Vietnam’s “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”: Who Are They?

Russian President Putin shakes hands with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Moscow on November 30, 2021

Vietnam has so far selected only three countries as “comprehensive strategic partners” namely Russia, China, and India. The US has proposed three times to upgrade its relationship with Vietnam to a “strategic partner” (lower than “comprehensive strategic partnership”) but Vietnam has not yet responded.

On March 21, 2022, US Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper proposed to elevate the Vietnam-US relationship to a “strategic partnership.” The US has at least proposed to raise the relationship to a “strategic partnership” with Vietnam since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, most recently, during a visit to August 2021, US Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated the proposal to upgrade the relationship into a “strategic partnership.” All three times mentioned above, the US was the proactive side, but Vietnam remained silent.

This article evaluates the above choice of Vietnam through data and the actual situation.

Russia’s “comprehensive strategic partnership“: love but not kiss

Vietnam’s total trade turnover in 2021 is nearly $670 billion (Data from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam). In which, in 2021, Vietnam trade:

with Russia is $5.5 billion,

with India is more than $12.8 billion

with China is $165.8 billion (according to Chinese statistics, it has exceeded $200 billion, maybe because they include informal trade), of which Vietnam imports more than $100 billion, ie. a trade deficit of $53.9 billion.

with the US is $111 billion (of which Vietnam exports to the US $96.3 billion)

with the EU at $41.3 billion,

with Japan is $42.7 billion.

Vietnam needs to look at the data to know where its rice cooker is, and whether its choice is reasonable or not.

Russia accounts for only 0.8% of Vietnam’s total trade turnover. That means that if Russia disappears, Vietnam can still easily make up for it elsewhere, the level of influence is not large.

India accounts for just over 1.8% of Vietnam’s total trade turnover. That means that India is not much more important to the survival of Vietnam than Russia.

China accounts for more than 24% of Vietnam’s total trade turnover. A pretty big number.

The United States accounts for more than 17% of Vietnam’s total trade turnover but is the country where Vietnam has the largest trade surplus, $96.3 billion (see General Statistics Office) ie where Vietnam earns the most.

Thus, out of the three countries that Vietnam has chosen as a “comprehensive strategic partner“, there are two if “suddenly disappearing” will not affect Vietnam’s actual rice cooker much.

Only China is really meaningful, accounting for more than 24% of Vietnam’s total trade turnover (but where Vietnam spends more than hundreds of billions of dollars on imports, while only selling half of it to China).

What about the United States? This is where Vietnam makes the most money and receives the most aid in all fields, but the United States has not been considered a “strategic partner” by Vietnam for many years.

The next section delves into the Russian case from both economic and military aspects, as a typical choice of Vietnam.

Vietnamese-Russian love: lovers do not need each other

Russian Economy

Even before Russia’s failed invasion of Ukraine, the country was no longer important to Vietnam.

In 2021, Vietnam exported nearly $337 billion, $96.3 billion of which came from the US (accounting for nearly 30% of the amount Vietnam exported), exported to China – nearly $56 billion (accounting for more than 16%), exported to the EU – nearly $46 billion (accounting for nearly 14%), exported to Japan – more than $20 billion (nearly 6%), exported to Korea -nearly $22 billion (more than 6%).

While Vietnam exports to “comprehensive strategic partners“, how much does Russia earn? $3.2 billion, which is only 0.9%.

Trade between Russia and China is $140 billion in 2019. (Global Times), only slightly higher than Vietnam – China trade. In 2021, Russia’s trade with China hit $146 billion, far behind Vietnam’s trade with China ($165.8 billion).

Russia is also no longer important to China when the country’s total import and export turnover of goods and services in 2021 is more than $5 trillion, of which Russia accounts for only about 2.5%.

Looking back at previous years, for example, in 2019, Vietnam’s import and export turnover with Russia was only $3.5 billion in 2019, while Vietnam’s foreign trade turnover with the US was $92 billion. That is, in 2019, Vietnam’s trade with “comprehensive strategic partner” Russia was only about 3.8% of trade with the United States.

Regarding the total strength of the Russian economy, Russia’s total trade turnover in 2021 is $785 billion, compared to Vietnam’s capacity, $670 billion, obviously not much larger. Russia mainly exports goods of a slow-growing country, with no sign of an industrialized country: crude oil, minerals, chemicals, agricultural products, forest products, and a few machinery and equipment.

Russian Weapons

When he decided to invade Ukraine, Putin did not expect Europe to close the door to Russia on finance and supply chains.

This is exactly what Vietnam should be afraid of because it can neutralize the main weapon system of its army.

War vehicles such as aircraft, tanks, submarines, missiles need to be maintained and replaced regularly. Without regular maintenance, without replacement equipment, it is impossible to fight.

In addition, the above means of war need accompanying weapons, most importantly missiles for each type of aircraft and submarine.

Russia trains a team of technical specialists and combat officers but does not transfer technology for manufacturing components, spare parts, and accompanying weapons. Vietnam cannot copy them by itself.

Each plane, submarine, the tank has thousands of components and spare parts. No country can produce all of these components by itself, but international cooperation is required. Even the production of a specific component requires cooperation. This is a feature of capitalist mass production that only technocratic leaders, and on expert advice, can fully grasp. Authoritarian leaders like Putin think that just preparing foreign exchange reserves equivalent to $640 billion can overcome the temporary “troubles” created by Europe and America when they go to war.

Europe, America, and Japan do not ban Russia from selling, so in theory, Vietnam can still buy equipment and components for Russian-made fighter aircraft, but in reality, Vietnam will not be able to buy it, because Russia is banned from buying materials for the production process of components, equipment, and spare parts, so Russia cannot produce for sale.

Russia has to ask to buy civil aircraft components from China. China refused. Obviously, China does not want to fall into a situation where the aviation industry is covered like Russia. This is a fatal blow because Russia’s socio-economic and national defense cannot function if the aviation industry is disabled.

Those armies that bought Soviet weapons will continue to buy Russian weapons inertia. Because changing from the Soviet – Russian weapon system to the US weapon system is not easy at all, because it has to be synchronously converted from war vehicles, weapons, equipment, spare parts, and especially retraining. , training new officers and soldiers, not only because the techniques used are different, but also because the strategy and tactics of war must also be changed, rather upgraded, to adapt to new weapons.

In fact, Russia can only sell weapons to a few traditional customers from the former Soviet Union. So, assuming Vietnam does upset Russia, Russia will still sell components and weapons (if it can still produce) because if Vietnam won’t buy them, so it won’t have new customers.

The right choice of Vietnam with Russia

The above facts and figures show that:

Russia is no longer important to Vietnam, both economically and militarily.

Abstaining from Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations is not protecting Vietnam’s national interests.

What Vietnam needs:

Need to live with reality, not with feelings of war that ended more than 30 years ago, while still grateful to the Soviet Union.

Need to live with a new spirit, look at the data to know where your rice cooker is, and invest in the right place.

Hunsen: Young man

On March 21, when the US Ambassador in Hanoi called for raising the Vietnam-US relationship to a “strategic partnership,” the Japanese Prime Minister arrived in Phnom Penh along with Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia to issue a joint statement to protest against Putin’s invasion in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Hun Sen leads his country with a population the size of the Southeast region of Vietnam, dependent on China, but Russia is not involved in this relationship. Cambodia signed a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly condemning and demanding that Putin withdraw his troops from Ukraine, while Vietnam abstained.

Vietnam has only one week left this March to make a clear decision.

Spring in Ukraine has come, the snow has begun to melt, the whole of Ukraine is an endless field, turning into a giant swamp. Putin can’t fight big anymore.

Even in the winter, more than three weeks ago, Putin was defeated by the army of President Zelenskyy.

Next spring, when the snow melts, Putin will have to change his strategy, content with robbing a few border cities, gathering troops to attack Mariupol, establishing an “autonomous republic” there, connecting Russia with the Crimea peninsula. (Again, the peninsula is locked in the Black Sea, an enclosed sea).

Zelenskyy will not be able to accept the blood and blood of many soldiers who have fallen to cut the land. He has said any decision on the territory will have to be decided by referendum. Everyone knows how the Ukrainian people will decide after such a tenacious and painful fight. The two sides will continue to fight on the border until Russia withdraws its troops. Ukraine will be rebuilt in the central region of Kyiv with assistance from the West.

As for Russia, before the war GDP was not equal to a Chinese province (Guangdong, Jiangsu), an American state (New York, Texas, California), not equal to the Tokyo region of Japan.

If Putin continues to rule for another 10 years, from now on Russia will degrade into a country even smaller than Indonesia, GDP is only under trillion, even its GDP can degrade into a Singapore of just over five million people.

Hun Sen, who became Commander of the Eastern Regiment of the Khmer Rouge at the age of 25, always understood what his country needed.

Translated by from RFA: