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Friday, 22 January 2016 09:39
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Vietnam - Russia relations: situation and prospects

(LLCT) - The current relationship between Vietnam and the Russian Fede-ration is a continuation of the friendly, traditional bond between Vietnam and the former Soviet Union. Since the conclusion of the Cold War, the bilateral relations between the two countries have experienced ups and downs, which reflects their respective foreign policy adjustments and priorities. The political nature of the ties has also changed profoundly due to political, economic and social transformations in Russia. Nevertheless, given the two countries’ interests, the Vietnam - Russia relations have rapidly escaped the stagnation of the 1990s. They tend to have improved since 1994 when the two countries signed the Treaty on fundamental principles of the bilateral friendly ties.

In the 21st century when Russia and Vietnam have made significant progress in their respective reforms and given rapid, complicated changes in the world situation, both countries feel the need to elevate their bilateral relationship to strategic partnership for the sake of their practical interests. The signing of the Common statement on strategic partnership as part of Russian President V. Putin’s official visit to Vietnam in March 2001 marked a milestone of development of the bilateral relationship between the two countries and established a new legal framework for it on the basis of mutual trust, closeness and long-term benefits. This event was of importance to the two countries as well as the international community since it contributed to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world.

Over the last decade, from 2001 to 2014, the strategic cooperation between Vietnam and Russia was subject to constant changes in the global and regional contexts. Therefore, it was faced with both opportunities and challenges. Given the strong political determination of the two countries’ leaderships and their similar views of a number of important international issues, the cooperation has expanded and intensified, resulting in remarkable achievements in all areas including politics, economics, foreign policies, security, culture, science, tech-nology and education and serving each country’s interests well.

The achievements in the strategic partnership between Vietnam and Russia over the last decade are most remarkable in politics, foreign policy and security. The two countries have established and promoted regular bilateral communication at all levels including the highest one. Cooperation between the two countries’ politico-social organizations and cities has expanded and has taken a variety of forms. Thus, political dialogue between the two countries has taken place actively.

Since Russian President V. Putin’s official visit to Vietnam in 2001, high-level political talks between the two countries have been conducted on an annual basis. In October 2002, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nong Duc Manh paid the first official visit to Russia after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This was followed by Chairman of the National Assembly Nguyen Van An’s visit in 2003, President Tran Duc Luong’s in 2004, President Nguyen Minh Triet’s in 2006, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s in 2007, 2009 and 2013, and President Truong Tan Sang’s in 2012. On the Russian side, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Sergey Mironov paid a visit to Vietnam in early 2005. Dmitry Medvedev visited Vietnam twice in 2008 and 2012 as President and Prime Minister. Between 2001 and 2013, President Vladimir Putin visited Vietnam three times. There were visits paid by leaders of the Duma in between. Such regular high-level ex-changes were a concrete manifestation of the two countries’ political resolve to further strengthen the strategic part-nership for mutual benefits.

During their political dialogues, Vietnam and Russia have found simila-rities in their views of a number of important international issues such as building a fair, equitable world; opposing all forms of imposition on, or interference into, sovereign countries’ internal affairs; bettering the per-formance of the United Nations in its resolution of global, developmental and cooperative issues; arms control and disarmament; international terrorism, separatism, nationalism and extreme religion,... The two countries have also unanimously agreed on issues related to security and cooperation in the Asia - Pacific and Southeast Asia in principle. They both support establishment of a nuclear free Southeast Asia, oppose installation of missile defense, advocate stronger maritime security in regional arteries, highly regard the role of regional cooperation forums such as the APEC, ASEAN, ARF and Shanghai Cooperation (SCO). Russia has expressed its support of Vietnam playing an active role in the ASEAN and the association’s central role in a new regional setting. The Vietnam - Russia relationship has witnessed positive developments in military terms. The two countries have jointly promoted military cooperation in conformity with each other’s security requirements. They have shared intelligence information related to regional and global security, particularly terrorism. They have agreed to intensify cooperation in non-traditional security.

In addition, they have shared views on major trends in the world, especially the role and implications of the modern scientific and technological revolution, pros and cons of globalization and urgency of international integration. The two countries have closely coor-dinated and have supported each other in the international arena, multilateral organizations, the UN and many other international forums for mutual benefits and for the sake of peace, security and development.

In President Truong Tan Sang’s visit to Russia in 2012, the two countries established a new framework for mutual cooperation strategic partnership. It is this framework that is adding vitality to the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Russia has listed Vietnam as one its three most important strategic partner countries in the Asia - Pacific.

Recently, on 6-7 September 2014, the 17th session of the Vietnam - Russia Inter-governmental Committee for Economic, Commercial, Scientific and Technological Cooperation took place in Vladivostok. At the meeting, which was jointly chaired by co-chairmen of the committee, First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia I. Shuvalov and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai, the two sides agreed that the bilateral political ties between the two countries had strengthened and had become more reliable. The two countries had fulfilled their prioritized tasks set to promote the comprehensive strategic Vietnam - Russia partnership. They had conducted annual foreign policy-security-defense talks and had ensured close coordination and extended support to each other at international forums such as the United Nations, APEC, ASEM and ASEAN - Russia(1).

The bilateral economic ties between Vietnam and Russia have improved remarkably since 2001. In addition to traditional areas of cooperation such as oil and gas, electricity, science and technology, the two countries have paid attention to cooperation in commerce. They have highlighted the role of their respective governments by introducing trade in-centives. As a result, two-way trade turnover has seen a considerable increase. In 1993, it was worth $300 million and the figure increased almost three times to $887.3 million in 2004. It amounted to $3.7 billion in 2012, $4.0 billion in 2013(2) and $1.76 billion in the first half of 2014. Vietnam’s main exports to Russia include rice, garments, footwear, rubber, seafood, cashew nuts and tea. For a long time, Vietnam has imported from Russia steel, fertilizers, petrol, machinery and parts...

The structure of goods exchanges between Vietnam and Russia is generally stable and makes use of either country’s comparative advantages. However, Vietnam is having trade deficits. This is why the country needs to achieve a greater balance in its trade with Russia in the time to come. In terms of investment, Russia is becoming one of Vietnam’s important partners in its strategy for attracting foreign funds for industrialization. Russian direct investment has been made in sectors of importance to Vietnam’s socio-economic development such as oil and gas, energy, engineering, chemical industries, me-tallurgy, farm produce, forestry products and sea food processing. By June 2014, Russia had 101 investment projects in Vietnam with a total registered capital of $2.0 billion, ranking 18th out of more than 70 countries and territories making investments in the country. Russian direct investment has made a significant contribution to Vietnam’s innovation and economic development.

Also, Russia is one of destinations for Vietnamese investors. In 2005, Vietnam had 11 investment projects in Russia, accounting for 11 per cent of the country’s overseas investment projects, with a total registered capital of $38 million. In 2014, the figures increased to 20 and $2.5 billion respectively. Vietnam has mainly invested in oil and gas exploration and exploitation, real estate, food processing, garments, footwear and services. In addition, at present, there are more than 200 medium- and small-sized Vietnamese owned businesses operating in Russia. A few of them are in manufacturing while the rest are in services and import-export. Some Vietnamese companies in Moscow have opened their branches or representative offices elsewhere in Russia and have established strong partnerships with companies in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Baltic region, Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Vietnam - Russia economic cooperation has experience encouraging developments in other areas including oil and gas, energy, coal, chemicals and steel... The most important of them is oil and gas exploitation. Vietsovpetro joint venture is leading bilateral cooperation and has brought back practical benefits for either country. As far as energy is concerned, the two countries have signed an agreement in equipment supplies and research cooperation. They have set up joint ventures in engineering and coal ex-ploitation. Vietnamese hydropower plants such as Hoa Binh, Thac Mo, Tri Thien, Yaly and Da Mi and its thermal power plants including Uong Bi and Pha Lai all received Russian cooperation and used Russian equipment and technologies. Bilateral cooperation in oil and gas and energy has gained important results and has earned stable incomes for either country. Coope-ration in other sectors such as tran-sportation, telecommunications, finance and banking and tourism has seen marked improvement.

Besides the bilateral political, economic and trading ties, cooperation between Vietnam and Russia in such traditional areas as culture, science and technology and education and training has undergone positive developments. In terms of cultural exchanges, the two countries signed an agreement on cultural cooperation in 2001 in order to increase exchanges of arts organizations, organize exhibitions, publish books and help each other with training of culture and arts specialists. As part of the implementation of this agreement, the Russian Culture Days and Moscow Culture Week, together with Vietnamese Culture Days and Hanoi Culture Week were held in Hanoi and Moscow respectively. The Center for Russian Science and Culture in Vietnam was established and has organized a range of activities including promoting the learning of the Russian language in Vietnam and disseminating and exchanging the two countries’ historical and cultural documents. On education and training cooperation, the two countries have four joint programs: 1) A governmental level agreement under which the two countries exchange the same numbers of long-term and transfer students and Russian and Vietnamese language teachers; 2) State budget-funded schooling; 3) A program which sends Vietnamese students to Russia under a debt settlement project; and 4) A cooperation scheme between corporations and universities and self-funded schooling. According to the Russian Ministry for Education, at present, there are more than 4,000 Vietnamese students and doctoral candidates at Russian universities.

Bilateral cooperation in science and technology mainly consists of 1) Projects which transfer research findings from Russia and former Soviet Union republics to Vietnam; 2) Joint research and training of high-level experts by means of academies; 3) Standards, measurements, and quality control projects based on the Agreement on Cooperation in Standardization and Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Certification and Ex-perimentation Results, 4) Atomic energy projects and the Vietnam - Russia Atomic Energy Cooperation Committee ac-cording to the Agreement on Cooperation in Using Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes, which the two countries signed in 2002, and 5) The Vietnam - Russia Tropical Center, which is the best example of bilateral cooperation in science and technology between Vietnam and Russia and which is an international prestigious organization in tropical sciences.

Despite its achievements, cooperation between Vietnam and Russia has its limitations and has yet to match the significance of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Quite a few areas of the partnership remain largely directive rather than being translated into concrete cooperation activities. In general, the Vietnam-Russia relationship has performed better in politics and diplomacy. Bilateral cooperation between the two countries in economics, trade and investment - one of the most important measures of any international relationship - remains insufficient. Potential for such cooperation has not been fully or effectively realized. Although a number of agreements in different areas have been signed, their implementation is at a slow pace and their efficiency limited. At present, the bilateral trading ties between Vietnam and Russia are undergoing optimistic changes. Although they have gained remarkable achievements and have managed to make use of either country’s comparative advantages, they are insufficient compared to the two countries’ needs and potentialities and have yet to match the development of the bilateral political and diplomatic relations. Two-way import-export turnover between Vietnam and Russia only accounts for a very small proportion of either country’s total foreign trade output, one per cent in the case of Vietnam and 0.5 per cent in the case of Russia(3). In addition, Russia’s politico-social situation and either country’s managerial limitations or shortcomings have exerted certain influence on bilateral cooperation. Rapid and complex changes in the regional and global contexts have caused both countries to determine their own foreign policy priorities. Given the current fierce international competition, Russia is faced with a lot of powerful competitors in Vietnam. Vietnam is also competing with other Asia - Pacific and Southeast Asian countries in the Russian market. Furthermore, both Vietnam and Russia must solve outstanding issues including methods of payment, business environment, restructuring Vietnamese debts and geo-economic limitations.

Nonetheless, prospects for Vietnam - Russia cooperation are bright. There are chances for the strategic partnership between the two countries to further develop so it will make use of either country’s potential and strength and match trends in international relations in the region and the world.

Although Russia is still faced with quite a few difficulties and obstacles, especially challenges to its politico-social stability, it is making every effort to restore its status as a number one superpower. With its especially important geopolitical position due to its Eurasian location, its natural and human resources, its military strength, its historico-cultural backgrounds and its recent economic growth, Russia is gradually regaining its influence worldwide, particularly on the Asia - Pacific, where competition among superpowers is becoming fiercer given the rise of China and increasing strategic presence of the United States. Superpowers including Russia all highly regard the significance of the region in their strategic calculations. To date, Russia has improved its relations with all regional countries and has relatively successfully integrated into regional cooperation mechanisms such as the APEC, ARF and Europe - Asia Summit despite the implications of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. All these provide favorable conditions for the elevation of the Vietnam-Russia strategic partnership to a new height.

Also, after nearly 30 years implementing its innovation policy, Vietnam is now a rising player in the international arena. It is the only Southeast Asian country to have established strategic partnership with Russia. The two countries are really in need of complementing each other in a variety of areas and are completely capable of doing so. They also need to, and can, consult each other about socio-economic development and international integration. At the moment, the two countries are cooperating effectively in such important sectors as oil and gas, energy and science and technology. Vietnam is enjoying the long-term benefits of making use of the Russian element in achieving its foreign policy goals in

the region and the world. Another important contributing factor to the development of the bilateral friendly, reliable ties between the two countries and the difference between them and Russia’s relations with other Southeast Asian countries lies in the long history of the ties and mutual understanding concerning a variety of issues.

The two countries’ political resolve to elevate bilateral cooperation to stable, long-term, comprehensive, strategic partnership is showing to be fruitful. Obviously, stronger Vietnam - Russia cooperation is in prospect. However, because the two countries are still burdened with their respective domestic and international challenges and are still trying to solve outstanding issues related to their bilateral relationship, it is unrealistic to expect major breakthroughs in the relationship in the immediate future. Having said that, given either country’s demand for development, the international situation they are faced with and their mutual political trust, their bilateral relationship will likely become more substantial and be eventually transformed into compre-hensive, strategic partnership.

It is the political and diplomatic mutual trust between Vietnam and Russia that will encourage the two countries to sustain mutual exchanges and consultation about international and regional issues and increase exchanges of visits by their high-ranking leaders, from ministries, sectors and localities. This will likely contribute to strengthening their bilateral military and defense cooperation including exchanges of military information, manufacture and supplies of military equipment and training of military personnel.

The bilateral economic, trading and investment ties between Vietnam and Russia are projected to experience even faster growth. The two countries aim at two-way trade turnover worth $20 billion by 2020. Given their current efforts, they can possibly conclude negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement between Vietnam and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan by early 2015 when Vietnam and Russia are celebrating the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship. Once signed and implemented, the agreement will become an area of strategically important cooperation offering huge advantages for the participating countries and helping to elevate their cooperation ties for mutual benefits to a new height.

 

ASSOC. PROF., DR. NGUYEN TAT GIAP

Vice President of Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

 

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