By James Borton
At the UN Secretariat building, sheathed in shiny aluminum, glass, and marble, and overlooking New York’s East River, Vietnamese diplomats are quietly and purposefully campaigning for a non-permanent member seat at the UN Security Council table. Last week’s unexpected death of Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang has ratcheted up conversations and stakes, especially with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s arrival in New York.
For the purpose of electing non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, candidates are selected by one of five geographic blocs. Vietnam belongs to the 54-nation Asia Pacific Group.
Vietnam’s importance in international security has risen prominently since last year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, when it successfully hosted presidents Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and Vladimir Putin, along with other regional leaders in Danang, a beautiful coastal city in central Vietnam.
Over the past three decades, Hanoi has received global recognition as a responsible member of the international community. Hanoi has adopted market institutions that have led to more than two decades of impressive economic performance. All while leaving the country’s underlying political economy largely intact.
Notably, Vietnam has achieved greater integration with the international economic system, namely through its ascension to the World Trade Organization in 2007. In October 2007, Vietnam was elected for the first time a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, receiving 183 out of 190 votes for the 2008-2009 term. As a testimony to its Asia Pacific leadership, it was a unanimous nominee of the Asia Pacific Group in the General Assembly.
The new permanent representative of Vietnam to the United Nations, H.E. Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy spoke last month to the United Nations Security Council in an open debate on “mediation and settlement of disputes.” He reaffirmed the UN’s diplomacy and peace charter, including promoting the use of mediation throughout any conflict cycle. He stated that “Vietnam reaffirms the vital importance of regional organizations in the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Prime Minister Phuc’s presence at the UN sends a clear message to the Security Council that Hanoi is committed to cooperating with ASEAN in proactively promoting dialogue and mutual understanding, and fostering an environment of cooperation and friendship in the region.
The UN General Assembly will vote on non-permanent membership in June 2019.
UN member nations generally recognize Vietnam’s important role in the promotion of struggles for national independence, sovereignty, and self-determination. Also, Hanoi has been quick to understand the significance and importance of the UN’s central role in maintaining international peace and security.
Vietnam’s successful march to the UN was punctuated by the remarkable steps made from 1995 to 1999, including the normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with the United States. The country’s integration with the West opened up opportunities to work with the world’s international organizations, including multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Although not quite overnight for those who suffered the wounds of war, Hanoi became a member of ASEAN (1995) and APEC (1998). The US-Vietnam bilateral trading agreement was signed in 2001, and accelerated the political will to speed up negotiations on Vietnam’s ascension to the World Trade Organization (WTO.)
A central part of its openness and engagement with the world has been the country’s willingness to acquire a more prominent voice and position in the United Nations. This has been most evident in its successful efforts to join UN peacekeeping operations in early 2014. This bold action has enabled closer ties to unfold with the United States, a former enemy and now comprehensive partner.
Despite spending a half-century at war, Hanoi has lost no time in supporting UN initiatives that highlight the fundamental principles of international laws and the Charter in addressing international conflicts through peaceful means. For example, the Vietnamese government has embraced the UN’s “Delivering as One (DAO)” plan, while simultaneously implementing sustainable development practices in the country’s high-priority poor provinces.
Vietnam adopts One UN Initiative
Vietnam successfully adopted the “One UN Initiative” in 2006 and adopted DAO’s four pillars of UN reform: one plan, one budget, one leader, and one set of management practices. Hanoi added ‘one green UN house’ as another part of its implementation. As a result, Vietnam has emerged as a global leader in the promotion and implementation of the aid effectiveness agenda. At the heart of this UN-directed plan is the intent and resolve of the UN to achieve a more strategic and effective contribution to the attainment of national development priorities.
Hanoi, in cooperation with the UNDP and the Ministry of Planning and Investment, has designed a set of sustainable development indicators (SDIs) and established a database for monitoring sustainable development in Vietnam. As a result, the country has met many of the UN’s millennium development goals, particularly with regards to the eradication of extreme poverty, expansion of universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, and reduction of child mortality. Of course, more work and resources are still needed to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.
Most importantly, in pledging to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Vietnam Prime Minister Phuc approved the national action ‘Green Goals’ plan last year. He included in the decree that “it’s necessary to mobilize wide participation of the stakeholders, including the social and political organizations, socio-professional organizations, national, and international organizations in the preparation and implementation of the sustainable development goals.”
The UN 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in alignment with Vietnam’s development strategy. More telling is the government’s political will to mobilize resources and people at all levels to realize these goals. The country’s national action plan pays particular attention to vulnerable groups, especially the poor, people with disabilities, women, and ethnic minorities.
While there are five permanent member of the UN Security Council, also known as the ‘Big Five’ of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the US, there are a total of 15 UN member states who serve on the UNSC, the remainder of which are elected. Only the five permanent members have the power of veto, which enables them to prevent the adoption of any substantive draft Council resolution.
“During its first tenure in 2008-2009, Vietnam was praised by the United States for its positive contribution and close voting alignment on key issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and counter-terrorism,” states Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales.
Vietnam’s diplomats recount Vietnam’s role in shielding ASEAN member Myanmar from sanctions in 2008-2009. As a result, Myanmar opened up to Vietnam. Additionally, as a result of its non-permanent membership on the Security Council, Vietnam followed up on its pledge to contribute to UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.
As a non-permanent member at the UNSC, Vietnam wants to demonstrate its growing voice in ASEAN, to exercise its soft diplomacy skills, and to extoll its embrace of international integration. This seat at the UNSC table places Hanoi at the highest level of international integration.
After all, Hanoi’s success in integration with global markets has helped shape the country’s reforms. This is revealed in the web of its 16 free trade agreements (FTAs).
Vietnam plays peacemaker in South China Sea
The current global situation is more complicated and relations among global powers, namely the US, China, and Russia, has worsened. Furthermore, over two years has passed since the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued its landmark ruling in the Philippines vs. China case, resulting in a nearly unanimous victory for Manila and a reaffirmation for stressing the role of international law in settling South China Sea disputes peacefully.
A surge in naval maneuvers in the South China Sea by Western allies this year, while keeping China from any further expansion into the contested waters, is raising the stakes for possible naval accidents and/or military incidents. Vessels from Australia, France, Japan and the United States have sent ships to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea already over the course of 2018.
Despite China’s militarization of these contested islands and sustained attacks on Vietnamese fishing vessels, Vietnam has taken the diplomatic high ground with its senior diplomats, invoking peace and self-restraint in the disputed waters.
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