Last week, during the first session of the 15th National Assembly in Hanoi, Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Pham Minh Chinh were officially sworn in as Vietnam’s President and Prime Minister respectively for a five-year term. President Phuc assured the legislators of his commitment to “strengthen the nation” and ensure “people’s unity”; and Prime Minister Chinh emphasized his government’s priority to control the corona virus and adopt an aggressive vaccination strategy for the current surge in cases. Meanwhile, customary congratulatory messages have been pouring in since April from leaders across the globe with assurances of working together with Vietnam and contribute to peace, stability, sustainable development and prosperity in the region and the world. 

In the last four months, Prime Minister Chinh has exhibited extraordinary alacrity in his foreign policy choices and approaches, and successfully positioned Vietnam as a responsible State at the international, multilateral, regional and bilateral levels. Prime Minister Chinh has also supported economic reforms to further energize Vietnam and integrate with the global economy. In that context, Chinh appears not to take sides but to engage economic powerhouses through the ASEAN and also bilaterally with many other countries. 

Prime Minister Chinh has engaged important leaders through in-person conversations and over digital platforms. In his recent meeting with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin in July 2021, Prime Minister Chinh was unambiguous in sharing Vietnam’s foreign policy choices of “independence, self-reliance, multi-lateralization and diversification of external relations, proactive and active international integration, being a good friend, trusted partner and responsible member of the international community”.  The US has acknowledged Vietnam’s preferences and offered COVID-19 pandemic assistance with no strings attached and also assured to help in any other related supply and logistic issues.  It has also contributed over $17.7 million in COVID-19 related assistance to Vietnam since the start of the pandemic and through the USAID provided $5 million to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Vietnamese economy.

Vietnam’s China policy is quite pragmatic and it has withstood external pressures particularly from the US over the South China Sea. Notwithstanding that, in his online conversation with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Chinh has called for “joint efforts in maintaining peace and stability”, “handling issues at sea in the spirit of the common perceptions at the highest level” and utmost respect for international law particularly the 1982 UNCLOS. He also impressed that both  sides should “control differences and heed interests, legal and legitimate rights as well as situation of each other to settle the East Sea issue” and called for “joint efforts with the ASEAN to accelerate the building of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC)”.

The Chinh-Suga conversation over a phone call is significant for Vietnam’s foreign relations with Japan. The two leaders have identified several areas for cooperation and these focus on connectivity infrastructure, environment, innovation-digital transformation, technology transfer on vaccines against COVID-19, Japanese investment in supply chain diversification, industry development and training high-quality human resources. Both the leaders affirmed “opposition to China’s growing maritime assertiveness” and  the recent “implementation of a new law that allows its coast guard to use weapons against ships it views as intruding into its territory.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s economic polices remain unchanged from his predecessor’s and Vietnam can be expected to diversify and widen the number of its trading partners. The external economic engagements through the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Europe-Vietnam FTA, Vietnam-Eurasian Economic Union FTA and the Vietnam-U.K. and Northern Ireland FTA are significant and it aspires to be a manufacturing hub for the region.

India-Vietnam comprehensive strategic partnership lies at the heart of their bilateral relations, and leadership on both sides are investing in consolidating the partnership through numerous avenues and channels. The recent Modi-Chinh conversation has focused on their commitment to “contribute to promoting regional stability as both nations share a similar vision of an open, inclusive, peaceful and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.” Both the sides also agreed to maintain close cooperation in the UNSC as India takes over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for a month on 2nd August. India is also hoping that Vietnam joins the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) which has numerous convergences with the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

In essence, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin is suitably equipped to catapult Vietnam into a developed country by the middle of the 21st century albeit with a ‘socialist orientation’. He can be expected to deepen ties with India and also increase mutual trust by respecting national priorities and interests. 

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Dr Vijay Sakhuja
Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Honorary Distinguished Fellow with CPPR and associated with our Centre for Strategic Studies. Dr. Sakhuja, a former Indian Navy officer, is also former Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He earned his MPhil and PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He specializes in issues of national security and public policy, particularly in the context of ocean affairs, geopolitics, Climate Change, Arctic, Blue Economy and 4th Industrial Revolution Technologies.

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