Vietnam leapfrogs to world stage

Update: 17:30 | 28/11/2017
Columnist Rajaram Panda from The Daily Pioneer (India) has praised the achievements of Da Nang in hosting the event of the year, the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in November 2017. In his article “Vietnam Leapfrogs To World Stage”, he believes that Vietnam’s diplomatic profile at the world stage has leapfrogged in recent years. 
vietnam leapfrogs to world stage APEC turns Vietnam into world’s center of attention: President
vietnam leapfrogs to world stage Foreign media consider APEC 2017 diplomatic success of Vietnam

The 25th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit has helped elevate the Southeast Asian country’s diplomatic profile and marked a milestone in Da Nang’s socio-economic development.

This flagship event witnessed the participation of 21 member economies, along with thousands of delegates, international journalists, and world-leading entrepreneurs in attendance. Alongside, a business summit, a dialogue between APEC top leaders and leaders of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), as well as the Inter-Ministerial Meeting of the APEC Foreign and Economic Ministers took place. To Vietnam’s credit, it provided state-of-the-art infrastructure, convenient traffic, diversified and high-quality accommodation and services, well-trained human resources, as well as security.

vietnam leapfrogs to world stage
Rajaram Panda, the writer is ICCR India Chair Visiting Professor at Reitaku University, Japan. (Photo: The Pioneer)

It was one of the most significant achievements of Da Nang’s breakthrough policies over the past two decades and opened the path for industrialisation and modernisation. Once Da Nang was chosen to host the APEC Summit, the city started thorough preparations and renovation to ensure every aspect of the event of an epic magnitude. By successfully hosting the important Summit, Da Nang is now “Vietnam’s new rising Dragon”, living up to the French journalist Bruno Philip’s praises. In the process, Da Nang earned its reputation as an “environmental city”, an “Asian townscape”, or the “city of festivities”, thus positioning itself on the international stage.

According to Rajaram Panda, at the event, the Asia-Pacific leaders have achieved many targets which include: addressing “unfair trade practices” and urgently called for the removal of “market distorting subsidies”, in contrast to communiqués they had issued in the past. What stood out was the joint statement issued at the end of the Summit, which demonstrated the influence of US President Donald Trump, who has vowed to rewrite trade pacts that he sees as unfavourable to the US.

The joint statement resolved to make trade more inclusive, support improved market access opportunities, and address unfair trade practices. In sharp contrast to the 2016 statement which was not critical of the World Trade Organisation, the 2017 statement made a mention on the need to improve the organisation’s “negotiating, monitoring and dispute settlement functions.” Also, in contrast to the 2016 statement which made no mention of bilateral trade, the leaders noted the “importance of bilateral, regional and plurilateral agreements”. The change in the language demonstrated the influence of Trump’s “America First” policy. It is already known that Trump prefers to do bilateral trade deals and in one of his first acts as president pulled the US out of the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

vietnam leapfrogs to world stage
Minister of Trade and Industry Tran Tuan Anh and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi at the press conference announcing the new CPTPP. (Photo: Tuan Anh)

While at Da Nang, many leaders had hoped that the meeting would help resuscitate a moribund TPP. The multilateral deal, promoted by Barack Obama as a way to avoid Chinese dominance in Asia, was aimed to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers across a large bloc of nations. However, in one of his first acts of office, Trump withdrew from the pact.

In the changing geopolitical situation, new orientation in the wake of China’s belligerence in regional issues has catapulted Vietnam-US relations to another level. The visit of Barack Obama in his last year of presidency, followed by the visit of Japan’s Emperor and Empress to Vietnam early this year elevated Vietnam’s status on the global stage. The strategic contours on regional issues have dramatically changed, and nations are readjusting their priorities in response to the changed situation.

Vietnam has a running feud with China over some portions of the South China Sea and to defend its sovereignty, Vietnam is beefing up its military with the help of India, Japan, and the US. In recent years, Beijing which claims nearly the entire waterway as its own has repeatedly clashed with Vietnam over competing claims. In May 2017, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, became the first leader from Southeast Asia to meet with Trump in Washington. Since diplomatic ties were normalised in 1995, Vietnam-US ties have seen incremental growth and external environment has contributed to this in large measure.

vietnam leapfrogs to world stage
President Tran Dai Quang and his wife taking pictures will APEC Economic Leaders and spouses. 

However, Vietnam was not happy when Trump pulled the US out from the TPP. The US is the top destination for Vietnamese exports, access of Vietnamese products to its No 1 market could be adversely impacted now onwards. However, what went unnoticed was that Trump launched a tirade against predatory economic policies and ‘unfair trade imbalance’ with some countries just after he heaped praise on China. In particular, he talked about “violations, cheating or economic aggression” in the region, reflecting a fierce reprimand. He accused the predatory economic policies of certain countries, accusing them of having “stripped” jobs, factories, and industries out of the US.

The writer pointed out the significant differences in the speeches of President Trump and Xi at the APEC CEO Summit. Trump is perturbed with the current trade imbalance that the US faces and emphasized his stand on “America First”. In contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping did not directly respond to Trump’s challenge on trade but sought to paint himself as a champion of economic openness, globalisation and fight against climate change, in contrast to the isolationist Trump.

The columnist mentioned what stood out at the APEC Summit is Trump’s desire to move away from regional free trade agreements in preference to bilateral deals, and this was in stark contrast to the stance adopted by other leaders at the Summit. In particular, Xi praised many of the results of an increasingly connected world, referring to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the massive plan to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

vietnam leapfrogs to world stage
On the occasion of the 25th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, the APEC and ASEAN Informal Dialogue, themed “Partnering for New Dynamism for a Comprehensively Connected and Integrated Asia-Pacific”, was held for the first time on November 10 in the central city of Da Nang. (Photo: Nguyễn Hồng)

China has registered three decades of breakneck growth, and as a result, its global influence has expanded significantly. Despite its aggressive stance on many regional issues, Beijing maintains that it poses no threat to any country, pledging peaceful development on the international stage. However, the problem arises when China wants to impose its own will and terms on how this growth strategy should pan out.

Rajaram Panda poses the question whether APEC is serving any definite purpose in defining a clear strategy for growth in the Asia and the Pacific. The fact that India as a rising economic power remains excluded from this important grouping dents the credibility of the organisation to a large extent and this is an aberration that remains to be corrected.

The writer is currently Indian Council for Cultural Relations India Chair Visiting Professor at Reitaku University, Japan. The views expressed are his own and do not represent either of the ICCR or the Government of India.


Rajaram Panda 

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