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Tuesday, 23 May 2023 08:08
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Handling of cross-border ethnic relation, making contribution to assurance of national sovereignty and security

(PTOJ) - Cross-border national/ethnic relationships are the interaction between the same ethnicity or different ethnicity with another country sharing a border, so it is always associated with issues of political security and national sovereignty. This is an issue that often has complicated developments, if it is not handled properly, it will affect socio-political stability, sovereignty protection and national border security of our country. This article analyzes the current situation and proposes solutions to solve cross-border ethnic relations, making contributions to firmly protecting national sovereignty and border security in the current context of development and international integration.

The bilateral patrolling between Vietnam and Laos - Photo: baonghean.vn

1. Question to be raised

Cross-border national/ethnicity relationships are a reciprocal relationship between individuals, families, clans, community, etc., within one nation/ethnicity or different nation/ethnicity in the border areas between neighboring countries. Or, briefly defined, it is “a relationship of the same ethnicity or different ethnicity with another country with which it that shares a border”(1).

Cross-border national/ethnic relationships manifest in multi-dimensional forms and contents, which are expressed in various aspects of life among the inhabitants of the bordering ethnic groups such as ethnic historical origins, economic activities, social, cultural life, beliefs, religious issues, etc. These relations are closely intertwined, so hostile forces, reactionary objects, criminals, and illegal propagandists have always exploited and used national/ethnicity relationships on both sides of the border for sabotage activities(2).

Vietnam is a country sharing land borders with three countries: the People’s Republic of China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Kingdom of Cambodia, with a total length of 4,550 km(3). This area is a  critical geo - political - economic region and part of the national defense and security position for the development of the country. Ethnic groups, mainly ethnic minorities residing, living and doing business in Vietnam’s border areas with other countries, sticking to the national border, understanding the geographical environment, natural conditions have a close, multifaceted relationship not only with ethnic groups living in the same area, but also other ethnic groups across the border. It is a long lasting historical relationship based on ethnicitiy, kinship, family, and marriage. These relations were formed and nurtured over many generations, becoming indispensable in the daily lives of the people, influencing their perceptions, emotions, activities, and exerting a great impact on the issue of firmly protecting national sovereignty and border security.

As part of the innovation period, a policy of opening up, building a border of peace and friendship, along with the development of transport, information technology, family relations, increased clan and cross-border marriage has been implemented. Therefore, ethnic relations in general and cross-border ethnic relations in particular are increasingly strengthened, expanded and changed in both positive and negative directions.

2. The current situation and questions raised in cross-border ethnic relations affecting national security and sovereignty as part of the innovation process

Implementing the Party’s guidelines, the State’s policies and laws on opening up and international integration, economic relations through goods exchange and commercial activities of people on both sides of the border are encouraged for development. As a result, trade exchanges and activities by people on both sides of the Vietnam - China, Vietnam - Laos, and Vietnam - Cambodia borders through the system of large and small border gates on the northern, western and southwestern borders have developed in a very vibrant manner. Along with the process of opening the border to exchange and trade goods, many development programs and projects in border areas have been implemented by governments, creating incentives for border residents.

The exchange and strengthening of economic cooperation with neighboring provinces in the border area has made important contributions to socio-economic development, ensuring national security and defense in the border area. This is a very important factor for the stability and development of each country and the whole region, building solidarity and helping each other in the spirit of good neighborliness and friendship.

In order to exploit the potential strengths of mountainous and border areas and protect the national sovereignty, our Party and State advocate building national defense - economic zones in strategic areas and border areas; carrying out economic development in association with the requirements of ensuring national defense, contributing to make mountainous and ethnic minority areas become rich in economy, stable in politics, strong in national defense and security. As a result, ethnic minorities in the border areas have developed in all aspects: Regarding the economic development, effectively exploiting the land’s potential, building and developing infrastructure, attracting people to participate in the hunger eradication and poverty reduction programs; In terms of society, contributing to redistribution of population according to production planning and long-term national goals, developing residential areas along the border; Regarding the national defense and security, building and forming the position of an all-people national defense, the people’s security position, and maintaining political security in the border areas. The construction of national defense-economic zones is an innovation in the thinking of national defense, an important development step in the organization of the national defense posture, especially in critical and key border areas.

The Army’s participation in economic construction and development, consolidation of national defense and security in ethnic minority populated areas, mountainous areas and border areas has become a firm bridge among the Party, the Army and people of all ethnic groups, reinforcing the trust and confidence of ethnic minorities in the Party’s guidelines, policies and laws of the State, creating a “people-based posture” in the strategic areas. National defense-economic zones create “bright spots” in economic, cultural and social development, ensuring national defense and security in ethnic minority and border areas, increasing people’s confidence in the Party, aggrandizing the image of “Uncle Ho’s army” in the hearts of ethnic minorities in the border areas of the country.

In contrast to the positive effects, ethnic relations in the border areas pose many complex risks, potentially becoming a cause of security instability, and negatively impacting on the goal of sustainable development in the border area.

Firstly,the status of customary cross-border marriage relations and the lack of  registration of these marriages cause certain difficulties and complications for local authorities in many places in administrative management, such as labor settlement - employment, life stability, implementation of and compliance with the provisions of the law and human rights. Cross-border marriages have made a significant impact on social instability, creating gaps in social management and becoming barriers to the social development in border areas in particular and ethnic minority populated and mountainous areas in general(4).

In the current context of globalization and international integration, these relations are increasing ethnic and co-religious links. Therefore, they are easily exploited by hostile forces and reactionary objects to illegally propagate religion, gather religious believers on both sides of the border into an ethnic-religious alliance, to serve for their political intrigue. In particular, since the beginning of 2020, due to the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the illegal immigration situation has become complicated, making the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic penetrate into our country and its spreading to the community, have a strong impact not only on national sovereignty and security, but also on the health and sustainable development of the country.

Secondly,in order to serve their own territorial plans and plot of “peaceful evolution”, to incite secessionist thought, hostile forces have made use of, swapped, and identified the two concepts of “territory of ethnic groups” and national boundaries. This is a potential risk that can be easily exploited to claim reconsideration of national borders, expand territory, and infringe on sovereignty. They make use of the mentality of members in ethnic groups that only care about ethnic groups, but do not consider national territorial issues, while attaching importance of ethnic relations over national consciousness, to incite ethnic groups to exercise secession.

Thirdly,a very complicated issue that affects security and order in the border areas is the increasingly sophisticated cross-border transportation and trafficking of drugs and weapons, etc. Based on ethnic relations on both sides of the border, drug and weapon dealers expand their operating lines, enticing and coercing people into helping them. In particular, the Vietnam - Laos border line (mainly the border areas of the Northwest and North Central provinces) covers an area of ​​rugged forests, large land, sparse population distribution, close to the “golden triangle” zone of production and trade of drug (Thailand - Laos - Myanmar), becoming the focus point of cross-border drug trafficking. Drug-trafficking criminals take advantage of the difficult terrain to organize cross-border drug trafficking and transportation from Laos to Vietnam through border gates and informal routes in the Northwest and North Central regions. They try to connect with domestic and foreign entities to source goods and provide financial support; relying on existing relationships between clans and kinship to hire them to carry drug. More dangerously, they seek to entice and bribe some degenerate and corrupt grassroots cadres and some people in communes and villages to join the trafficking line and protect their criminal activities.

Fourthly,the issue of free migration affects ethnic relations, divides communities, and causes conflicts among ethnic groups. Free migration (mainly the Mong people) is associated with deforestation, shifting cultivation, depleting forest resources and destroying the environment. Free migration is the cause of disputes over land and other natural resources between newly arrived ethnic groups and local ethnic groups, increasing the risk of ethnic conflicts in border areas affecting the relationship among countries. The land dispute in the border area is not only a territorial issue, but also a political issue and ethnic-national relationship issue. Because the land dispute is not just a matter between one ethnic group and another, one family line with another, but in fact, it has crossed the national border and has become one of the most sensitive issues, easily exploited by reactionary forces causing ethnic and national hatred and hostility between the two countries.

Fifthly,with the system of policies on supporting socio-economic development in ethnic minority and mountainous areas, ethnic minorities in border areas have made progress, but there are still many difficulties. The rate of poor households in ethnic minority areas is still high compared to the national average. The education level is still low, the number of illiterate people is still high and the level of cultural enjoyment of the people in some ethnic minority areas is not high. Health care for ethnic minorities is still limited. The political security situation and social order and safety in ethnic minority areas still poses a potentially destabilizing factor; there are still many loopholes for hostile forces to easily take advantage of ethnic issues to plot “peaceful evolution”, causing riots to overthrow and destroy the Vietnamese revolution.

The lag in the development process together with the enemy’s destructive plot are potential risks for ethnic division and conflict. The goals of the “peaceful evolution” plots and tricks of the hostile forces was to cause political riots in the Central Highlands (April 2001 and August 2004) and in Muong Nhe in Dien Bien province (Northwest) in late April and early May 2011. These riots aimed to divide and change the relations between the ethnic groups, affecting the political security of our country.

3. Proper settlement of cross-border ethnic relations in association with the current task of protecting national border sovereignty and security

The 13th Party Congress affirmed the following view on building ethnic relations in the period from 2021 to 2030 and a vision to 2045: “Ensuring all ethnic groups to be equal, united, respect and help each other develop. Effectively mobilizing, allocating, using and managing resources for development investment, creating fundamental changes in economy, culture and society in areas with a large number of ethnic minorities. Paying attention to the specificity of each ethnic minority region in planning and organizing the implementation of ethnic policies. It is necessary to have a mechanism to promote the positivity, and self-reliance of ethnic minorities for socio-economic development, implementing multi-dimensional and sustainable poverty reduction”(5).

From the practical experience of the proceeding time, the goal of building ethnic relations in border areas is associated with the task of ensuring national security, defense and sovereignty from now to 2030 and the vision for the following years determined that: Consolidating and strengthening the solidarity of ethnic groups, bringing into play the role of ethnic groups in the Vietnamese ethnic community, creating a driving force for development and ensuring sustainable development of the country; comprehensively developing socio-economic (economic, cultural, social, political and security, national defense) ethnic minority and mountainous border areas so that ethnic minorities can develop together in the direction of progress, step by step improve the living standards of the people. “Continuing to implement comprehensively and synchronously National Border Protection Strategy”(6); maintaining national territorial sovereignty, ensuring the country’s sustainable development. Fighting against inadequate national ideology, discrimination and division of the nation; respect for democratic rights within the framework of national laws. Resolutely fighting against plots and tricks of dividing the nation by the external reactionary forces. Realizing the impact as well as the importance of dealing with cross-border ethnic relations for the task of protecting national sovereignty and security today requires comprehensive measures, economic development associated with social issues, combining socio-economic development with consolidating and enhancing national defense and security, ensuring the country’s sustainable development.

To achieve the above goals, the Party, the State and the people need to focus on implementing the following solutions:

Firstly, recognizing the complex nature of ethnic issues and cross-border ethnic relations in our country, thereby aiding in developing appropriate policies and solutions.

Ethnic minority populated regions, mountainous areas and national borders are very important strategic areas of the country, having special importance in the strategy of socio-economic development and national defense. The issue of national defense and security in ethnic and mountainous areas still shows many potential destabilizing factors, which have not been fundamentally resolved in regards to the ideology of separatism, self-rule, and narrow national psychology as part of the compatriot community. Many pressing socio-economic issues have not been well resolved, affecting ethnic relations. The above problems lead to potential contradictions and conflicts among ethnic minorities and Kinh people, which are sometimes spontaneous, sometimes smoldering, thereby often exploited by hostile forces for their sabotage plots. In addition, in the border areas, there are also elements that take advantage of kinship and blood ties across the border to illegally cross the border, use kinship as a compound for opposition activities, or as a base to resupply reactionary forces hiding in the forests. Recognizing the importance of ethnic minority areas and bordering mountainous areas, the complexity of cross-border ethnic relations issues, in the coming time, together with appropriate socio-economic development policies, our Party and State should pay a special attention to national security and defense, building equal national relations, contributing to ensuring the country’s sustainable development.

Secondly, promoting socio-economic development on the basis of promoting the potential and the strengths the border area, in association with building a “people-based posture”.

In the national renewal period, our Party and State have set out and gradually perfected ethnic policies, developed appropriate investment policies on socio-economic development, and gradually improved material and spiritual life of ethnic minorities in border areas, building ethnic relations of equality, solidarity, mutual respect and development. At the same time, combining socio-economic development with strengthening and consolidating national defense and security; building a “position of the people’s hearts”, in association with building the position of the all-people national defense and people’s security in ethnic minority areas and bordering mountainous areas.

Building the “position of the people’s hearts” is the basic content of building the position of the all-people national defense and people’s security to protect the Socialist Vietnamese Fatherland. Building and consolidating the political base in ethnic minority areas, consolidating the relationship between the people and the military, creating a “position of people’s hearts” in preserving the border and national sovereignty. There is an importance to propagating and mobilizing people of all ethnic groups to unite and abide by the guidelines of the Party, policies and laws of the State, as well as strengthening the work of ensuring political security, social order and safety, preventing “hot spots” of security and social order in ethnic and mountainous areas. Respecting and ensuring the people’s rights to freedom of belief and religion and non-belief and non-religion in accordance with law; resolutely fighting against and preventing the abuse of belief and religion to sabotage and divide the great national unity bloc, harming the interests of the Fatherland and the people. Building a position of all-people national defense and people’s security, always raising vigilance, promptly fighting against accusations of hostile forces in the view of human rights being superior to sovereignty, promptly preventing and repelling the plots and activities of hostile forces against our people’s cause of national construction.

Thirdly, paying attention to properly solving ethnic and religious issues.

Ethnic and religious issues are always complex and sensitive issues, often employed by hostile external forces to perform their plots of sabotage, so understanding and dealing with these issues should be done cautiously. The consistent viewpoint and policy of the Party and the State of Vietnam is that belief, religion is the spiritual need of a part of the people, is existing and will exist as part of the nation in the process of building socialism in our country.

Fourthly, constantly improving people’s intellectual level, strengthening propaganda, education and building a sense of protecting national security and sovereignty for the people of all ethnic groups.

Ethnic minorities on both sides of the border, due to objective and subjective conditions, still need further development in regards to the intellectual infrastructure in their communities. Taking advantage of socio-economic difficulties and weaknesses among grassroots cadres, hostile forces have been trying their best to infiltrate border areas, lying deep in remote areas, strengthening their activities to implement sabotage against the great unity bloc of nations; creating opposition between ethnic minorities and Party organizations as well as local authorities. Therefore, the political system of the border localities should pay due attention to education activities, raising the people’s knowledge of ethnic minorities, raising the sense of national sovereignty, thereby, highlighting the responsibility of citizens in the national construction. Building and protecting national sovereignty and territory, while fighting against violations of border regulations, ensuring national security and sovereignty in the border areas. At the same time, it is necessary to pay attention to solving the problem of cross-border migration. The issue of cross-border migration poses a new issue for us as part of the activities towards consolidating national defense and security in ethnic and mountainous areas, and fighting against hostile forces’ multi-faceted counter-measures.

Fifthly, strengthening foreign affairs, coordinating with neighboring countries in managing ethnic relations, border management, and ensuring national security.

The process of positively settling cross-border ethnic relations shall be exercised through diplomatic measures to coordinate management and create healthy social relations in a fundamental, synchronous and long-term direction.

In the context of globalization and international integration, as part of effectively managing increasingly complicated cross-border social relations, it is necessary to conduct surveys, to firmly grasp the relations, to classify ethnic and kinship relationships. Along with paying attention to border crossings for people to visit their relatives, attaching national, family and international sentiments; it is necessary to strengthen the management of civil status, household registration, and free migration issues. In order to stopping illegal border crossings, it is important to coordinate with the competent agencies of the neighboring country to prevent the activities of bad elements who take advantage of ethnic and kinship relations to oppose the revolutionary cause of each country.

Regarding culture, it is important to respect the cultural values ​​of ethnic minorities in the border areas and those of the people of neighboring countries. Along with focusing on preserving and promoting the cultural values ​​of ethnic minorities in the border areas through the collection, research and dissemination of cultural values ​​of each ethnic group, the socialization of those cultural values ​​becomes more important, and it is necessary to coordinate with the neighboring countries to organize cross-border cultural activities to promote and preserve the unique cultural features and values ​​of the ethnic group. Thereby, it shall improve the understanding and awareness of the people about the views and guidelines of the Party, policies and laws of the State on national sovereignty.

Regarding society, coordinate with neighboring countries to build friendly relations; promptly solve problems arising in social life, such as cross-border marriage, free migration; issues of security and social order in border areas as well as national security, such as smuggling and illegal border crossing in order to firmly protect national border sovereignty.


Received: January 18, 2022; Revised: February 10, 2022; Approved for publication: July 15, 2022.



(1) Vuong Xuan Tinh et al.: Research on transnational ethnic relations: approaches, methods and analytical framework, Ethnology Journal, No. 4-2014.

(2) Do Nhat Nam: Cross-border ethnic relations and national security protection, Journal of Arts and Culture, No. 383, No. 5-2016.

(3) Refer to: Data of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted on the Government Portal of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; accordingly, the land border between Vietnam and China is 1,281km long; the land border between Vietnam and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is about 2,130km long; the land border between Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia is 1,228 km long, http://chinhphu.vn.

(4) Dang Thi Hoa: Some issues of cross-border marriage with social development in Vietnam, Journal of Social Science Information, No.10-2016.

(5), (6) CPV: Document of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, vol.I, Truth National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, pp.170, 160.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. TRUONG MINH DUC

                                   The Academy of Politics Region III       

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