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Vietnam makes impressive hallmarks in with "dual role" and "charming foreign policy"

History is stamped with special landmarks. For Vietnamese diplomacy, 2020 was one of the most memorable milestones. 

Vietnam successfully assumed the role of both ASEAN Chair in 2020 and non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the term 2020-2021.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (L), the Chair of ASEAN 2020, witnesses the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. (Photo: Duc Anh)

Strong leadership in the region

This is the first time Vietnam has assumed such a "dual role". This coincidence is quite special but not surprising as it is an inevitable consequence of the tireless efforts of Vietnam over the past decades, the result of an open and multilateral foreign policy to diversify international relations and actively integrate into the world, initiated and successfully implemented by the Communist Party of Vietnam. It shows the recognition from and appreciation by the international community for Vietnam's global role and its practical contribution to international and regional affairs, while demonstrating Vietnam's increasingly high position and prestige in the international arena.

However, even with great opportunities, history has always challenged Vietnam's bravery and wisdom. When Vietnam officially assumed its "dual role", it was also a time when the world was to face an unprecedented challenge in the form of the outbreak of COVID-19. The rhythm of life was turned upside down, the world economy stagnated, international traffic was paralysed, and many global and regional security issues had to be put to one side temporarily to make room for the epidemic response.

In that unexpected context, as Chair of ASEAN 2020, Vietnam quickly shifted the agenda and focus of ASEAN to COVID-19 prevention and control. The pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge, so the response also requires unprecedented measures. Under the leadership of Vietnam, many "firsts" have come about to help the bloc adapt in this difficult period: It was the first ASEAN Summit to meet three times in one year instead of twice as usual. There were many high-level conferences and ministerial meetings held online for the first time. And in particular, many important ASEAN documents were signed online for the first time in history.

As well as effectively controlling the epidemic, Vietnam also actively promoted international cooperation to overcome it together. One piece of proof of the ASEAN Chair's active and responsible role in 2020 was the Vietnam’s initiative to convene an ASEAN Special Summit on the COVID-19 Response in April 2020. From this, a series of specific measures to control the epidemic were introduced, such as setting up a COVID-19 response fund, a regional reserve of medical supplies, building a standard disease response process, and issuing a comprehensive post-COVID-19 recovery plan, that will not only help the region deal more effectively with COVID-19, but will also solidify the spirit of the slogan "a Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN", a trademark of ASEAN in the COVID-19 epidemic era.

With the strong will and action of the entire ASEAN community, effective cooperation from partners and the firm steering of "captain" Vietnam, ASEAN has substantially overcome the storm. Looking back, it can be affirmed that Vietnam's ASEAN Chairmanship Year 2020 has been a comprehensive, resounding, complete and substantial success. Vietnam is not only a member seriously implementing committed-to agreements, but is also becoming a solid and reliable support for the region, especially in a moment when ASEAN faces challenges like COVID-19.

Recognising Vietnam's successful role as ASEAN Chair 2020, ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi commented that Vietnam showed its strong leadership in leading a regional collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The November 2020 issue of Diplomat magazine ran a headline article on Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2020. With its title “Vietnam’s Virtual Charm Offensive”, the article praised the country for its surprising creativity in making the impossible possible, as it skilfully reached consensus in the region as well as with partners, using an online dialogue platform never tried before.

From "active participation" to "proactively contributing to shaping the rules of the conduct"

In January 2020, Vietnam returned to the meeting room of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member, while at the same time serving in the role of rotating presidency of the council for the month. This is not the first time Vietnam has participated in the UNSC (non-permanent member of the UNSC for the 2008-2009 term), and while the roles and duties of UNSC non-permanent members have not changed compared to before, the situation was much different.

Fierce strategic competition among major countries has downgraded solidarity and unity within the UNSC to a lower level than 10 years ago. On many issues, major countries have conflicts of interests, so it is difficult for them to find a common voice. Meanwhile, tensions in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America have not "cooled down", along with 68 conflicts and a series of backlogs in the 75 years since the UN's founding still remaining on the agenda.

In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has become an unprecedented global challenge. Not only does it affect every aspect of international life, it also reveals how multilateral spirit has been eroded. Faced with the challenges of powerful politics, populism, declined political commitment, and pragmatism, amongst others, multilateralism and international cooperation have been seriously affected.

How to offer both practical ideas and initiatives to solve global issues while balancing the interests of stakeholders is not an easy task for Vietnam, especially when as the UNSC’s decisions are always associated with particularly important and sensitive issues, such as war and peace, anti-terrorism, and imposing sanctions or not.

However, few countries have advantages like Vietnam has. Having been through two wars, more than anyone, Vietnam understands the value of peace, so the country always strives for the advancement of humanity. There are also some countries that can put aside the past to heal relations and establish cooperation with "former foes", similar to how the Vietnamese people have. Therefore, although it is not a big or rich country, Vietnam can actively participate in the UNSC.

In fact, together with other non-permanent members, Vietnam has become a bridge to assist the P5 group (the permanent members of the UNSC) understand each other better, thereby minimising deadlocks and inefficiencies in the council due to disagreements among these countries. Not only that, the responsible participation, contribution and "rational" voice of Vietnam on seemingly very distant issues in Africa, Latin America or the Middle East has been recognised by the international community. It can be said Vietnam's role has contributed to solving many important global problems, shaping the development of the future world.

On the UN forum, the world has seen more about a steadily growing Vietnam with its new posture – the position of a nation with mastery over its destiny, as well as a being an independent, autonomous, peaceful and stable country on its development path, while having the influence of a partner shifting from "active participation" to "actively contributing to building, shaping new structures, new rules of conduct", a partner always having a responsible role in regional and global "playgrounds".

This “dual role” brought about a successful year for Vietnam's multilateral diplomacy, opening up great opportunities for the country to continue to promote its precious experience in "combining national strength with the fortes of the era" to enhance Vietnam's position in the international arena, contributing to promoting national development and placing it ahead in the global race.

Nhan Dan

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