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Vietnam should be more proactive in global governance

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After its COVID-19 successes, Vietnam is well positioned to play a more energetic role on the global stage.

As an emergent and rising power in international affairs, Vietnam is potentially well positioned to help rebuild the global governance system that has been paralyzed by increasing superpower tensions and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is imperative that Vietnam play a stronger role in global governance in the years to come, for several reasons.

First, effectively engaging in global governance activities dovetails with Vietnam’s avowed foreign policy goals. The political report presented at the 13th National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) in January asserts that Vietnam will remain as responsible and proactive member of the international community, and seek to be a trustworthy partner for other states. The report also emphasizes that one of the key goals for Vietnamese foreign policy is facilitating international economic integration.

The country stands to gain from being more proactive in global governance. As mentioned above, the existing global governance system has deteriorated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing strategic tension between China and the United States. This offers Vietnam a chance to contribute to the reform of the international system. Thanks to its impressive response to the pandemic, Vietnam ranked second among 98 countries in terms of performance in managing COVID-19. More importantly, the country has also witnessed a relatively high growth rate compared to its neighbors, and is forecast to recover quickly from the pandemic. To this extent, Vietnam has become the role model in terms of governance. These achievements have laid a solid foundation for Vietnam to contribute more to the governance of the post-pandemic world, and if the country takes this chance, it will be able to both enhance its international image and play a more active role in world affairs.

Second, being proactive in global governance will also help Vietnam soften the impact of key global challenges. The 13th Party Congress illustrated that Vietnam’s government is deeply concerned about a variety of challenges, including but not limited to human security, water security, climate change, and future pandemics, some of which the country has suffered from in recent years. For instance, the country is identified as one of those likely to be most affected by climate change, due to its geographical location. Rising sea levels, worsening floods and droughts, and the dramatic increase in the frequency of storms all threaten the lives of Vietnamese people.

Notwithstanding its efforts, the country still faces serious consequences from the above issues. One of the most viable ways for Vietnam to be more resilient to such threats is by engaging more in regional and global governance activities aimed at resolving them. If Vietnam is proactive in tackling global threats, it will have more chances to learn more from other developed countries and receive assistance from them. On December 27, Vietnam proposed an International Day of Epidemic Preparedness during its non-permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council. This is a good example of how the country can gradually contribute to the revival of global governance, turning it into a “responsible member” of the international community, as it desires to become.

Third, Vietnam can gain economic benefits from engaging more effectively in global governance. The proliferation of free-trade agreements (FTAs) that Vietnam has signed in recent years testifies to its desire to integrate itself further into the global economy. To fully reap the benefits from these FTAs, it is crucial for Vietnam to be more proactive on governance issues, both domestic and global.

For instance, in joining the EVFTA with the European Union, Vietnam pledged to deal with environmental issues in order to ensure that its businesses and products meet EU standards. In order to take full advantage of the agreement, Vietnam should simultaneously improve its domestic governance and be more proactive on a global level. Being proactive in both local and global governance is thus inseparable from the future of the Vietnamese economy.

On the one hand, efficient local governance would solve the various issues hindering the country’s development. On the other hand, at the global level, being a pioneering actor would supplement Vietnam’s domestic governance by enhancing the country’s image as a trustworthy partner. Only when Vietnam is effective in this two-pronged mission can it become a better investment destination for global partners, which is a prerequisite for its economic thriving.

The most important area in which Vietnam should engage in global governance is focusing on post-pandemic recovery, in both social and economic terms. Although Vietnam has contained the pandemic relatively well, it has suffered many of the negative consequences of COVID-19. Its economy has been hit hard, and people’s lives have been negatively impacted by quarantine measures. It is thus vital for Vietnam to optimize its resources, making sure the country quickly returns to economic and social normalcy. In fact, the government started its vaccination campaign in March, with the expectation that it will completely control the pandemic and resume all economic and social activities as soon as possible. When Vietnam is fully immune to COVID-19, it may have resources for being proactive in governance activities, at both the domestic and global level.

Next, the country should maintain its momentum of becoming a more responsible actor within international institutions. Vietnam holds membership in most major international institutions, which remain an indispensable tool for tackling global problems. As such, becoming a proactive member of these institutions means Vietnam will be able to help reshape the governance system that is currently under threat in a variety of ways.

In recent years, Vietnam has performed well in a number of international and regional organizations, especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the U.N. It has been highly regarded thanks to its effective chairmanship of ASEAN amid the pandemic in 2020, which has consolidated its international status. Moreover, the country’s active engagement with the U.N., especially in the realm of peacekeeping, is also evident for Vietnam’s emergence. If Vietnam can foster its recent successes, it will be more institutionally capable, paving the way for the country to contribute more substantively to global governance.

In addition, in the long run, Vietnam should improve its domestic governance in order to improve its engagement at the global level. Besides those issues that Vietnam is facing as noted previously, there are many other ones that must be addressed, such as corruption, legal weaknesses, and resources management, which have been hampering Vietnam’s development for many years. Apparently, these problems have caused billions of dollars in losses for Vietnam, as well as tarnished its image in terms of governance. This implies that without addressing its governance issues in a systematic way, Vietnam will have neither the necessary credibility nor the resources to be more proactive in global governance, making its impossible to step up in this realm.

In conclusion, on the eve of the post-COVID-19 era, whether Vietnam can climb up in the international arena mainly hinges on its ability to do something meaningful to rebuild the global governance system. Given what its government has achieved so far, it has the potential to become a more confident and respected actor on the world stage.

By Phuong Pham – The Diplomat – March 30, 2021

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