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Carlyle A. Thayer *
[Paper to Vietnam on the Road to Development and Integration: Tradition and Modernity, 2nd International Conference on Vietnamese Studies, National Center for Social Sciences and Humanities of Vietnam, Vietnam National University, and the Ford Foundation, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, July 14-16, 2004]
Introduction This paper explores the role of multilateralism in Vietnam’s foreign policy throughout the decade of the 1990s until the present. The paper is organized into five parts. Part 1 provides a definition of multilateralism. Part two traces the origins of Vietnam’s multidirectional foreign policy. Part three reviews Vietnam’s experience as a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Party four reviews Vietnam’s experience with multilateralism in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis. Part five offers some conclusions arising from Vietnam’s experience with multilateralism.
Part 1 — Multilateralism Robert Keohane defines multilateralism as ‘the practice of coordinating national policies in groups of three or more states though ad hoc arrangements or by means of institutions’. 1 This definition is called the ‘minimalist definition’ because of its quantitative nature (three or more states) and because multilateral institutions are defined as simply ‘multilateral arrangements with persistent sets of rules’. John Ruggie 2 offers a deeper (or maximalist) definition of multilateralism. Ruggie asks what is it about international institutions that make them multilateral? He argues that it is not simply the number of actors involved but the qualitative
* Director UNSW Defence Studies Forum, School of Humanities and Social
Sciences, University College, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. 1Robert O. Keohane, ‘Multilateralism: An Agenda for Research’, International Journal, 45 (Autumn 1990), 731. 2John Ruggie, ‘Multilateralism: The Anatomy of an Institution’, International Organization, 46, 3 (Summer 1992), 566-568,
Carlyle A. Thayer
dimension or character of their coordination. According to Ruggie, multilateral relations involve three or more states coming together to tackle a specific issue or set of issues on the basis of generalized principles of conduct. In other words, multilateral institutions adopt appropriate conduct for a class of actions irrespective of particular interests or circumstances. He identifies three generalized principles that are important: nondiscrimination, indivisibility, and diffuse reciprocity. The principle of indivisibility may be illustrated with reference to the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or the most-favoured-nation (MFN) principle. Under GATT and MFN the trade system is an indivisible whole and all parties agree to treat each other in a like fashion. Diffuse reciprocity means, with respect to exports for example, that one party will receive roughly the same amount of benefit in aggregate over a period of time as all other parties. This paper adopts Ruggie’s definition when the term multilateralism is used in this paper. Part 2 — A Multi-Directional Foreign Policy During the 1980s, a major transformation took place in how Vietnam’s policy elite conceptualized foreign policy. The roots of this transformation were two fold. They lay in domestic circumstances arising from the socio-economic crisis that confronted Vietnam at that time. And secondly, they also lay in external influences arising from the ‘new political thinking’ emanating from Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. Vietnam turned from a foreign policy framework heavily structured by ideological considerations to a foreign policy framework that placed greater emphasis on national interest. Vietnamese analysts now tended to emphasize global economic forces and the impact of the revolution in science and technology over military-industrial aspects of power when weighing the global balance. 3 The old and new foreign policy frameworks are not mutually exclusive, they can and do overlap and co-exist. Vietnam’s ideologically-derived world view began to change in tandem with a re-thinking of Soviet foreign policy. In December 1986, at the sixth national congress of CPV, Vietnam adopted the policy of doi moi. This policy was mainly concerned with overcoming
3Vu Khoan, ‘Mot so van de quoc te cua dai hoi VII’ and Nguyen Manh Cam, ‘Gia tri lau ben va dinh huong nhat quan’ in Bo Ngoai Giao, Hoi nhap quoc te va giu vung ban sac. Hanoi: Nha xuat ban chinh tri quoc te, 1995, 71–76 and 223–230, respectively.
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the domestic economic crisis by the adoption of socio-economic reforms including opening Vietnam to foreign direct investment. It was not until May 1988, however, that Vietnam’s new foreign policy orientation was codified. This took the form of Politburo Resolution no. 13 which stressed a ‘multi-directional foreign policy’ orientation. 4 This resolution is now recognized as a major landmark. The emphasis was ‘to maintain peace, take advantage of favorable world conditions’ in order to stabilize the domestic situation and set the base for economic development over the next ten to fifteen years. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, both Vietnamese and Southeast Asian leaders began to discuss the prospects of and conditions for Vietnam’s membership in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). In November 1990, President Suharto of Indonesia became the first ASEAN head of state to pay an official visit to Vietnam. In March 1991, Malaysia’s Prime Minister proposed the initiation of a dialogue between ASEAN and the non-member states of mainland Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia). This was immediately welcomed by Vietnam which also signaled its desire to attract investment from ASEAN businessmen. An important elaboration of Vietnam’s ‘multi-directional foreign policy’ was adopted by the seventh national party congress in June 1991. 5 Vietnam now sought ‘to be friends with all countries’. Vietnam’s Strategy for Socioeconomic Stabilization and Development Up to the Year 2000, declared that Vietnam would ‘diversify and multilateralise economic relations with all countries and economic organizations...’ In August, Phan Van Khai, first vice chairman of the Council of Ministers, speaking at an international symposium in Hanoi, signaled Vietnam’s desire to cooperate with ASEAN members. Another Vietnamese official stated that ‘ASEAN can become the bridge between Vietnam and the world.’ 6 In September, during the course of a visit to Hanoi by Thailand’s Foreign Minister, Vietnam expressed its willingness to accede to the 1976 ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and then followed up by officially notifying the Philippines of its intention. 7
4Nguyen Dy Nien, ‘Tiep tuc doi moi va mo cua vi su nghiep cong nghiep hoa, hien dai hoa dat nuoc’, Tap Chi Cong San, no. 12, June 1996, 47. 5Vu Khoan, ‘Mot so van de quoc te cua dai hoi VII’, op. cit., 75. 6Remarks by Pham Van Tiem, chairman of the State Price Committee quoted by Andrew Sherry, Agence France–Presse (AFP), Hanoi, 25 August 1991. 7Kavi Chongkittavorn, ‘Vietnam now casting its eyes towards Asean’, The Nation,
Carlyle A. Thayer
The October 1991 Cambodian peace agreement and the collapse of the Soviet Union in December that year represented a major watershed in the development of Vietnam’s ‘omni-directional’ approach to foreign policy. The Cambodian settlement meant that Vietnam was no longer an international pariah state subject to an aid and trade boycott. After the Cambodian settlement, Vietnam moved to restore relations with the individual members of ASEAN and ASEAN as a regional organization. Vo Van Kiet, then chairman of the Council of Ministers, led a high-level government delegation to Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore in October-November 1991. 8 The following year he visited Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei. Kiet’s trips marked a return of Vietnam into the regional fold and a turning back of the clock to 1976–77 when Vietnam-Southeast Asia relations were at an all time high. Since Kiet’s ground-breaking visits, Do Muoi, Secretary General of the Vietnam Communist Party, paid visits to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Myanmar. 9 The end of the Cambodian conflict brought with it an end to ASEAN’s trade and aid embargo. This led to unprecedented levels of commercial interaction. ASEAN investment increased ten fold in just three years (1991–1994), and made up 15 per cent of total direct foreign investment. ASEAN states became involved in over 147 projects with a paid up capital of US$1.4 billion by the first half of 1994. Thirty-seven development agreements were signed between Vietnam and ASEAN businesses during this period. Sixty per cent of Vietnam’s foreign trade was with ASEAN states. In 1994, Singapore overtook Japan to become Vietnam’s biggest trading partner. Four of the ASEAN countries ranked among the top fifteen foreign investors in Vietnam. Singapore and Malaysia ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, after Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and France. 10 The industrializing economies of Thailand and Malaysia also made them important models for
24 September 1991. 8Murray Hiebert and Michael Vatikiotis, ‘Asean’s embrace’, Far Eastern Economic Review, 14 November 1991, 19. 9Do Muoi held an informal summit with Thai Prime Minister Chatchai in Chiang Mai in January 1991. 10Data on foreign investment provided by the State Committee for Cooperation and Investment as of 11 August 1994.
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Vietnamese emulation. Since 1992, in preparation for membership, Vietnam joined six ASEAN committees and five ASEAN projects on functional cooperation, including science and technology, environment, health services, population, tourism, culture, civil aviation and maritime transportation. In 1992 and 1993, Vietnam attended the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meetings as an observer. In July 1992 Vietnam acceded to the 1976 ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (or Bali Treaty). By so doing Vietnam renounced the use of force or the threat to use force in foreign relations. And Vietnam committed itself to the non-violent resolution of any conflict which might arise under mechanisms spelled out in the 1976 Bali Treaty. Two years later, at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, ASEAN officially invited Vietnam to become its seventh member. Vietnam’s application was formally approved in late 1994 and it became a member in July 1995. Vietnam also joined the ASEAN Regional Forum at this time. 11 Since the seventh party congress, Vietnam succeeded in diversifying its foreign relations (in 1994 alone, Vietnam received presidents and prime ministers from Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, Japan, India and Canada). The major accomplishments of this new orientation were fivefold: normalization of relations with China (November 1991), the restoration of official assistance from Japan (November 1992) and in 1995 normalization of relations with the United States, membership in ASEAN, and the signing of a framework agreement with the European Union. For the first time, socialist Vietnam had established relations with all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and equally importantly, with the world’s three major economic centers: Europe, North America and East Asia. Vietnam’s overall diplomatic relations expanded to include diplomatic ties with 163 countries by the end of 1996. In 1989, Vietnam had diplomatic relations with only twenty-three non-communist states. In 1995 Vietnam participated in the fifth ASEAN summit and the first Asia-Europe Summit Meeting. Vietnam also met its obligations under the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT). During 1995 Vietnam exchanged thirty-five major delegations with ASEAN states
11For Vietnamese views on the ARF consult: Vu Tung, ‘Dien dan khu vuc ASEAN (ARF) va an ninh chau A - Thai Binh Duong’, Nghien Cuu Quoc Te, 3(5), September 1994, 28–33; and Nguyen Phuong Binh, ‘Vai tro cua ASEAN trong viec xay dung co che an ninh khu vuc’, Nghien Cuu Quoc Te, 4(6), December 1994, 30–34.
Carlyle A. Thayer
including the visit of President Le Duc Anh to the Philippines and the visit of the King of Malaysia to Vietnam. Figures released at the end of the year revealed that ASEAN states had invested in 234 projects with a total investment capital reaching US$3.2 billion. As of 16th May 1997, these figures had risen to 312 projects with a total capitalization of US$7.6 billion or 20% of the total foreign direct investment in Vietnam. Singapore ranked first in both the number of projects (156) and capital invested (US$5.1 billion). 12 On 15th December 1995, Vietnam signed the protocol acceding to the agreement on the CEPT scheme as a first step in joining the ASEAN Free Trade Area. 13 Vietnam is now obligated to extend most-favored nation and national treatment to ASEAN member countries. Under the terms of this protocol Vietnam was also required to provide information on its trade regime and reduce its tariffs on its immediate inclusion list to 0-5% by January 1996. In actual fact, all 857 lines on Vietnam immediate inclusion list already met this requirement. Vietnam retained 1,189 tariff lines (54% of the total) on its temporary exclusion list and 26 tariff lines on its sensitive list (1% of the total). Vietnam was required to phase in tariff reductions on its temporary exclusion lines in five equal installments beginning in January 1999 and ending by January 2003. In 2003, ninety-two per cent of all tariff lines used by Vietnam would fall under the CEPT scheme. Most of Vietnam’s sensitive list includes unprocessed agricultural products. In sum, in both political and economic relations Vietnam positioned itself quite well to join ASEAN and participate in its program of regional integration. Upon joining ASEAN, Vietnam reorganized its bureaucracy by creating a National ASEAN Committee headed by a Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility of coordinating all institutions that interacted with ASEAN or ASEAN-affiliated bodies. An ASEAN Department was created within the Foreign Ministry. The next part will review Vietnam’s experience as a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations until the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98.
12Le Quoc Phuong, ‘FDI of ASEAN Countries in Vietnam to Increase’, Saigon Times Daily, 21 May 1997. 13Suthad Setboonsarng, ed., AFTA Reader, vol. 4, The Fifth ASEAN Summit. Jakarta: ASEAN Secretariat, September 1996, 36–38.
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Part 3 — Vietnam in ASEAN Vietnamese officials identify the following major benefits that Vietnam hoped to gain by membership in ASEAN: enhanced national security, external support for economic development, and as a catalyst to its domestic reform process. 14 Vietnam joined ASEAN with the prime strategic objective of securing of a more peaceful international environment in which to guarantee Vietnam’s national security against external threat. This objective had several dimensions. Vietnam specifically sought to transform its relations with ASEAN states from suspicion to trust and from competition to partnership by moving to resolve such problems areas as the repatriation of Vietnamese refugees, 15 demarcation of continental shelves, overlapping territorial claims (involving Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand) and fishing disputes. These legacies of history were seen as irritants that could impede the development of close ASEAN-Vietnam relations. Membership in ASEAN provided Vietnam a greater capacity for political cooperation and dealing with conflicts with its regional neighbours. For the first time since independence, Vietnam was less concerned about its borders; and this brought with it the ‘peace dividend’ of reduced defence expenditures. In other words, longterm political and strategic objectives were Vietnam’s first priority. Vietnam also sought membership in ASEAN to enhance its bargaining position in global affairs, particularly with the major powers. Good ASEAN-Vietnam relations was expected to lead to enhanced standing and prestige in the wider Asia-Pacific and the world. Vietnam could leverage ASEAN’s good standing with the major powers and would not have to sacrifice any of its external relationships. Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea in 1992 served as a catalyst for ASEAN membership. Membership in ASEAN, in Hanoi’s view, transformed this particular problem from a bilateral one between Beijing and Hanoi into a multilateral one involving China and ASEAN as a group. In other words, bilateral discussions on territorial disputes between China and Vietnam took on an added
14Doan Manh Giao, ‘Why Vietnam Joins ASEAN’, Paper presented to international seminar on Vietnam and ASEAN: Business Prospects and Policy Directions’, Kuala Lumpur, 19 December 1995. 15Kawi Chongkittawon, The Nation, 29 January 1992.
Carlyle A. Thayer
dimension because of Vietnam’s membership in ASEAN and Vietnam’s adherence to ASEAN’s declaratory policy on the settlement of outstanding disputes. However, as Vietnamese analysts point out, ‘Vietnamese history shows that one-sided relations have led to political isolation and economic difficulties.... Therefore, Vietnam’s ASEAN membership should be achieved in a way that would strengthen instead of harm Vietnam’s relations with China’. 16 Vietnam also sought membership in ASEAN as a means to improve its relations with the United States. In Hanoi’s view, Vietnam was strategically more important to Washington as a member of ASEAN. In 1994, before Vietnam was a member, it was still subject to a US-imposed trade and aid embargo. By securing ASEAN membership, Vietnam hoped it would transform its image from a ‘communist trouble maker’ to that of an underdeveloped socialist country striving to develop a ‘market-orientated economy’. In Hanoi’s view, its conversion into a potential ‘partner for peace’ would be attractive to decision-makers in Washington. Hanoi also expected that ASEAN membership would provide it some political support in its dealings with the United States and Europe on such issues as human rights and democratization. According to one Vietnamese political analyst Vietnam would be ‘quite happy to hide behind’ Malaysia and Singapore on those issues. 17 A third objective of ASEAN membership was to secure the most favorable external conditions for carrying out economic renovation and integration with the region and global economy. According to one Vietnamese writer, ‘Politically, due to ASEAN’s high international prestige, ASEAN membership would enhance Vietnam’s diplomatic standing and integrate Vietnam’s security with the security of the whole of Southeast Asia, thus creating an external environment favorable for economic development.’ 18 Vietnam expected to benefit from increased trade and investment
16Hoang Anh Tuan, ‘Why Hasn’t Vietnam Gained ASEAN Membership’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, 15(3) December 1993, 288–289. 17Quoted by Adam Schwarz, ‘Joining The Fold’, Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 March 1995. An article written prior to Vietnam’s membership in ASEAN also noted the similarity in policy on human rights between Vietnam and ASEAN; see: Nguyen Phuong Binh, ‘Ve viec Viet Nam gia nhap ASEAN’, Nghien Cuu Quoc Te, 3(5), September 1994, 26. 18Tuan, ‘Why Hasn’t Vietnam Gained ASEAN Membership’, 283.
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from ASEAN states. 19 Participation in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) meant gaining familiarity with the norms and practices of international trade. This in turn would facilitate membership in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and eventual membership in the World Trade Organization. 20 Vietnam’s membership in AFTA did not greatly affect the other ASEAN economies as trade with Vietnam comprised about 2.5 percent of the existing intra-ASEAN total. As a member of ASEAN, Vietnam could also expect to learn from the developmental experience of its original members and receive their support in addressing Vietnam economic (and political) concerns, especially as a developing country. In other words, membership in ASEAN would act as a catalyst for and further accelerate domestic reforms in Vietnam. But participation in AFTA was expected to result in trade creation and trade diversion benefits for Vietnam. Vietnam expected to increase its imports from ASEAN, particularly from Singapore. Thailand was expected to divert its trade by importing more from Vietnam under AFTA arrangements. Vietnam was to import quality materials from ASEAN not only for domestic production but for export. As an ASEAN member, Vietnam enjoyed the Generalized System of Preferences status in selling to Europe and North America. Vietnam’s textile, garment, leather and electronic assembly industries were expected to benefit most. Vietnam expected that membership in AFTA would result in increased foreign direct investment to the extent that the ASEAN region as a whole was seen as a stable and profitable market. Vietnam also expected to receive high technology transfers from member states. As of May 1997 three ASEAN countries—Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand—ranked among the ten largest foreign investors in Vietnam (Indonesia ranked eighteenth, the Philippines twenty-first). Singaporean investment is concentrated in the fields of hotel construction and tourism. Malaysia and Indonesia invested in Vietnam’s oil sector, while Thailand has concentrated on mineral exploitation and processing. ASEAN investment in Vietnam was expected to rise as investors sought to exploit Vietnam’s lower labor
19 Bala Ramasamy, ‘The Second Enlargement of ASEAN: The Inclusion of Vietnam’, ASEAN Economies, 25(2) June 1996, 29–47. Updated figures are from Le Quoc Phuong, ‘FDI of ASEAN Countries in Vietnam to Increase’, op. cit. 20Vietnam was admitted into APEC in November 1998.
Carlyle A. Thayer
costs in resource and labor intensive industries. How did Vietnam evaluate the attainment of its objectives after a year of membershp? In September 1996, Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam said that Vietnam made the right decision to join ASEAN despite the difficulties it now faced in liberalizing its economy in an effort to catch up with the other six members. 21 Cam also mentioned difficulties caused by differences in the political systems, noting in particular Vietnam’s socialist government, planned economy, inexperience with the free market, and the lack of English-speaking officials. Nonetheless, Cam stated, Vietnam would meet its obligations to open its economy under AFTA by 2006. ‘We want to strengthen the trend towards regionalism and international integration. This will promote peace and stability’, he said. Among the Vietnamese foreign policy elite there too was a general consensus that the decision to join ASEAN was correct and had been a success. 22 There were two areas of concern, however. Vietnam joined ASEAN primarily for the political and strategic benefits it calculated it would gain vis-a-vis China and the United States. As noted by one Vietnamese writer, ‘despite announcing its commitment to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation… Hanoi is not so certain whether it accepts the rules of the game, that is, accepts all the written and unwritten norms of the relationship among ASEAN countries without any exceptions.’ 23 In other words, the major political disadvantage for Vietnam, long accustomed to asserting its sovereignty and independence, 24 has been the need to meld Vietnam’s position to fit in with the ASEAN consensus. The second area of concern related to Vietnam trade imbalance and growing deficit with other ASEAN members. Intra-ASEAN trade expanded and Vietnam reoriented its exports to take
21Lee Kim Chew, Hanoi, ‘Vietnam “Has No Regrets About Joining ASEAN”’, The Straits Times, 10 September 1996. 22Nguyen Manh Hung, ‘Nhin lai mot nam Viet Nam gia nhap ASEAN’, Nghien Cuu Quoc Te, no. 13, 1996, 3–5. 23Pham Cao Phong, ‘How Asean’s newest member is coping’, Business Times Weekend Edition, Trends, 29–30 June 1996. 24See: Truong Giang Long, ‘Mot So Van De Trong Qua Trinh Ho Nhap Viet NamASEAN’, Tap Chi Cong San, no. 3, February 1997, 57–59, which stresses the need for Vietnam to maintain its independence and sovereignty as a member of ASEAN.
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advantage of this large market. About thirty percent of Vietnam’s exports went to ASEAN states. Imports from ASEAN accounted for nearly one-half of Vietnam’s total imports. The volume of trade with ASEAN countries rose markedly in dollar value terms and resulted in a situation in which more than half of Vietnam’s trade deficit of US$3.5 billion (1996 figures) was with other ASEAN countries. These were Vietnam’s expectations and concerns up until the onset of the Asian financial and economic crisis of 1997–98. Part 4 — Vietnam and Multilateralism: An Assessment This part reviews Vietnam’s experience with multilateralism in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis, enlargement, political upheaval in Cambodia and the impact of reginal haze generated by Indonesian forest fires. During this period, ASEAN lost some of its unity and cohesion as some members became preoccupied with internal stability and sought to recover by emphasizing policies of self-help over regional cooperation. As a result, ASEAN became less effective as an organization in dealing with external powers. A gap began to emerge between the old and new ASEAN members. There were fears that ASEAN would become a two-tiered organization. In 1998, Vietnamese officials became alarmed by two developments affecting ASEAN. The first concerned the impact of multiple regional crises on Vietnam’s economic and political stability. ASEAN’s disarray in dealing with these issues also served to reinforce those voices in Vietnam who urged a go slow approach to economic integration. The second issue concerned a move by Thailand, supported by the Philippines, to modify ASEAN’s longcherished principle on non-interference in the internal affairs of other member states. Thailand’s proposal was aimed at Myanmar whose domestic policies, it was alleged, spilled over and threatened regional stability. Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister wanted Cambodia included in this discussion on constructive intervention (later changed to flexible engagement). Vietnam supported the status quo. These two developments caused Vietnam to lower its expectations about the benefits and advantages of multilateralism through ASEAN membership. Vietnamese writers assert that the Asian financial crisis undermined both regional and national resilience. As noted by one analyst, ASEAN’s inward looking tendency became stronger than its sense of community as individual countries turned to self-help. The Asian financial crisis also undermined ASEAN’s collective selfconfidence. As a result, ASEAN became less effective in dealing with
Carlyle A. Thayer
the great powers. There were two immediate impacts on Vietnam. 25 First, some ASEAN members lowered their expected contributions to Vietnam’s economic development at intergovernmental and private sector levels. Second, economic transactions between Vietnam and ASEAN became less effective as the structure of trade worked against Vietnam’s national interests. Vietnam now faced stiff competition in some sectors from its neighbours. The Asian financial crisis and its aftermath raised serious concerns about the efficacy of Vietnam’s experience with multilateralism as a member of ASEAN. Political instability and unexpected leadership change in neighbouring states not only created an unsettling environment for Vietnam, but it also meant that their increased concern with domestic affairs came at the expense of attention to regional affairs. As ASEAN’s cohesion came under challenge, Vietnamese leaders worried that the development gap within ASEAN between old and new members would widen and create a two-tiered organisation. Vietnamese concerns were fueled by statements attributed to officials from the original five members that enlargement had led to a slow-down in ASEAN decision-making and consensus-building. These officials also alleged that new members were an economic and political burden. ASEAN also experienced difficulties in managing differences among its members on such issues as democratization and human rights, security perceptions, and attitudes towards the great powers. In the new circumstances, Vietnam’s expectations of mutual support among ASEAN members was shaken. Part 5 — Conclusion Vietnam’s membership in ASEAN has resulted in more realistic view of the benefits of multilateralism. Multilateralism tends to work well when the external environment is stable. But economic set backs and other strains, such as were experienced in Southeast Asia in the late 1990s, have taught Vietnam that the principles of nondiscrimination, indivisibility, and diffuse reciprocity can be undermined by the clash of national interests.
25Nguyen Phuong Binh and Luan Thuy Duong, ‘Expectations and Experiences of the New Members: A Vietnamese Perspective’, in Simon S. C. Tay, Jesus P. Estanislao and Hadi Soesastro, eds., Reinventing ASEAN (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2001), 185-205.
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Vietnam has reacted to these developments by developing strong independent bilateral ties with the great powers. In 1999, it signed a long-term cooperative framework agreement with China that sets the context of bilateral relation into the first decade of the 21st century. In 2000, Vietnam signed a long-term Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States that will integrate its economy more closely with the American market. Based on these and other experiences Vietnam is now seeking membership in the World Trade Organisation. At the same time, Vietnam continues to emphasize the importance of relations with individual Southeast Asian states as well as ASEAN as an organization. Vietnam has been at the forefront of ensuring that ASEAN adopts socio-economic policies designed to reduce the development gap between new and old members. In sum, Vietnam has adopted a more realistic view of ‘the ASEAN Way’ and the benefits of multilateralism. Vietnam now seeks to pursuing multilateral and bilateral policies in tandem.
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