Spotlight - Vietnam and Indonesia: January 5, 2023

Between December 21 and 23, 2022, Vietnamese president Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Indonesia at the invitation of Indonesian president Joko Widodo. The two leaders announced that after 12 years, their countries had finalized their Exclusive Economic Zone boundary delimitation based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The agreement was finalized just in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of UNCLOS and may embolden Vietnam to conclude similar deals with Malaysia and the Philippines. By settling disputes among themselves first, Southeast Asian claimants of the South China Sea may have a stronger stance in negotiating a Code of Conduct with China.

In 2023, Indonesia and Vietnam will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their strategic partnership. During their recent meeting, the two countries’ leaders expressed their willingness to increase consultations and work closely together at regional and global forums. Vietnam supports Indonesia’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2023, while Indonesia backs Vietnam’s efforts in fulfilling its 2023-2025 term as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. This will contribute to strengthening their strategic partnership.

In addition, Indonesia has adopted the theme of “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth” for its chairmanship in 2023. The theme reflects two shared goals between Indonesia and Vietnam. Both want to maintain ASEAN centrality amid criticism over the bloc’s ineffectiveness in dealing with regional issues and the proliferation of other groupings, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Toward their shared goal of upholding ASEAN’s central role in the regional security architecture, Indonesia and Vietnam need to do more to find solutions for the political and humanitarian crises in Myanmar. As ASEAN chair, Indonesia should adopt a firmer stance toward the junta and propose concrete steps to help Myanmar’s people. If Vietnam does not feel comfortable in openly supporting Indonesia’s initiatives, it should at least not interfere with them.

Second, both Indonesia and Vietnam aspire to become developed nations by 2045—the 100th anniversaries of their founding. The two countries recognize the key role that technology and digital transformation will play in achieving their economic ambitions. Thus, they could exchange experience and support each other in digital transformation through their Joint Commission for Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation. Vietnam’s National Strategy for the Digital Economy and Society Development by 2025 with Orientations toward 2030 offers some pointers for future Indonesia-Vietnam cooperation. The strategy identifies institutions, infrastructure, digital platforms, digital data, cybersecurity, human resources, people, businesses, and digital payments as the foundation of the digital economy and society.

Despite their differences in various aspects, including political systems, religions, and languages, Indonesia and Vietnam share the above two goals. President Phuc’s visit to Indonesia helped to propel the relationship forward and create new opportunities for bilateral cooperation.

Bich T. Tran is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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Bich T. Tran
Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program