Vietnam’s New Wariness And Strategic Regional Countermeasures – Analysis


Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s visits to Brunei and Singapore remain geopolitically crucial for Vietnam, as he tries to shore up regional support and joint capacity in a range of criticall fronts particularly on security, supply chain resilience and economic transformation.His visit to Brunei marked the first official visit of a Vietnamese PM in 16 years.

The usual focus will be on trade, investment, security, defense, education, training, science and technology, but changing geopolitical climate sees the need for future critical areas. These include areas of green and digital economies are the high bar and mostly sought after by many countries in facing the transition of future economic fundamentals, including food and supply chain resilience and security.

In the case of Brunei, it also faces the critical need to make adjustments and crucial future reorientation of its economic structure, away from the fossil fuel led economic growth.

Digital and green sectors remain a huge opening for Vietnam, where it is trying to provide a firm foundation in the economic transition in having the needed steps in providing support systems and openings for investments and inflow of capital and technology in these sectors.

Vietnam and Brunei also look forward to cooperating in sustainable development and clean energy, while helping each other create better digital economies, green economies and circular economies.

Hanoi will also take advantage of Brunei’s intent and capital in these transformations, in providing mutual returns.

However, the underlying strategic pursuit is focused on enhancing defense and security considerations in light of worsening regional tensions and shared threats, particularly from China.

Hanoi will need Brunei’s support and buy-in in the security calculations and deterrence measures in the South China Sea and the flashpoints with China.

Hanoi also realises that Brunei is at the most vulnerable point in the arms race dilemma and security vulnerability, as it faces the might and continuous intimidation and grey zone activities of Beijing.

Hanoi will want to form a greater joint partnership, readiness, military capacity and deterrence impact with Hanoi with the SCS in mind, and with better and more coordinated security partnership and efficacy in dealing with China. Any past and current issues involving both Vietnam and Brunei will be tackled, to reduce misperception and mistrusts, as both wanted to present a stronger front in facing a common risk and threat.

Singapore remains another crucial geostrategic partner for Vietnam. Mr Chinh’s visit comes as Singapore and Vietnam celebrate their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations and the 10th anniversary of their strategic partnership. Vietnam has the same geopolitical considerations for Singapore as with Brunei, especially in the realm of security and defense.

Other areas include food security, an aspect which Singapore is hugely concerned about and is looking for Vietnam as a bankable support in this area.Potential quid pro quo and mutually beneficial partnership in return for food security for Singapore, and for Vietnam to get the needed investment, capacity, talent and service related transfer of expertise and capital, as Vietnam transitions to a more future-proof and comprehensive economic setting that is more service, digital and green related from traditionally volume and low technology spectrum, including manufacturing sector.

Vietnam also wanted to bolster ties with Singapore in improving the affiliation, image and bond of similar lineage, roots and culture of Chinese origin, in forming greater joint and shared similarities and identity which are stronger and more united outside the sphere of China. This is in capitalising on Singapore’s predominant ethnic Chinese community and providing Singapore with a more trusted and dependable partner and shared cultural and ethnic ties other than China.

Both Vietnam and Singapore also are cognisant of the fact that Vietnam is poised to be among the leading economic powerhouses in the region, and Singapore sees Vietnam as one of the main beneficiaries in emerging as the most complete economic destination and emerging economically resilient with the decline of China. Singapore also needed Vietnam’s support in defense and military especially involving the extended areas of the South China Sea, should it be forced to be involved, in serving as the crucial outer first line of defense against China from the north.

Singapore is seen as in the same position of Vietnam in dealing with both Beijing and Washington, but still reluctant to pursue a more confrontational stance as Singapore’s circumstances are different and is not involved in the South China Sea dispute.

Vietnam would want to leverage on Singapore’s influence and potential strategic security openings and support in case of any flare up in the region, especially in SCS. Singapore’s status as a safe, stable and resilient financial magnet and stability in geopolitical investment and returns due to its location, market and trade prowess, is especially important for Vietnam in its future economic survival. Singapore is seen by Vietnam as crucial for the South China Sea, for its location and as a base for US military capacity in providing a quick second line of defense and support lines in the South China Sea in the potential all out conflict with China.

The visits to both countries by Minh Chinh reflect both the wariness and vulnerability of Vietnam, and its growing clout and intent in establishing its regional leadership credentials. It is poised to bolster its soft power and hard power capacity, and in signalling its readiness to shore up its message to external powers and China that the age of Vietnam’s rise is finally on the region’s doorstep.

Collins Chong Yew Keat

Collins Chong Yew Keat has been serving in University of Malaya, the top university in Malaysia for more than 9 years. His areas of interests include strategic and security studies, American foreign policy and power analysis and has published various publications on numerous platforms including books and chapter articles. He is also a regular contributor in providing op-eds for both the local and international media on various contemporary global issues and regional affairs since 2007.

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