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Geopolitics & Strategy

Vietnam: APEC Summit – Strategic Context, Agenda, Priorities and Official Visits; By Carlyle A. Thayer

Article No. 0093/2017

Vietnam is due to host the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in Da Nang City. Could you provide your assessment of the following issues?

Q1. Can you kindly brief the context in which Vietnam hosts APEC 2017? Is it a challenge or opportunity for Vietnam’s hosting?

ANSWER: APEC 2017 is taking place at a time when the world economy is slowly recovering from the recent global financial crisis and as China’s economy continues to expand but at a slower pace. These economic trends are taking place simultaneously with the rise of anti-globalization sentiment and support for protectionism among some major powers including most prominently the United States. The so-called liberal world order established after the Second World War is weakening as China deliberately acts to undermine this order by offering a Chinacentric order epitomized by the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the One Belt, One Road initiative.

APEC 2017 is also taking place at the time of stable political transition in China and discord in the United States. President Xi Jinping has set far-sighted goals to make China the largest economy in the world and for China to become a model for other countries. Q2. Vietnam hosted APEC for the first time in 2006. As an expert in Vietnamese studies, can you give some assessment of that significant event in relation to Vietnam’s foreign policy? Was it a success or not?

Q2. Vietnam hosted APEC for the first time in 2006. As an expert in Vietnamese studies, can you give some assessment of that significant event in relation to Vietnam’s foreign policy? Was it a success or not?

ANSWER: As early as 1991 Vietnam set about to “muiltilateralize and diversify” its external relations to end its comparative isolation in world affairs. In 1995 Vietnam became a member of ASEAN and later APEC. Membership in multilateral institutions brought with it the responsibility to host ministerial and summit meetings. Vietnam proceeded gradually. In 1997 it hosted the Francophonie summit and a year later it hosted the 6th ASEAN Summit. This was good preparation for hosting APEC in 2016 that involved meetings of various working groups, ministers and government leaders. APEC 2006 was important because it showcased Vietnam’s ability to host leaders from twenty-one countries and to contribute constructively to advancing trade liberalization in the region. As a result this raised Vietnam’s international prestige and in my opinion laid the groundwork for Vietnam’s most important diplomatic success: election to the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member in late 2007. It important to note in this regard that Vietnam was the unanimous choice of the Asia bloc as its candidate and won an overwhelming vote in the UN General Assembly.

Q3. What do you think about Vietnam’s agenda (theme and priorities) for APEC 2017?

ANSWER: Vietnam, as APEC host, has set the theme “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future.” This is an important theme to capture the urgency of recovering from the global financial crisis by obtaining consensus among APEC members to step up efforts to promote economic growth and regional economic integration through trade and investment.

APEC’s Economic Ministers, meeting in Vietnam, set four major priorities: (1) promoting sustainable, innovative and inclusive growth, (2) deepening regional economic integration, (3) strengthening the competitiveness and innovation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the digital age, and (4) enhanced food security and sustainable agriculture in response to climate change. Since Vietnam is an emerging economy dependent on access to the markets of more advanced economies it is well placed to identify the bottlenecks to economic growth. Vietnam has stressed structural reforms and innovation in small and medium enterprises.

APEC’s theme also promotes the common and long-term goal of APEC to build a peaceful, stable, integrated and prosperous community in the Asia-Pacific.

Q4. On the occasion of APEC Economic Leaders’ Week, Vietnam is expected to receive leaders from global powers, including US President, Russian President, Chinese President (some of them is set to pay an official visit to Hanoi in addition to their attendance at APEC Economic Leaders’ Week). In your opinion, what is the significance of those visits to APEC 2017 in general and Vietnam as a host in particular?

ANSWER: APEC serves as a meeting place for world leaders to meet to advance the goals of trade and investment liberalization and economic integration in an informal setting. It also provides a venue for world leaders to meet on the sidelines to discuss a range of non-economic issues that are of concern. Even if there are tensions in relations between major countries, the fact that they are showing up at APEC is a sign that they are at least committed to maintaining a peaceful environment so their economies can flourish.

Vietnam double benefits from the presence of world leaders. As APEC Chair Vietnam will play a diplomatic role in promoting APEC’s objectives in a multilateral setting. When Vietnam hosts official visits to Hanoi it benefits from direct interaction on a bilateral basis. Each foreign leader who makes a state visit to Hanoi is acknowledging Vietnam’s role as a constructive regional player and the value of maintaining Vietnam’s autonomy encourage this independent role. In other words, all major powers have an interest is seeing that Vietnam is not pulled into the orbit of one country.

Q5. Da Nang (rather than Hanoi in 2006) is chosen by Vietnam to host APEC Economic Leaders’ Week. Do you think this choice is reasonable or not and why?

ANSWER: I think Da Nang was an excellent choice for the APEC Summit. It is a modern city with wide streets and little of the traffic congestion of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Da Nang has modern hotels of world class standard fronting the East Sea, thus providing good views and a sea breeze. The Da Nang airport is very modern. All visitors to APEC will be aware that Vietnam faces the East Sea, is dependent on maritime resources, and has claims on features in the South China Sea.

[Carlyle A. Thayer is an Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. The views expressed are his own. All his background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients.]

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