Author: Ta Minh Tuan
Year of publication: 2002
Source: Show
Pages: 51-62
DOI Address:
PDF: ap/5/ap0503.pdf


It is a summary of author’s Ph. D. thesis in political sciences prepared and presented at the Center of East Asian Studies, Institute of Political Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences, in April 2002. The author, a young Vietnamese scholar, analyses two fundamental questions: what the origins of Vietnam’s new foreign policy are and how it evolved from 1986 to 2000.
At the beginning the author presents a general outline of Vietnam’s foreign policy after the reunifi cation of the country, from 1976 to 1986. As he indicates, the military intervention in Cambodia and the short border war with China drained Vietnam’s scarce resources, material and human. The co-operation with Moscow became a cornerstone of its policy, but this resulted in a growing isolation of Vietnam, in particular in Asia.
There were two main factors leading to the political shift in 1986. The fi rst constituted a turbulent domestic situation that resulted from a serious social and economic crisis. The infl ation rocketed, and reached 774.7% in 1986. People’s living standard sharply declined and thousands of workers lost their jobs, whereas tens of thousands of teachers and other state employees gave up their profession. First dissidents emerged in the party circles, etc. The second factor constituted dramatic political and economic changes in the world, in particular the growing political crisis in the Soviet bloc, the reforms in China, economic successes of ASEAN countries, etc. Vietnam found itself in a “political vacuum” and faced a risk of an almost total international isolation, whereas the hopes for a “fraternal help” almost disappeared.
Under such circumstances the doi moi policy was initiated at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party. It declared the need of an emphasis on economic development and allowed the development of free market and private initiatives. Vietnam also modifi ed its foreign policy, initiated “opening” to the outside world and diversifi cation of its foreign relations. It was declared that the over-riding task in foreign relations was maintenance of peace and establishing of friendship and cooperation with other countries in order to create a favourable international environment for “the socialist construction and the defence of the homeland”. In practice, this meant the normalisation of relations with China and with the ASEAN countries, improvement of relations with the Western powers and with “friendly countries”, and integration of Vietnam into regional and world organisations such as AFTA, APEC, and WTO.
The improvement in relations with neighbouring countries was considered the most important and urgent task. So, Vietnam put an end to its involvement in Cambodia, and this facilitated warming up the Sino-Vietnamese relations, although the two sides repeatedly declared that there should be no return to the close alliance of the 1950’s and the 1960’s. This resulted in the development of economic ties with China. Annual average increase in bilateral trade reached the level of 20%, and in 2000 it amounted to almost US$ 3 billion. Although PRC’s role in foreign investments is insignifi cant, the investments of Greater China accounted for 22.8% of the total FDI in the period 1988–1997 (the Taiwanese investments constitute the largest part). There remained, however, the two unsolved problems: of the ethnic Chinese who fl ed to China at the end of the 1970’s and now intend to return, and the borders on the South China Sea. The ASEAN states are no less important. From 1988 to 1998 their investments in Vietnam amounted to almost 30% of Vietnam’s total FDI. The author also analyses Vietnam’s relations with other major powers, with the USA, EU, Russia, and Japan.
The author concludes that since 1986 Vietnam’s foreign policy underwent profound transformations: 1) the strategy of peaceful co-operation was adopted and that of the “revolutionary war against imperialism” abandoned; 2) the signifi cance of the ideological factor was reduced and a pragmatic course introduced instead; 3) a new concept of a “comprehensive security” was introduced that put an emphasis on the economic security and peaceful means; 4) economic issues became crucial for foreign policy in general. This new policy produced remarkable results and contributed signifi cantly to the success of the doi moi policy.
Now Vietnam is a respectable member of the international community, maintains good relations with all neighbours and with the great powers. It has diplomatic relations with 167 states. Vietnam’s foreign trade turnover of 2000 was 7 times higher than that of 1991. From 1988 to 2000 the total registered operational capital of FDI reached US$ 36.3 billion. By October 2000 Vietnam signed agreements on receiving US$ 12.41 billion in ODA. Average annual GDP growth from 1991 to 2000 was 7.58%. Once beset with serious scarcity of consumer goods, now Vietnam produces enough to meet the essential needs of the population and of its economy. The full normalisation of the relations with the overseas Vietnamese community was also achieved and this community plays an increasing role in the development of the country.
Notwithstanding such great achievements, some experts indicate certain weak points in Vietnam’s foreign policy: “shallowness” of its foreign relations, a need of a new “strategic vision” and of a “more scientifi c way of thinking”. The author concludes that at this moment the Vietnamese leaders, as it appears, not to intend to introduce major political changes, but prefer to maintain stability, to press ahead with economic development.

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