The year 2016 marks the 30-year journey of Vietnam’s renovation and development. As one who has made major contributions to the country’s foreign affairs, in your opinion, what is the actual basis of renovation in the field of foreign affairs? How was the country’s context at that time?
The foreign policy always comes from the interests and the needs of the country as well as the global situation and major trends in the world. For our country, there were three remarkable stories in the late 80s of the 20th century.
Firstly, our country was in a severe social-economic crisis. At that time Vietnam underwent a galloping inflation. In 1986 alone the price index increased by nearly 800%.
At that time I worked at the Vietnam Embassy in the Soviet Union. I bought a bicycle from the Soviet Union, brought it to Vietnam and sold it as a savings. But after the country changed the banknotes, the money I earned from selling the bicycle was only enough to purchase ten eggs. I took this example in order to show you how hard life was at that period.
In that context, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered contributing to curb inflation as the most important task. The Foreign Minister at the time - Mr. Nguyen Co Thach - tasked us to learn experience from other countries of the world against inflation in order to help handle inflation in Vietnam.
Secondly, since 1979, our country fell into political isolation and economic blockade on the pretext of "Vietnam sent troops to invade Cambodia".
Actually, it was the disguised excuse because Vietnamese voluntary soldiers sacrificed their blood to help the Cambodian people escape from genocide.
At that time, Vietnamese diplomats attending international conferences were completely isolated, especially those who represented Vietnam at the United Nations because at all meetings, the Cambodian issue was used to attack Vietnamese representatives.
I was assigned to handle the issue related to boat people. Once I led a delegation to a conference in Kuala Lumpur on this topic and until now I still remember the feeling of being isolated at the conference and the heavy pressure I suffered there.
Thirdly, the main allies of our country at that time were the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. In the late 80s of the 20th century, these countries fell into deep crisis. In 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed and in 1991, the Soviet Union disintegrated. The dissolution of the socialist community caused serious impact on our country because aid from these countries accounted for around 70% of Vietnam’s budget.
At that time Chairman of the Council of Ministers Do Muoi convened an emergency meeting to discuss economic policies to cope with the situation. Mr. Do Muoi said that the country's economic situation was very difficult and the vital commodities such as iron and steel, petroleum, fertilizers ... were nearly out of stock and he asked all sectors to find ways and solutions.
I mentioned the three above characteristics in order to show how difficult the situation was at that time. It is said that foreign policy is the continuation of domestic policy. In my opinion, it is true, but not enough. We need to understand that foreign policy is a supporter of domestic policy.
The 6th National Party Congress was held at a time with the above characteristics and it introduced very new and breakthrough perspectives which is called renovation thinking.
As for the foreign policy, for the first time the Party’s documents mentioned the internationalization process and said that the world was forming a market economy, in which economies both cooperated and competed with each other. These renovation ideas are so important. Without them Vietnam would have not had the open-door policy that later we called international economic integration.
After the 6th National Party Congress, the world situation was very complicated and the Party and the State made many important policies.
For example, the Party and the State stressed that the supreme interests of the country is taking advantage of the peaceful conditions for development and since then decided to withdraw Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, to promote the process of finding a peaceful solution for the Cambodian issue, to normalize relations with China, the US and ASEAN countries ...
Such policies have laid the foundations for the country’s foreign policy for the past 30 years.
We understand that the 6th National Party Congress just introduced the ideas, and the 7th Party Congress really made the breakthrough with the formation of the foreign policy for the renovation period. Is that correct?
Yes. The 6th National Party Congress launched a comprehensive renewal process for both domestic and foreign relations. However, for the foreign policy alone, the Congress only offered some new approaches, not forming a comprehensive policy.
Until the 7th National Party Congress, the foreign policy based on the renovation spirit was formed. In particular, the 3rd conference of the 7th Central Party Committee adopted a resolution on foreign policy, politically and economically. Thus we can say that the 7th Party Congress is an important milestone in the country’s renovation in foreign policy.
The ideas of the 6th Party Congress opened the road and broke down dogmatic and backward thinking.
Could you further analyze the new features in the foreign policy of the renovation period?
The foreign policy during the renovation period contains many new things.
Any country in the world, since ancient times, pursued the three goals in foreign relations: maintaining independence and sovereignty, taking advantage of favorable international conditions for economic development, and improving the position of the country.
During the renovation period, we also identified these three key objectives. They were bound together, interacting with each other, in which the mission of taking advantage of the favorable international conditions for economic development defined as the central task because in domestic policy, social-economic development was considered as the key one.
This does not mean that we loosened the goal of defending independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and enhancing the position of the country. It is only the issue of arranging the order of priorities.
To accomplish the above objectives, the key ideas of the foreign policy must be identified. The Party and the State set national interests as paramount and the key ideology. It does not mean that we pursued narrow-minded nationalism. We have always recognized our international responsibility of contributing to the cause of peace, national independence, democracy and social progress in the world.
According to the above guiding ideology, we have always pursued the goal of national independence and socialism. And how to accomplish that goal, we applied the thought of President Ho Chi Minh of “firm in objectives, flexible in strategies and tactics”. Nowadays, these things have become very familiar, but 30 years ago they were breakthrough ideas.
Besides the identification of objectives and guiding ideology, the Party set out a series of guiding ideologies.
If earlier we followed the guideline of completely standing in the socialist community, in the renovation period, when the Socialist community no longer existed, we pursued the policy of diversification and multilateralisation of international relationships. This was also consistent with the general trend of the world after the Cold War era.
We also identified that in international relations, there are always two sides: cooperation and struggle. In fact in today's world every country pursues its own interests. Sometimes those interests are similar but sometimes they are different. Later, we clarified the relationship between "partners" and "subjects".
That means there are still problems between partners and similar interests between rivals. So we need to have a dialectical attitude in international relations. Generally, we try to expand cooperation with other countries but we must be dependent; differences or conflicts must be solved by diplomatic and peaceful measures to avoid disruption of international relations.
Another policy that Vietnam pursues is "more friends, fewer enemies." Therefore, since the 7th National Party Congress, Vietnam has raised the motto “Vietnam wants to be a friend and a partner with countries around the world” and we have built strategic and comprehensive partnership relations, including all big countries in the world. This thought was mentioned by President Ho Chi Minh in 1946 when he affirmed that Vietnam wants to be friends with democratic countries, and we don’t want to cause animosity toward anyone.
In international relations, we made an important adjustment to giving priority to cooperation with neighboring countries in Southeast Asia in particular and Asia Pacific in general, and attaching importance to relations with major countries in the world. This does not mean that we neglect relations with traditional friendly countries, independent states and the forces loving peace and justice in the world.
A major policy during the renovation period is the policy of international integration. Actually, the phrase "international economic integration" appeared in 1996 at the 8th National Party Congress and since the 10th National Party Congress we have talked about the policy of international integration in general, not only international economic integration.
As everyone knows, our country has entered the period of extensive international integration with a series of agreements on free trade areas with 55 countries. Vietnam also participates very actively in the world’s political, security, culture and social institutions.
The correct policy is very important, but in the diplomatic service, the “movement” is decisive, not just the policy. How did we make a “diplomatic move” in the renovation period?
Yes, for the successful implementation of the policy, in foreign affairs the “movement” is very important.
After the 6th National Party Congress, the Party and the State decided to give priority to solve the Cambodian issue.
In this direction, we actively completed withdrawal of troops from Cambodia, paving the way for the Paris Conference on Cambodia issues. That was the breakthrough to escape from isolation and embargo.
Taking advantage of that breakthrough, we have normalized relations with many countries in the world.
I still remember that at that time the Politburo decided to conduct a series of high-level visits to many countries. The only problem is the order of visits.
Under the decision of the Politburo, a Vietnamese delegation led by Chairman of the Council of Ministers Vo Van Kiet visited several Southeast Asian nations while General Party Secretary Do Muoi and Chairman of the Council of Ministers Vo Van Kiet visited China, and then Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
In that situation, the United States gradually lifted the embargo against Vietnam. In 1995 the two countries officially established diplomatic relations.
These are important milestones marking the escape from isolation and the embargo against Vietnam.
In international integration, we have moved step by step, from low to high: normalizing relations with international monetary organizations, joining ASEAN in 1995, ASEM in 1996, APEC in 1998, WTO in 2006 and signing a bilateral trade agreement with the United States in 2000.
To be continued…
Ky Duyen - Lan Anh - Huynh Phan