Prospects of Vietnam -China relations in 2022

The Russia-Ukraine war has cast a heavy shadow on the prospects of any positive developments in South China Sea and in Taiwan Straits. The US and the allies in the East Asian region are apprehensive of the fact that with the ongoing Russian incursions in Ukraine, China might activate its maritime aggressive activities in the adjoining region. More importantly, it is expected that China would also be undertaking specific measures to check the response of the countries such as Japan, Australia, US, and India. With the development of AUKUS it is expected that Britain will be also engaged in this region to protect its strategic interests and also along with a few other European nations such as Germany, it would be conducting a few sailing exercises and other measures so as to approach Indo- Pacific strategy with some action on ground.

China has been apprehensive of the fact that against Russia US was unable to do anything to protect Ukraine and therefore it will be under pressure to conduct its power projection in Taiwan Straits as well as in South China Sea. The year 2021 was marred with incidents such as laser beaming of the US aircraft by the Chinese ships, tailing of US ships by the Chinese submarines, and regular hydrographic survey ships being dispatched by China in the contested waters. These issues which of the international attention are likely to continue this year also. However, acknowledging the fact that China will be undertaking multiple sorties closer to the Air Defence Identification Zone(ADIZ) of Taiwan, therefore it is likely that Taiwan will be forced to upgrade its air defence systems and also purchase new equipment and aircrafts from the US.

In the year 202o Malaysia made a representation to the UN with regard to extended continental shelf. It was supported by countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia. This year also it is expected that the UN might see tensions between the other claimant States and China on the issue of maritime zones in South China Sea.

On the issue of economic complementarities, there will be some developments between China and Vietnam given the fact that Vietnam would be opening its tourism sector and also getting Chinese tourists on short term visas to support its tourism industry including hotels and tour business.  However, with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases again in Chinese border town Baise which is closer to Vietnam border, Vietnam will have to be extra cautious before allowing Chinese tourists to visit Vietnam because its second phase of COVID-19 outbreak was spurred by illegal Chinese tourists.  

China would be trying to seek markets and expand its export basket to the peripheral countries. Given the fact that Vietnam has already signed an FTA with European Union therefore China will meet competition from Vietnamese products and would have to devise a strategy to make its products much more lucrative to the western markets. Vietnam is expected to grow better than the ASEAN average and this might spur foreign direct investment in Vietnam particularly in sectors such as real estate, finance, information technology, communications, digital innovation and IT related services. In fact, Vietnam is also looking for setting up the pandemic research and innovation units along with other ASEAN member states which has been discussed way back in 2020 and the US has equally expressed its interest in developing the necessary infrastructure.

Vietnam is also looking for buildings energy is with other countries including Japan Australia and India so as to support its services industry and also seek better bilateral agreements with these countries. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) which is under implementation phase would also require support from the participating countries, and Japan already has expressed its apprehensions with regard to the implementation plan and also complete adaptation to the tariffs and non-tariff barriers by the member countries.

China would be seeking to establish its manufacturing bases in countries such as Vietnam so as to reap the benefits of trade and circumvent the rules of origin criteria under the RCEP. It is expected that the party-to-party relationship between the communist parties of the two countries would continue unhindered. However, there would be serious dialogue on reinventing the core communist fundamentals and working alongside the other communist parties across the world including that of Cuba and North Korea. China would be also trying to seek avenues for its entry into Comprehensive Treaty of Trans Pacific partnership and in this regard, it might cajole Vietnam to facilitate its entry. China is also looking for developing its relationship with other Indochinese states and would be upgrading its military facility in Cambodia Ream base.

There has been issues with regard to China’s approach given the fact that Cambodian summit of ASEAN would be held this year and it is to be seen how China navigates within the ASEAN agenda and how it places its interest in the larger community of the organization.

One of the important areas which the two countries will be discussing in 2022 would be with regard to the Vietnam China trade facilitation and bilateral cooperation plan outline for the period 2021 to 2025. Other areas where Vietnam and China will be working closely includes apprehending transnational criminal, foreign policy dialogue, development of COVID-19 vaccine and diagnostic treatment, coordinated patrolling in border areas, and better implementation of Cat Linh and Ha Dong urban railway project. Last year the two foreign ministers have talked about promoting the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between the two nations. This year also there would be efforts to bring about comprehensive partnership in select sectors localities, and peoples. This year it is expected that detailed measures related to land border management, regular interaction between land border joint committee, and structured cooperation between different ministries is expected to be taken up between the two sides.

Prof. Pankaj Jha
Prof. Pankaj Jha
Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]