Webinar on “Vietnam’s Foreign Policy and Position in Regional and Global Context after the 13th Party Congress”

In this webinar, Dr Hai Hong Nguyen examined what would Vietnam’s foreign policy be like after the 13th Party Congress, and how will Vietnam view regional and global mechanisms like ASEAN and the UN and their importance in enabling Hanoi to achieve its foreign policy goals.


Friday, 11 December 2020 – With the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) expected to hold its 13th Party Congress in the first quarter of 2021, the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted Dr Hai Hong Nguyen to discuss “Vietnam’s Foreign Policy and Position in Regional and Global Context after the 13th Party Congress”. Dr Hai is an Associate Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Futures, the University of Queensland (UQ), Australia.

Dr Hai Hong Nguyen
Dr Hai Hong Nguyen compared foreign policy directions adopted during the 12th Party Congress and the ones proposed for the 13th Congress. Mr Lye Liang Fook moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Hai explained that Vietnam’s foreign policy is generally adopted and updated through the five-yearly party congresses. The drafting of the key policy documents to be adopted during the congress commences two years earlier, with the involvement of party and governmental agencies that are responsible for foreign policy, such as the foreign affairs and defence ministries and the CPV’s Commission for External Relations. Inputs are also sought from plenary committees and specialists. Moreover, unlike their Chinese counterparts, the VCP also releases these draft documents to the media for public feedback.

In his comparison of the foreign policy directions adopted during the 12th Party Congress and the ones proposed for the 13th Congress, Dr Hai primarily saw thematic continuity with some slight changes. The draft documents extended the 12th Party Congress’ commitments for Vietnam to engage with and play a substantive role in multilateral institutions and mechanisms, such as the U.N and ASEAN, and to affirm the role of international law in the settlement of maritime issues. What changed, however, was the fact that certain foreign policy imperatives are now made “clearer, more extensive and specific”. For one, the draft documents for the 13th Congress specifically identify APEC and Greater Mekong Sub-Region Cooperation as some of the other multilateral mechanisms that Vietnam should further engage in. Explicit reference is also made to the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) when maritime issues are mentioned. There is also a greater emphasis on Vietnam playing a “proactive” role in multilateral organisations, which is most recently evinced by the country’s chairmanship of ASEAN and its involvement as a non-permanent rotating member of the UN Security Council in 2020.  

Dr Hai provided an overview of the current state of Vietnam’s relations with its five most important external partners: Japan, the United States, India, Australia and China. He characterised Vietnam’s bilateral relationship with China as its most “complicated”. Although the presence of party-to-party relations has occasionally helped to smoothen relations between the two countries, trust-building remains an issue. In particular, Vietnam remains sceptical of Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea and the quality of Chinese-led investment projects in the country. After discussing ASEAN’s and the UN’s importance to Vietnam’s development and security, Dr Hai described Vietnam’s strategy of “going between the lines” in approaching the idea of the Indo-Pacific. While Vietnam has not officially adopted the nomenclature, it has affirmed ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, most recently in its chairman’s statement of the 37th ASEAN Summit. This enables Vietnam to subtly encourage the development of a multilateral institution that can support Vietnam’s security and defence without directly antagonising China.

In the ensuing discussion with the audience, Dr Hai fielded questions relating to Vietnam’s legal strategy to advance its maritime claims in the South China Sea, the prospects for Vietnam-U.S. relations under the incoming Biden’s administration and the possibility of Vietnam’s involvement in an expanded Quad arrangement, among others. The webinar was attended by 93 people from Singapore and abroad.

Over 90 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)