Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Phạm Bình Minh. — VNA/VNS Photo
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Phạm Bình Minh talks to local media on Việt Nam's major diplomatic achievements in a complicated 2020 and the priorities set out for next year.
What could be considered the highlights of Việt Nam’s diplomacy in the eventful 2020?
2020 was a special year with the regional and global situation changing quickly while the COVID-19 pandemic left huge impacts across all aspects of society, politics and economics.
Under the leadership of the Party and the Government however, Việt Nam has managed to both contain the domestic COVID-19 situation and maintain a stable environment for socio-economic growth, which helps to facilitate diplomatic work.
Despite the pandemic, our diplomatic activities – on both bilateral and multilateral fronts – still went ahead thanks to the switch to virtual formats.
Thirty-three high-level phone calls have taken place between the General Secretary, to Prime Minister and National Assembly Chair and leaders of most important countries in the region and around the world this year, with the agenda of promoting ties completed. This was quite unprecedented since usually there are about 20 high-level visits from other leaders to Việt Nam and vice versa each year.
Việt Nam has succeeded in its role as ASEAN Chair, Chair of 41st ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, and non-permanent member of the UN Security Council this year.
We have continued to adapt ASEAN’s centrality and solidarity into new changes. At the same time, Việt Nam has made contributions to addressing concerns by the UN Security Council as a country that represents the voice of developing countries and small and middle countries at this important body.
Regarding economic integration, in 2020, Việt Nam has expedited talks and eventually ratified the Europe-Việt Nam Free Trade Agreement with the European Union, and together with other countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Also in 2020, Việt Nam has carried out citizen protection efforts well. With the emergence of the pandemic, the demands have risen to unseen levels, the number of calls from Vietnamese citizens overseas to Vietnamese missions abroad have jumped by 200 per cent. Việt Nam is one of the few countries to arrange repatriation flights to bring stranded citizens back home. This year alone, 260 such flights have been conducted, taking over 73,000 citizens from 59 countries and territories back to Việt Nam.
With the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020, we had hoped that there would be large groups of reporters and media coming to Việt Nam to cover the meetings, which will help to promote the image of Việt Nam, but the pandemic has ruined the plan. However, Vietnamese media have made use of digital platforms to reach out to a wider audience globally compared to usual scenarios.
The East Sea (known internationally as the South China Sea) continues to witness complicated developments and uncertainties, but we have managed to keep a stable environment here via numerous measures, including the utilisation of bilateral tools.
In all high-level exchanges, Việt Nam always raises the issue of the South China Sea and underlines Việt Nam’s wish to maintain a peaceful and stable environment in the area, with respect to international law, especially 1982 UNCLOS, and refrain from activities that complicate the situation.
Our viewpoint, also raised at international forums and ASEAN meetings, was welcomed by countries both inside and outside the region. We have continued to conduct rightful economic activities in the sea regions within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as normal.
What do you consider to be Việt Nam's important achievements during its ASEAN Chairmanship Year?
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Việt Nam was successful in its chairman role of the Southeast Asian grouping. Many experts and the international community have agreed with this assessment.
Our theme for 2020 “Cohesive and Responsive,” which crystallises our desire to push for ASEAN unity and adaptation in an ever-changing world, was incidentally very appropriate given the situation.
We have made sure that our agenda set for 2020 was obtained, including the goal of building the ASEAN Community.
To date, Việt Nam has managed to get 80 documents approved with a focus on building ASEAN Community: promoting mid-term review of the ASEAN Community Blueprint 2025, reviewing the ASEAN Charter, and building an ASEAN Community’s Post-2025 Vision.
This year, Việt Nam has put forward 32 initiatives, and so far 28 have made it into official documents. When a chairman country’s initiatives are relevant to the current situation and ASEAN mutual concerns, that’s a success.
ASEAN, including Việt Nam in its capacity as chair, has quickly adapted to the ‘new normal.’ We have organised special meetings on COVID-19 within ASEAN and between ASEAN and partners, and achieved four major targets: setting up an ASEAN fund for COVID-19 response, a regional reserve for medical supplies, building different plans in dealing with the pandemic as well as post-pandemic recovery framework.
Hundreds of ASEAN yearly meetings have been moved online – 550 meetings in 2020, to be specific, with 20 summits including the 36th and 37th leaders’ summit, and 70 ministerial meetings. The switch was done swiftly and efficiently to make sure the agenda was achieved across all three fronts – politics-security-defence, economics and culture and society.
Việt Nam also introduced never-before-seen items to ASEAN frameworks, for example, the organisation of ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit for the first time. Promotion of women is a consistent priority we have pursued at ASEAN and the UN Security Council.
Việt Nam has also stepped up discussions on connecting ASEAN with sub-regions, especially with Mekong region countries.
Việt Nam always wishes ASEAN to be the unifying force, which will play the central role in regional mechanisms to ensure a peaceful and stable environment for ASEAN countries to prosper.
What about our role in the first year of our 2020-21 term as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council?
This is the second time Việt Nam has been elected to the position with historic high support. We received 192 out of 193 votes, showing the trust other countries place in Việt Nam.
The global situation and countries’ interests, especially the growing strategic competition between major powers, is reflected within the council.
In our first year, we have made practical contributions with the principles of ensuring independence, self-determination and abidance with international law and harmonising interests between countries to address issues of regional and international concern.
Việt Nam served as the President of the UNSC within our first month on the council in January 2020. We have achieved two important goals. First, was the organising an open debate on upholding the UN Charter to maintain international peace; the meeting drew unprecedented participation in the council’s history. This demonstrated that Việt Nam has identified the mutual desire of many countries for all members to respect the UN Charter and uphold the role of international law in the handling of issues.
Also in our presidency month, Việt Nam promoted cooperation between ASEAN and the UN Security Council, this has been the first time the issue of cooperation between a regional organisation and the council was raised.
Throughout 2020, Việt Nam has managed to push its priorities, including the role of women in peace and security, with the highlight being an international conference on strengthening women’s role in building and sustaining peace held earlier in December. Held in mixed virtual and in-person meetings in Hà Nội, the conference drew the engagement of 400 delegates from 90 countries and UN agencies and other international organisations.
Also in 2020, Việt Nam-drafted initiative on selecting December 27 as the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness was approved by the UN General Assembly, marking a new highlight of Việt Nam’s diplomacy in international forums.
In 2021, while the pandemic might see some improvements, ongoing conflicts and other highly situations could still affect the UN Security Council’s activities. Việt Nam, in cooperation with old and new UN Security Council members, will continue to pursue the priorities we have set out since being elected to the position, including overcoming the aftermath of conflicts, safeguarding women and children in conflicts, dealing with bomb and mine consequences, socio-economic rebuilding efforts, climate change, peacekeeping operations, among others.
What will be Việt Nam’s priorities in foreign relations in 2021?
The pandemic will continue to be a problem next year, there will be disruptions and volatile changes. But I think there will be strong tendency for maintenance of peace. With the advent of Industry 4.0 and digital economy, high technology issues might be the next aspect in diplomacy that Việt Nam pays attention to.
Việt Nam will continue to consolidate and deepen its ties with other countries, especially neighbouring countries, and our strategic and comprehensive partners.
In addition, we will pursue further international integration in our capacity on the UN Security Council. Within ASEAN, Việt Nam will strive to promote the agenda of the 2020 Chairmanship Year.
Việt Nam has signed, and will continue to sign and ratify new trade deals, so to fully take advantage of the opportunities brought about by these deals will be an important task.
The highest priority remains upholding a peaceful and stable environment, protecting our independence and sovereignty over land and islands and sea. — VNS