Update of Vietnam’s foreign policy
Despite being a socialist country with a non-democratic form of government, Vietnam has recently made many surprising improvements in relations with different countries.
The visit of the United States (US) President Joe Biden to Vietnam, from 10th – 11th September 2023, signified a renewed commitment to further forge stronger cooperation between the US and Vietnam. The biggest achievement of the Biden’s trip to Hanoi was the signing of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Vietnam. This symbolized the two countries’ commitment to forge stronger ties. Both countries also released a joint statement pledging to work on key areas ranging from political and diplomatic cooperation, economics, science and technology, education and training, to climate and energy cooperation, defence, and security.
Moreover, both countries were keen to deepen cooperation on emerging technologies, critical supply chains, and semiconductors in which the US also secured a Memorandum of Cooperation on Semiconductor Supply Chains, Workforce, and Ecosystem Development deal with Vietnam for the procurement of semiconductors and minerals – in an attempt to help the US diversify supply chains away from China. The US also plans to announce steps to help Vietnam diversify away from an over-reliance on Russian arms hoping to make the US appear more attractive and a reliable partner.
In addition, despite Vietnam having maritime territorial issues with China in the South China Sea, Hanoi’s relations with Beijing can also be comparable to its relations with the US. The meeting between Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on 16 September 2023 pledged to bring bilateral ties to a new level. China is willing to expand mutually beneficial cooperation with Vietnam and expand import, trade, and supply chain connectivity. Prime Minister Pham also affirmed that the Vietnamese Party and State attach great importance and consider the friendly, stable, and healthy cooperative relationship with China a strategic choice and top priority in Vietnam’s foreign policy.
Apart from the US and China, Vietnam also extended its cooperation with Brazil, France, the European Commission (EC), and Canada on the sidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), on 8 June, in Paris. Seeking to enhance the comprehensive partnership deal with Brazil, promoting the Vietnam – France comprehensive partnership, promoting bilateral investment with the EC, and fostering Vietnam – Canada comprehensive partnership are the main areas of Vietnam’s engagement with the old and new non-Asian actors.
Many believe Vietnam is pursuing a “multidirectional foreign policy” in which Hanoi is engaging and developing diverse and dynamic bilateral relations with all nations. However, despite the security cooperation with the US, Vietnam is viewed as making plans to buy an arsenal of weapons from Russia, by secretly paying for defense purchases through transfers at a joint Vietnamese and Russian oil venture in Siberia, a contravention of American sanctions. Some viewed the US relations with Vietnam as a crucial step in the US strategy to contain Beijing which could turn Hanoi into a geopolitical battleground for major powers in the near future.
With Vietnam’s multidirectional foreign policy, Vietnam is likely to reap more benefits from major and regional powers. However, Hanoi would need to balance those relations to avoid being turned into an arena for power competition.
Cambodia’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Hun Manet
After assuming the role as the new Cambodia’s Prime Minister (PM) in August 2023, Hun Manet has already embarked on a journey with many clear messages that are presumably the new era of Phnom Penh’s politics.
China was the first state that PM Hun Manet chose to conduct his bilateral high-profile meeting after becoming the prime minister. The visit, from 14 – 16 September 2023, saw the meeting of PM Hun Manet with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials in Beijing with his plan to attend a weekend trade and investment expo in Southern China. The prime minister expressed Cambodia’s ambition to forge stronger ties with China and expressed gratitude for China’s economic support. PM Hun Manet also showed strong support for China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and the “One China” principle.
Both countries also agreed to deepen strategic synergy between Cambodia’s Pentagonal Strategy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with a focus on developing a diamond cooperation in six priority areas, including developing Preah Sihanouk province as a model of the multipurpose Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and expediting the progress of the “Fish and Rice Corridor”. The Chinese Defence Ministry will also hold an annual joint exercise in Cambodia from mid-to-late September to enhance their coordinated action and emergency response.
In addition, Cambodia’s relations with the US have gotten a fresh new start with PM Hun Manet in office. The meeting between the prime minister and the visiting US delegation from the Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Alex Carnes, who is the staff director of the Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, in August 2023, saw both countries’ desire for better cooperation. Cambodia maintains an open and welcoming stance towards any collaborative endeavors that intend to strengthen the Cambodia – US relationship. The US also strongly urged Cambodia to make progress on human rights, independent media, and release political opponents and activists.
In addition to the US and China, in less than three months in office, PM Hun Manet also showed his willingness to forge and aim for better cooperation with the EU urging the bloc to continue to support the country in agriculture, education, and the country’s governance.
Prime Minister Hun Manet said “Cambodia will continue on its present path of independence and neutral foreign policy based on the rule of law, equal mutual respect, and adherence to the principle of the UN Charter”. However, some believed one of the key features of Prime Minister Hun Manet’s foreign policy is likely to be the art of diplomatic hedging, with a strong emphasis on forging equiproximate relations with all key partners. Others believed that Cambodia would still adhere to maintaining close relations with China in return for receiving significant investments, loans, and grants from China to build infrastructure while there are those who thought the kingdom was trying to move away from being too over-relying on Beijing.
It is clear Cambodia’s foreign policy is to engage with all actors; however, it is also visible that Cambodia is slightly tilted to China, compared to the US, with the recent visit to Beijing by PM Hun Manet.
Sovinda Po is a Research Assistant at the Griffith Asia Institute.