Opening the Russia-Vietnam conference, organized on 25-26 February in Ho Chi Minh City by the Valdai Discussion Club in partnership with the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV), Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, expressed hope for a fruitful two-day conference. He drew attention to the fact that the construction of a new world is currently taking place and that it is necessary to ponder and negotiate its future.
“We do not know what its contours could be, but there is no doubt that the movement towards its formation has already begun,” Bystritskiy said.
Bui Thanh Son, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, also addressed the conference with a welcome speech. He stressed that the event takes place at a time when the two countries are celebrating the 25-year-anniversary of the Treaty on the Foundation of Friendly Relations between Russia and Vietnam, which coincides with the Year of Russia in Vietnam and the Year of Vietnam in Russia. All this underscores the importance of the two countries to each other, and the reliable nature of the development of relations, which date back to Soviet times. Among the key areas of cooperation, Bui Thanh Son pointed to economics, education and culture. One of the most important areas of work is Vietnam-EAEU cooperation and an increase in annual trade turnover. By 2020, mutual trade turnover could reach $10 billion (currently $6.1 billion). The deputy minister said that relations between Vietnam and Russia “contribute to the understanding of the nature of relations in the world and in the Pacific region”. He pointed to Russia’s support for seeking peace on the Korean peninsula. The Deputy Minister called the South China Sea situation another “hot spot” that “carries a direct threat to peace and stability”. According to him, in such conditions, it is necessary to evaluate clearly the bilateral relations between Russia and Vietnam, and to overcome all difficulties in order to take advantage of existing opportunities which interest the peoples of all countries.
At the same time, according to the minister, unlike these natural processes, there are attempts to reconfigure the geopolitical landscape in order to prevent the natural course of things from happening. For example, the Middle East Strategic Alliance, the so-called Middle Eastern NATO, through which the US administration is trying to impose its will on the countries of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt.
Speaking about the Asia-Pacific region, Lavrov noted that “Russia is part of the APR. I believe there is no need to prove anything to anybody here. We have traditions of cooperation, friendship and alliance with the states of the region.” The future of this region directly depends on our ability to take on multiplying challenges and threats. According to Lavrov, ASEAN provides a solid foundation for building security and cooperation architecture.
Speaking about the situation in Northeast Asia, including the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issues, the minister said that “our goal is much broader, in the context of long-term stabilisation – to develop a mechanism of peace and security in Northeast Asia”. It is necessary to “search for a balance of interests and act synchronously, action for action”. He also said that “if there is progress via bilateral channels between the United States and North Korea, the six-party format can become very useful, primarily when it comes to the subject of peace and security.”
Regarding the situation in the South China Sea, Lavrov stressed that “the regional security system is growing stronger thanks to the efforts taken by ASEAN and China to draft a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. As far as I know, they are working on it. We welcome these efforts. We believe that this is how concerned countries should address such problems, without interference from beyond.”
In conclusion, the minister said that “the notion of indivisibility should be applied, not only to security but also to economic development if we want it to be inclusive and not to threaten security through poverty, misery and other problems. Russia and its partners in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) are advocating the idea of harmonizing integration processes, and these efforts have already yielded fruit”. In this regard, Sergey Lavrov mentioned the Memorandum of Understanding on Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and EAEU, and the EAEU-China agreement on trade and economic cooperation in the context of efforts to align Eurasian economic integration with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. He also said that the EAEU and the SCO are doing their best to expand cooperation with ASEAN to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership.
At the first session, titled “Security Issues in the Asian Region: Risks and Opportunities”, the discussion was centred around several key issues: the situation on the Korean peninsula, the arms build-up in the South China Sea, cooperation prospects between Russia and Vietnam in the context of development of relations within ASEAN, allied relations between Russia and China, and the US influence in the region.
One of the speakers said that “Asia is the region where the changes in the world are especially noticeable; the crisis of the current world system is visible.” In his opinion, the decline of US global domination has been accompanied by strategic uncertainty, but it is the United States that is mainly interested in the region’s destabilisation. All this leads to the attempt to divide the region into warring factions. In this regard, the need arises to create technological alliances, without a strategic partnership. An example of such work could be Russia’s cooperation with Vietnam in the field of information security systems.
The Vietnamese expert spoke about the relationship between international and domestic security in Vietnam, drawing attention to the fact that the security situation in the country always depends on what is happening in the world and in the region. Therefore, the security issues in the country are perceived through the achievement of the following goal: “stability and our territorial integrity.” In conclusion, Sergey Lavrov answered the question about Russia’s support to resolve the conflict in the South China Sea. Lavrov said that Russia is not party to this dispute in any way. “We proceed from the premise that all the disputes must be resolved by the countries involved. The situation is far from being hopeless.”
The participants also discussed economic security issues. According to one speaker, “over the past two years, no less important changes have occurred in the economic sphere than in the last 20 years in the political and security spheres; all key approaches have been transformed in terms of world trade regulation.” To date, there are several key themes affecting security issues throughout the world, including in Asia. These include: (1) the state of the international trading system, (2) economic sanctions and associated threats, (3) problems related to energy security. The solution to these problems must be based on a return to work within the international legal mechanisms, supporting existing international law, searching for channels for lobbying, and deepening work in the field of economic diplomacy, understanding that “the WTO is not the US’ favourite toy, but a mechanism capable of preventing wars.”
Russian initiatives proceed from the fact that efforts are needed to counter the fragmentation of economic spheres in Asia. Russian participants citied as an example the Russian initiative to form a Eurasian economic space that “does not make it possible to divide the space into two camps”. Regarding cooperation between the EAEU and ASEAN, the question was raised about the conceptual need for “fundamental projects,” where implementation pushes economic and energy interests above politics. Nord Stream 2 was cited as an example of such a product, which created a “material foundation” for cooperation between European countries and Russia, as one of the participants said.
The Vietnamese participants expressed the view that the basis of cooperation is trust and at the moment, it is necessary to understand the advantages of partnership. Also, cautious assessments were made regarding Russia’s work in the Chinese Belt and Road project, which from Vietnam’s perspective is considered an attempt by China to “indoctrinate” in Russia the idea that “cooperation should be multilateral”.
In conclusion, all experts pointed to the successful experience of Vietnam in participating in multilateral formats, and questions were asked about strategic areas of the economy where Russia is represented in Vietnam.
It was noted that relations between Russia and Vietnam “are less exclusive and more competitive.” While the relationship between the countries was established in Soviet times, today they have no “reserves left for special treatment”.
Speaking about economic relations, the experts noted the great potential of the two partners. Given the fact that mutual trade is associated with high transport costs, it is difficult to expect that the abolition of customs barriers will affect trade greatly. The benefits of such an agreement should be sought in the investment sector, which “brings markets closer, and creates strategic partnership prospects for 10-15 years.”
Concluding the conference, Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, pointed to the breadth of topics that had been covered at the conference, starting with artificial intelligence and ending with military trade issues. In his opinion, setting up a new future is not just about when the old one disappears, but also how the future arises. Such conferences make it clear how the future will look.Nguyen Vu Tung, President of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, also stressed the importance of all the themes of the conference, as well as the need to share views on the development of relations between Russia and Vietnam, taking ASEAN, China and the USA into account, and the prospects for new cooperation between the two countries, especially with respect to the development of new technologies.