Diplomacy. Vietnam wants to consolidate its role as mediator in the Indo-Pacific

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Asia is definitely not the same as before the Covid-19. It is in this upset geostrategic balance that the visit to France of the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh, who took office in April falls. Scheduled for November 3 to 5, this trip is not trivial. It intends to meet the needs to reopen the Vietnamese economy after the pandemic, to attract investments, while studying the proposals formulated within the framework of the Indo-Pacific strategy of containment of China, mainly drawn by the United States. United, India, Japan and Australia but to which France subscribes. “Our strategic partnership is a regional and global partnership”, agreed the French Ambassador to Vietnam, Nicolas Warnery, to the Vietnamese News Agency.

This first visit abroad should seal several agreements aiming to move the Vietnamese economy upmarket and rebalance the growing dependence on China. In 2020, Vietnam rose to the rank of China’s largest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with bilateral trade volume reaching $ 192.2 billion, or an increase of 18.7%.

A pivot in relations between Asia and Europe

In this regard, Paris should try to highlight the points of convergence since, for several months, the allies of the United States have been pressed by their partner to relocate part of their production outside China as part of the trade war. Pham Minh Chinh must therefore meet with Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the president of Medef, and participate in a “business round table” in order to organize this redeployment to Vietnam. However, notes Irsem researcher Benoît de Tréglodé, Vietnam should not “give in fully to calls from the Indo-Pacific”. According to him, Pham Minh Chinh is also credited with “pro-Chinese positions after the latter has supported co-exploitation projects in China and the South China Sea and the creation of special economic zones in the country”.

Hanoi thus maintains a position of equilibrium which is dear to it on the international level despite the territorial rivalries with Beijing in the China Sea. The game of France is as such tight. “Vietnam intends to become a key partner in the Indo-Pacific space in order to overcome current tensions through development and peace. He wishes to play the role of mediator as during the summit in Hanoi between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in 2019 ”, observes a Vietnamese diplomat. In fact, after hosting the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit in 2017, the Vietnamese authorities continue to consolidate their international stature. To implement this orientation, Vietnam quickly formed an influential diplomatic corps in various international forums.

As a member of the Francophonie, Vietnam can therefore play a pivotal role in relations between Asia and Europe. He uses his soft power for this. At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, Hanoi donated hundreds of thousands of masks to France, ill-prepared to face the pandemic. In turn, Paris supplied 672,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Hanoi in September. This cooperation in the field of health could be brought to continue since Pham Minh Chinh must visit the Pasteur Institute and the research and development platform of Sanofi in Vitry-sur-Seine (Val-de-Marne), meet the Federation health France-Vietnam, which since 2015 has brought together some twenty associations and professionals who work in the training of Vietnamese medical staff, the transfer of experiences and the granting of medical equipment. During his trip, Pham Minh Chinh will finally consolidate the cultural influence of his country through an interview with the Director General of Unesco, Audrey Azoulay. In this Asia in full recomposition, Vietnam intends to take its place.

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