomatic overtures. For instance, before Trong participated in the second annual Belt and Road Initiative forum, authorities directed the press to refrain from any negative coverage of China. Similarly, Vietnam has refused to take China to international court mainly because it would be an exercise in angering China for little pay off, as the Philippines found out. Its lukewarm response to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and Global Security Initiative (GSI), where leaders have rhetorically shown support but failed to embrace it substantively (the majority of Vietnamese infrastructure projects that use Chinese financing date back to 2016 or before and leadership spoke positively of the GSI without committing to taking part in it) is also telling.

In the same vein, Trong’s trip was filled with rhetoric that focused on “comradeship and brotherhood” while thirteen economic agreements that steadied up supply chains were signed.  Unsurprisingly, a week after the Trong-Xi meeting, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with President Joe Biden during the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits to extend an invitation from Trong to Biden to visit Vietnam and discuss ways to bolster the two countries’ comprehensive partnership. On the one hand, it made low-stake diplomatic overtures to its northern neighbor and secured robust economic engagement; on the other, it used the United States as a bulwark.

With this historical context, the Trong-Xi meeting is better understood not as an aberration but as something that neatly into an established Vietnamese-China policy. While Vietnam has serious concerns regarding Chinese actions and intentions, it prioritizes a healthy bilateral relationship with China, partly for economic reasons, while pursuing a security relationship with the United States to mitigate the consequences. Although the Trong visit was significant, it did not signal a fundamental shift in Vietnamese foreign policy but affirmed the longstanding tenets of its post-1991 China policy.

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