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Vietnam’s ‘Four Nos’ diplomacy favour it

by Adrian David

HANOI,15 APR – Vietnam’s ‘Four Nos’ non-aligned diplomatic approach, has allowed the Indo-Chinese nation to maintain positive trade relations with super-powers.

In his analysis, Lowy Institute’s research fellow (South-East Asia programme) Abdul Rahman Yaacob found that such an approach allowed Vietnam to deal concurrently with China and the United States.

However, Rahman warned that the policy might be revised if deteriorating regional security threats jeopardised Vietnam’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, reflecting its past decisions to ally with the former Soviet Union based on strategic needs.

“Espoused by its ‘Four Nos’ policy, Vietnam’s relations with major powers are often described as non-aligned based on its ‘no military alliances, no siding with one country to act against another, no foreign military bases or using Vietnam as leverage to counteract other countries and no threat or use of force’.

“This non-aligned strategy has resulted in healthy, balanced relations with major powers to serve Vietnam well.

“Vietnam maintained good trade relations with Beijing while receiving assistance from Washington on issues such as maritime security, information sharing and cybersecurity,” said Rahman, who is also the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre academic adviser at the Asean-Australia Defence Postgraduate Scholarship Programme.

Rahman brought to mind that while non-alignment served Vietnam’s strategic interests, events leading to the Soviet Union’s military presence in Vietnam during the late 1970s and 1980s should not be forgotten.

In 2002, Russian military forces left Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay and handed over control of the military facilities to the Vietnamese.

“That event marked the end of the Russian military presence in Vietnam, which lasted nearly 25 years.

“The significance of the Russian military presence in Cam Ranh Bay demonstrated Hanoi’s swiftness in aligning itself with a major power when faced with regional dynamics threatening its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

“When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Hanoi was caught in the Soviet Union–China rivalry for influence in the communist world.

“The Soviet Union attempted to draw Vietnam into its orbit by providing military aid and forgiving Hanoi’s debt. “Moscow approached Hanoi to form a military alliance and access the Vietnamese naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, but Hanoi rejected these requests,” Rahman reminisced.

He delved into how Vietnam took several steps during the post-Vietnam War period to signal its intention to broaden its diplomatic space and maintain an independent and flexible foreign policy.

Hanoi, he said, had adopted measures to attract foreign capital in 1977 and joined the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“It also acknowledged the former South Vietnamese government’s debt obligations to Japan and France. “Documents from the United States archives reveal Hanoi and Washington were locked in complex negotiations to normalise relations.

“But the emerging security threats from Beijing and China-backed Cambodia throughout the late 1970s prompted Vietnam to settle for an alliance with the Soviet Union,” said Rahman.

He recalled how Vietnam–China relations had deteriorated so badly that Beijing cut aid to Hanoi in 1978.

“The brutal China-backed Cambodian Pol Pot regime was also locked in territorial claims with Vietnam, leading to worsening bilateral relations involving deadly military clashes along the border.

“In response to the deteriorating security situation, Vietnam signed the ‘Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation’ with the Soviet Union in November 1978.

“Partly driven by the need to protect its security, the signing of the treaty placed Vietnam as a strong ally of the Soviet Union,” Rahman said.

However, just a month later, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and removed the Pol Pot regime from power.

Rahman brought to light how the Soviet Union’s economic and military aid sustained Vietnam’s military presence in Cambodia for nearly ten years.

“In exchange, the Soviets were given access to military bases in Vietnam.

“By March 1979, Soviet warships arrived in Vietnam. “Throughout the 1980s, access to military bases in Vietnam enabled the Soviet Union to project its naval and air power in Southeast Asia,” he said.

In the contemporary world, Rahman opined that any shift in Hanoi’s non-alignment policy and shift towards a major power would be a significant strategic move.

“Regional strategic developments that pose a clear and present danger to Vietnam’s territorial integrity and sovereignty will likely influence such a shift.

“Vietnamese defence officials privately expressed the view that any defence and foreign policy must reflect evolving regional strategic situations.

“For them, a blind adherence to a specific non-aligned doctrine without acknowledging the security threats that Vietnam faced, was an irrational choice,” he said.

Defence officials had suggested Hanoi to rethink its strategy following an immediate threat to territories under Vietnam’s control in the South China Sea or China leveraging its access to Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base to threaten Vietnam’s southern flank or territories.

Rahman explained that Vietnam might allow other major powers access to military bases within its territories, either for logistical or surveillance operations, if these activities served to protect Vietnamese security.

For example, he said Vietnam facilitated Russian planes circling Guam in 2014 to use Cam Ranh Bay for refuelling.

Rahman flashbacked on how the Chinese classic strategist Sun Tzu once wrote: “Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances”.

“Perhaps this quote fittingly articulates Vietnamese defence thinking that a flexible strategy, and not a blind adherence to a doctrine, is the key to protecting its territorial integrity and sovereignty,” summarised Rahman. – airtimes.my

#AirTimes #Malaysia #Global #Vietnam

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