It’s Time To Elevate Partnership Between Vietnam And Indonesia Into A Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – OpEd


Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc will make a historic visit to Indonesia, a G20 member and de facto leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), from Dec. 21–23, 2022, to reshape strategic ties between the two countries. President Phuc will be accompanied by First Lady Tran Nguyet Thin, several senior officials, and a business delegation.

This will be Phuc’s first visit to Indonesia ever since becoming Vietnam’s president on April 5, 2021. His state visit marks a new milestone in the 67 years of bilateral relations between Vietnam and Indonesia.

Vietnam is an old friend and strategic partner of Indonesia. Next year, both countries will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Strategic Partnership, which was established in 2013. Moreover, Indonesia will become ASEAN’s chairman in 2023. Vietnam fully supports Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2023.

Both Indonesia and Vietnam are key players in the ASEAN region and have similar perceptions about achieving a common goal of ASEAN community and maintaining peace and security in the region, especially in the hotly contested South China Sea (SCS).

Last year, both countries agreed to maintain ASEAN’s shared position on the SCS issue, effectively implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and conclude negotiations with China on an efficient and effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) in line with international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982).

Phuc’s visit to Indonesia comes after the election of Vietnam’s collective leadership, which is based on the so-called “four pillars” of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam last year. The newly elected four pillars of Vietnam are CPV’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, President Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue.

High level contacts

Vietnam and Indonesia established diplomatic relations on December 30, 1955. Vietnam’s founding father, Ho Chi Minh, and Indonesia’s independence hero, Sukarno, were close friends. They visited each other’s country in 1959 to lay the strong foundation for friendship between the two countries. 

Since then, the leaders of both countries have visited each other’s countries to boost bilateral relations. In 1990, President Suharto visited Vietnam, while Vietnamese President Le Duch Anh visited Indonesia in 1994. President Megawati Soekarnoputri visited Hanoi in 2001 and 2003, while President Tran Duc Lorong visited Jakarta in 2001. In 2005, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Vietnam, while President Truong Tan Sang visited Indonesia in 2013 to establish the strategic partnership between the two countries.

To strengthen the strategic partnership between Vietnam and Indonesia, General Secretary of CPV Trong visited Indonesia in August 2017. In September 2018, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made a state visit to Vietnam to enhance bilateral ties.

Vietnam’s new Prime Minister Chinh visited Indonesia on April 23, 2021, just 18 days after assuming his post. It was his first overseas trip, which clearly shows that Vietnam gives utmost importance to Indonesia.

Both Chinh and Jokowi agreed to cooperate to realize the action plan for the implementation of the Vietnam-Indonesia Strategic Partnership for the 2019–2023 period as well as the Vision for Bilateral Defense Cooperation for the 2018–2023 period.

In July 2022, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son visited Jakarta to participate in the 4th Meeting of the Joint Committee on Bilateral Cooperation. 

On Aug. 25, 2022, party chief Trong held a telephone conversation with President Jokowi. Trong emphasized the importance of the strategic partnership and traditional ties between the two countries.

He proposed the two countries cement and deepen relations across channels, making the best use of cooperative mechanisms, and promote cooperation in national defense and security. He also suggested Vietnam and Indonesia vigorously spur economic linkages for achieving a trade balance and work closely on regional and international issues, especially the East Sea (SCS). 

Phuc’s visit to Indonesia comes after a bilateral meeting held by President Jokowi and Prime Minister Chinh during the side lines of the 2022 ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in November 2022.

The leaders of Vietnam deeply respect and have great affection for the leadership as well as the people of Indonesia, showing a high level of trust and desire to stick together. Therefore, they have great expectations on the position and prestige of Indonesia. In the eyes of the Vietnamese people as well as under the senior leadership, Indonesia is a very harmonious and friendly country and is ready to shoulder the responsibilities for the region and the world due to the rising stature of Indonesia.

During his three-day visit to Indonesia, Phuc is expected to discuss the entire gamut of bilateral relations as well as regional and global issues with his host, Indonesian President Jokowi. Both leaders will also discuss ways to boost bilateral trade, mutual investments, and cooperation in many fields.

After successfully achieving the previous trade target of $10 billion, which was $11.53 billion in 2021, both countries have set a new target of $15 billion by 2028 in July this year.

It may not be difficult to achieve this target given both countries’ impressive economic performance.

During the first 10 months of this year, bilateral trade had already reached $10.92 billion, and it may surpass $12 billion in 2022. 

Vietnam mainly imports fertilizers, gasoline, packaging material, machinery, fabrics, paper, and confectionery from Indonesia, while it exports rice, crude oil, cement, electronic components, and farm produce to the world’s largest archipelagic country.

Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s manufacturing hub, exported $336.32 worth of goods, while its imports reached $332.23 billion in 2021. Its total trade, which was $668.54 billion in 2021, was bigger than its GDP, which is now at $411.90 billion. Its total trade may reach another record of $780 billion in 2022.

With its 99.48 million people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $411.90 billion, Vietnam has recorded an impressive GDP growth during the first three quarters (Q1–5.05 percent, Q2–7.72 percent, and Q3–13.67 percent) of this year despite COVID-19 and the threat of a global recession.

During the 2016–2021 period, Vietnam received $162.29 billion foreign direct investments (FDI). Indonesian investors invested $600 million in Vietnam in 2021.

With its $1.28 trillion economy (GDP), 280.79 million population, and vast natural resources, Indonesia is undoubtedly a promising and dynamic country. In 2021, it exported $231.52 billion worth of goods, while its imports reached $196.19 billion. 

The Indonesian economy grew 5.01 percent in the first quarter, 5.44 percent in the second quarter, and 5.7 percent in the third quarter of 2022. It is expected to grow by 5.11 percent for the entire year.

Defense Cooperation

Since both are maritime neighbors, Indonesia and Vietnam need to work together in maritime security.

“We welcome the implementation of the MoU between our respective Coast Guards through the Maritime Security Desktop Exercise last June. On EEZ Delimitation, both countries are committed to intensifying and expediting the negotiation process based on the 1982 UNCLOS,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said recently in Jakarta.

She was referring to the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Both countries have serious problems with China and its controversial Nine-Dashed Line in the SCS. Vietnam is the second biggest claimant in the SCS after China. Indonesia is not a claimant country, but a portion of its EEZ in the North Natuna Sea is claimed by China. According to Indonesia, China’s claim is not only illegal but also illogical.

To boost defense cooperation between the two countries, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto visited Vietnam in May 2022.

Both countries signed the Defense Cooperation Agreement on Oct. 27, 2010. They also signed the Declaration on Joint Vision on Defense Cooperation, or Joint Vision Statement, for 2017–2022 on Oct.13, 2017, in Jakarta. 

Both countries are negotiating the MoU on Combatting Illicit Narcotic Trafficking and Counter-Terrorism.

They are also eyeing partnership in areas like agriculture, fisheries, energy, aviation, culture, education, training, and tourism.

There is a need to increase the frequency of flights and consider opening new routes connecting popular tourist destinations between the two countries.

Both countries should promote and publicize each other’s culture, history, and touristic places. Cultural and people-to-people exchanges are badly needed to strengthen the strategic partnership.

The time has come to enhance the existing strategic partnership to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership next year in connection with the 10th anniversary of the Strategic Partnership. 

Veeramalla Anjaiah

Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia

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