FocusOSA #22: Vietnam: Foreign Affairs

Recently Vietnam has played an active role in Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum meeting. At present the organisation, established in 1993, includes 27 countries of the region and the government in Hanoi has been enhancing its diplomatic activity within the framework of the APPF since it joined the group. Forum meeting has been the second event in recent months, after the APEC Summit, that made Vietnam the world’s focal point. During the first plenary session Chairperson of the National Assembly of Vietnam, Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân, proposed adopting a resolution on peace, security, sustainable development, climatic changes, regional cooperation, food security and promotion of culture. Thanks to the Vietnamese delegation’s actions Hanoi Declaration – A New Vision for the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Partnership – including cooperation prospects and determining the role of the APPF in the changing global order, has also been adopted. The document refers to the resolutions of the last year’s APEC Summit and Vietnam, trying to benefit from organisational success, takes on the role of the co-ordinator of the cooperation between Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum. The government in Hanoi perceives the APPF as a tool of strengthening regional cooperation and MPs of other countries of the region as advocates able to influence individual governments’ decisions in matters concerning Vietnam. Organising Forum meeting and the APEC summit is considered a diplomatic success of Hanoi government and significant contribution towards creating a conducive atmosphere for cooperation in the region of Asia and Pacific. Thanks to preparation of international events of such character, Vietnam tries to build an image of a country which is active on the international arena, involved in building stability in the region, open and modern, which, judging by the participants’ comments, has proved successful.

Moreover, Vietnam has enhanced its activity for the sake of cooperation within the framework of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation forum. Due to the weakening position of Mekong River Commission the government in Hanoi begins to perceive the LMC as the only effective mechanism of cooperation with China, where the stance of the lower reaches countries can be heard. Although wide-ranging plans of Beijing’s cooperation with the countries of Indochinese Peninsula within the framework of the LMC correspond with the need for development in this part of Southeast Asia, countries such as Vietnam are concerned with potential consequences of the extension of hydroenergetic infrastructure and increasing dominance of China in the region. It is demonstrated by the fact that the LMC national secretariat has not been opened in Hanoi. On the other hand, the mechanism can be used to mitigate the tension between Vietnam and China which wants to build a positive image of Beijing in the region. At Phnom Penh summit participants adopted a declaration emphasising the necessity of allowing access to hydrological and meteorological data, which was of utmost importance to Vietnam, most exposed to floods and droughts. Such a decision demonstrates China’s willingness to cooperate with the countries of the Mekong lower reaches, where Beijing helped Vietnam struggle against the effects of droughts by releasing reservoir water on Chinese dams in March 2016. However, the profit and loss ratio for the government in Hanoi within the framework of the LMC is still an open issue. It is also worth considering whether and how Vietnam is going to prevent potential hydrological changes, affecting agriculture in the Mekong Delta. Hanoi should also take into account the fact that the countries present at Phnom Penh summit agreed that they would cooperate and execute projects while allowing for policy and objectives of ASEAN. This is another positive signal which, at the level of governmental declarations, can be understood as an attempt of all Mekong Delta countries to make a positive impact on integration processes in the region. Thus, this signal enables Association of Southeast Asian Nations to play a greater role in disputes connected with the river resources. What is more, the organisation can also take advantage of the Lancang Mekong Cooperation mechanism as an element which supports building ASEAN Economic Cooperation. It seems that China, most of all, will lead the way in the area of the Mekong basin integration, thanks to including the LMC in the broader initiative of the Belt and the Road, which speaks in Beijing’s favour.