Vietnam- Russia’s Key Ally in ASEAN

25.02.2018 Author: Dmitry Bokarev

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The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was at one time one of the poorest countries in Asia. But, as a result of the transformation that the country has undergone in the last few decades, many are now of the opinion that it deserves to be considered as one of the ‘Asian tigers’ – a designation that traditionally refers to Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. It is worth noting that Russia has successfully developed its relationship with Vietnam, a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), in particular.

At the end of the 1980s Vietnam started introducing certain elements of free market principles into its economy, while still preserving socialistic base. This decision played a significant role in developing Vietnam’s manufacturing, energy, science, agriculture and tourism sectors, and boosted its foreign trade. These changes also led to an increase in foreign investment. This renewal of Vietnam’s economy is still continuing, making it one of the leaders in the ASEAN group.

It is worth noting that China is exercising a strong influence over the ASEAN countries, an influence which is steadily growing as a result both of the USA’s loss of influence in the region, and of China’s own ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative. Vietnam is no exception: China is a major exporter into this country. Vietnam is actively involved in the OBOR initiative and is developing its transport links with China. The KunmingSingapore railway, which will link China with the ASEAN countries, runs through almost the whole of the Indochinese peninsula.

However, Vietnam has been able to resist China’s influence to a certain extent. It is doing what it can to develop a mutually beneficial working relationship with China without allowing China to influence its foreign policy or trade links. Thus, Vietnam’s key trade partners include the USA, the leading importer of Vietnamese goods. Vietnam also actively supported the now-abandoned Trans-Pacific Partnership, in which the USA and Japan were to play a leading role and which China viewed as a challenge to its economic supremacy in Asia.

One further factor in Vietnam’s success in the ASEAN group is its relationship with its neighbor Laos. The two countries’ shared border is more than 2 100 km long, and ethnic Vietnamese constitute the largest section of Laos’s population. Vietnam played a leading role in the formation of the modern nation of Laos: the Vietnamese army fought in the Laotian Civil War (1968-1973), and the two countries have had a close relationship ever since. Vietnam is now Laos’s main foreign investor (with a total investment of approximately $5 billion) and an important trade partner. A record level of over $1 billion trade between the due countries was reached as early as 2014. The two countries are continuing to expand their cooperation, not only in the economic sphere but also in relation to cultural, political and security issues.

As a matter of fact, Vietnam and Laos can be seen as an alliance within ASEAN. Since each member of ASEAN has a vote and veto right within the organization, Vietnam’s close relationship with Laos significantly increases its influence within the group.

Vietnam has a similarly close relationship with another neighbor- Cambodia. In January 2018 there was a meeting of the Organizing Committee of the Vietnam-Laos Solidarity and Friendship Year 2017 and the Vietnam-Cambodia Solidarity and Friendship Year 2017. This event was led by the Vietnam’s Foreign Minister, Phạm Bình Minh. The meeting reviewed the results of the Year, which Phạm Bình Minh held to be a success. He said that Vietnam’s links with Laos and Cambodia were continually getting stronger, and growing in all sectors.

We can conclude that Vietnam is one of the most successful and influential countries in the ASEAN group, with an active foreign policy and a real influence in both ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific region. As a result those countries wishing to develop their relationship with ASEAN would do well to start with Vietnam. That is precisely the course that Russia is following at the moment.

The good relationship between Vietnam and Russia dates back to the Second Indochina War, in which the USSR provided the Vietnamese Communists with invaluable support in their fight against South Vietnamese forces, supported by US interventionists.

In 1994, after the fall of the USSR, Vietnam and Russia signed a Treaty of Friendship. After that, they continued to develop their cooperation in economic, political and military matters.

In 2012, the two countries published a joint declaration on a comprehensive strategic partnership.

As during the Soviet period, Russia and Vietnam continue to cooperate in the military and technical sphere. Russia provides the Vietnamese army and navy with military hardware, and Vietnamese soldiers undergo training in Russia. As it is known cooperation in the military and related spheres is a sign of the high level of trust between the two countries.

Russia and Vietnam are also working together on financial matters, oil and gas extraction and nuclear power projects. Cooperation in the area of tourism is also growing healthily. In 2017, for example, Vietnam was visited by more than half a million Russian tourists.

In 2015 trade between Russia and Vietnam was approximately $3.9 billion, and since then Vietnam has been Russia’s major trade partner in ASEAN.

One major achievement in the growth of economic cooperation between Russia and Vietnam has been the Free Trade Agreement between Vietnam and the Eurasian Economic Union, a body in which Russia plays the leading role. This agreement was signed in May 2015 and came into effect in October 2016.

It was not long before the agreement began to yield fruit. The level of trade between Russia and Vietnam has recently increased considerably. In the first quarter of 2017 trade between the two countries surpassed $984 million, which was almost 24% more than the figure for the equivalent period in the previous year. In the second quarter of 2017 trade between Russia and Vietnam was in excess of $1 billion, 32% higher than the figure for the second quarter in 2016. And, finally, the figure for the third quarter of 2017 was almost $1.5 billion, 57% higher than the figure for the equivalent period in 2016.

To sum up, we can say that Vietnam is a reliable partner of Russia. The two countries have decades of friendly relations behind them, and great plans for the future. Vietnam is one of the most successful and influential ASEAN countries and, as a result, friendship with Vietnam can help Russia to develop its relations with all the other countries in the group.

Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.