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Vietnam, Indonesia Work Closely On SCS And ASEAN Unity – OpEd

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The friendly relationship between Vietnam and Indonesia is already 65 years old. Now, both countries are aiming to take this relationship to a new height.

“Vietnam and Indonesia are the most reliable and trusted friends. Vietnam and Indonesia share many common views on various issues at regional and international forums,” Vietnamese Ambassador to Indonesia Pham Vinh Quang told reporters in Jakarta during a year-end briefing.

Vietnam and Indonesia established their diplomatic relations in 1955. Since then, these ties have been growing at a tremendous pace despite major challenges.

They realized each other’s strategic importance. 

Indonesia, a de facto leader of ASEAN as well as a member of the G-20, is Southeast Asia’s largest economy. It is also home to 275 million people and has a GDP of US$1.11 trillion.

With its vast natural resources, fast-growing middle class and huge market, Indonesia offers numerous opportunities in trade, investments and tourism.

On the other hand, Vietnam is a rising star in Southeast Asia in many aspects.

Vietnam, which has a population of 98 million, is one of the few countries in the world whose exports exceed its gross domestic product (GDP). 

According to the World Bank, Vietnam’s GDP was $261.92 billion, while its total exports were $264.18 billion in the same year.

Vietnam’s total exports, according to the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, are predicted to reach $267.6 billion in 2020, a 1 percent increase from the exports in 2019, despite the global economic slowdown due to COVID-19.

The Vietnamese economy has been growing more than 7 percent until recently. This year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this figure is expected to grow by 2.4 percent. In comparison, its economy grew 7.02 percent in 2019.

As of September 2020, Vietnam has $88.4 billion in foreign exchange reserves.

There is an interesting thing about Vietnam. In spite of its impressive economic growth and exports, it is still considered as a poor, developing country. But Vietnam enjoyed a record $55.8 billion trade surplus with the United States in 2019. It is also the biggest exporter of sophisticated products from Southeast Asia to the US, like smartphones, computer chips, garments, footwear and electronic home appliances.

Realizing the huge potential of both countries, Vietnam and Indonesia have elevated their relationship to the next level in 2013 by establishing the Strategic Partnership, which was aimed to cement in-depth cooperation in all fields, including political and diplomatic dialogue, security and defense cooperation, economic cooperation as well as the promotion of tourism, culture exchange and people-to-people contacts. 

“In the political and foreign policy area, the two countries have a strong foundation. The similarity of culture, history of struggle for independence, and idea of national resilience has brought the two nations together,” Ambassador Quang said. 

“We are also very proud that our traditional friendship was laid by the two great leaders President Ho Chi Minh and President Sukarno. These two leaders were also the founding fathers of our respective countries”. 

Echoing a similar view, Indonesian former President Megawati Soekarnoputri said that the friendship between Indonesia and Vietnam would be eternal.

“I strongly believe that the friendship between Vietnam and Indonesia will surely be eternal because both countries share the same aspirations for freedom, independence and the next generations continue to preserve,” Megawati said during the virtual opening of a photo exhibition in Yogyakarta recently.

This exhibition was jointly organized by the Vietnamese Embassy in Jakarta and Yogyakarta provincial administration to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Indonesia. A similar exhibition was also organized in Bali.

The year 2020 might be ending soon, but it will remain as a remarkable year in the history of both countries. For example, Indonesia and Vietnam both sat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as non-permanent members to double their voice in international affairs.

Vietnam has successfully ended its one-year ASEAN chairmanship despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the year, Vietnam and Indonesia have engaged in close consultations to maintain regional stability, ASEAN unity and to put ASEAN in the driving seat in many regional as well as global issues.  

According to Quang, the biggest achievement of close cooperation between Vietnam and Indonesia was the smooth signing of the historic Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) during Vietnam’s ASEAN chairmanship in November in Hanoi.

The RCEP, the biggest free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific, was signed by Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand in 2020.

“The RCEP is a historic agreement. It would reduce tariffs and bureaucracy in trade. It would also significantly contribute to the prosperity of member countries,” Quang said. 

Vietnam and Indonesia have the same resources and produce many similar products, yet their economic relations have grown massively during the last five years. 

“In the economic area, our two economies are not only resilient and competitive but also closely connected,” Quang said. 

According to Quang, two-way trade volumes increased by 60 percent from $5.9 billion in 2015 to $9.1 billion in 2019. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as of November 2020, bilateral trade volume has already reached nearly $7.5 billion.

Bilateral cooperation in tourism, culture and people-to-people exchanges are also growing year by year. 

Last year, Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air opened direct flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Bali. As a result, the number of Indonesian tourists to Vietnam increased by 21.3 percent to 108,000 people in 2019, while over 80,000 Vietnamese tourists visited Indonesia in the same year. 

In the health sector, Vietnam and Indonesia have recognized the importance of working together to prevent and stop the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Within the bilateral framework, the two countries have taken steps to support each other and share experiences in coping with the epidemic in the spirit of solidarity and friendship. The Government, National Assembly and businesses of Vietnam have had appropriate forms of support and assistance to Indonesia with emphasis on critical medical supplies,” Quang said. 

As part of the 65th anniversary of bilateral relations, the Vietnamese Embassy in Jakarta organized a series of events in cooperation with local partners. 

A logo competition, radio dialogue, film screening on the TVRI channel, webinar on “Seizing Investment and Tourism Opportunities in Vietnam and Indonesia amid the COVID-19 pandemic” and photo exhibitions in Yogyakarta and Bali were some examples of events the embassy had organized throughout the year. 

Last year, the embassy also republished the book titled President Ho Chi Minh’s visit to Indonesia (27 February – 8 March 1959).

Ho Chi Minh visited Jakarta in 1959 to lay a strong foundation for bilateral relations. In the same year, Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, visited Vietnam to boost ties.

The rapport between the top leaders of both countries have continued to this day. For example, the General-Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phuc Trong, the most powerful leader of Vietnam and has now become its president, visited Indonesia in 2017. In the next year, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo paid an official visit to Vietnam. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is also a good friend of Jokowi. 

According to Quang, Indonesia and Vietnam have been maintaining close cooperation and policy coordination at the UNSC and ASEAN.  

“As ASEAN Chair for 2020, Vietnam worked closely with members, including Indonesia, as well as external partners to advance ASEAN’s goals in a challenging context. That was the reason for the success of Vietnam as ASEAN chair in 2020,” Quang said. 

Indonesia and Vietnam have similar opinions about the South China Sea (SCS), China’s claims, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ASEAN unity and the Code of Conduct (COC) in the SCS. 

Indonesia is not a claimant state in the SCS, while Vietnam is the second biggest claimant after China, which claims more than 90 percent of the SCS based on the controversial Nine-Dash line map. 

Both Vietnam and Indonesia fully agree that all maritime disputes in the SCS must be resolved through peaceful negotiations and based on international laws, mainly UNCLOS. The COC must be legally binding and based on the UNCLOS.

Quang sees a bright future for the strategic relations between Indonesia and Vietnam. Both countries have agreed to enhance the existing strategic partnership to the next level.

Veeramalla Anjaiah

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

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