Spotlight - Vietnam: May 12, 2022

On May 11, 2022, Vietnamese prime minister Pham Minh Chinh gave public remarks at CSIS ahead of the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit. From his 45-minute speech, there were three main takeaways, as follows.

First, the prime minister’s remarks helped shed light on the Vietnamese government’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war. Vietnam abstained from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because it did not want to antagonize its largest arms supplier. However, “Vietnam’s consistent position to respect the United Nations Charter, independent sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the legitimate interests of nation-states” suggested that Hanoi does not support the invasion. Second, although Vietnam abstained from the UNGA resolution entitled “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine,” Vietnamese people empathize with the Ukrainian people and have provided $500,000 in humanitarian aid.

Second, Vietnam’s vote against the UNGA resolution on suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council somewhat damaged its reputation. Prime Minister Chinh took this chance to remind the audience that Vietnam has been an active and responsible member of the international community. He talked about Vietnam’s contribution to UN peacekeeping missions since 2014, its ASEAN chairmanship in 2020, its performance as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2020-21 term, and its participation in many free trade agreements. Vietnam also hosted the second U.S.-North Korea summit in 2019, provided Covid-19 assistance to other countries at the beginning of the pandemic, and committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Third, the prime minister repeatedly stressed the importance of respecting “the chosen political systems of each country”—a message well-received in Washington. He said cooperation in addressing war legacy issues had been a highlight of bilateral relations and helped to step up the expression of trust and sincerity in other areas. According to Prime Minister Chinh, green growth, digital transformation, and supply chain diversification are potential areas for U.S.-Vietnam cooperation. Although he did not mention the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) by name, those areas are important components of the framework. His remarks show Vietnam’s interest in participating in IPEF. Lastly, the prime minister wished that the two countries’ relations reach greater heights, but avoided mentioning the term “strategic partnership.” Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Ambassador Marc Knapper have explicitly raised the desirability of formally upgrading the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership to a strategic partnership.

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.
Bich Tran
Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program