Will Development Lead to Democratisation in Vietnam and China?

[ISEAS Perspective #23/2014]

Many countries around the world have undergone a transition to democracy over the last few decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, the so-called “third wave of democratisation”1 swept through Asia to bring about democratic transitions in nine countries: Bangladesh (1990), Indonesia (1998), Mongolia (1990), Nepal (1990), Pakistan (1988), the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987), Taiwan (1987), and Thailand (1992). In tandem with fast-changing world developments, both the scholarly community and policy practitioners have been revisiting the processes of democracy-building and discussing how democracies develop. Continue reading “Will Development Lead to Democratisation in Vietnam and China?”

Vietnam’s Hedging Strategy against China since Normalization

[Contemporary Southeast Asia] ABSTRACT: Since the normalization of Sino-Vietnamese relations in 1991, Vietnam’s China policy has been shaped by a combination of approaches which can be best described as a multi-tiered, omni-directional hedging strategy. The article argues that hedging is the most rational and viable option for Vietnam to manage its relations with China given its historical experiences, domestic and bilateral conditions, as well as changes in Vietnam’s external relations and the international strategic environment. The article examines the four major components of this strategy, namely economic pragmatism, direct engagement, hard balancing and soft balancing. The article goes on to assess the significance of each component and details how Vietnam has pursued its hedging strategy towards China since normalization. Continue reading “Vietnam’s Hedging Strategy against China since Normalization”

The One Party-State and Prospects for Democratization in Vietnam

[ISEAS Perspective] The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is one of the longest ruling parties in the world. It has been governing continuously for 68 years, 38 years of which have been in peace time. Within the next 7 years, it will be challenging the record held by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) of having the longest unbroken rule by any political party in modern world history.

The Party’s turn to performance-based legitimacy—the state’s ability to provide for the welfare of the people through sound economic performance—has served as the essential foundation for its continued rule. This began with the adoption of the Doi Moi policy in the late 1980s. However, prolonged economic difficulties, the public’s growing frustration with endemic corruption in the Party’s ranks, the increasing number of dissidents attempting to organize themselves into opposition movements, and pressure for deep political reforms from within the Party have presented the CPV with serious challenges to its political legitimacy.

This paper seeks to examine recent major challenges to the CPV’s rule and assess
the key conditions and forces that are either accelerating or slowing down prospects for democratization in the country. Continue reading “The One Party-State and Prospects for Democratization in Vietnam”

Navigating the Crisis: The VCP’s Efforts to Restructure the Economy and Fight Corruption

[Southeast Asian Affairs 2013] This chapter focuses on the Vietnam Communist Party’s (VCP) efforts, especially in 2012, to promote its political legitimacy. In particular, the chapter will analyse Vietnam’s recent endeavours in restructuring the economy and intensifying its fight against corruption. These two measures have been adopted by the VCP as a major part of its wider response to the perceived decline in its performance-based legitimacy due to the country’s enduring socio-economic difficulties over the past few years. The chapter will argue that although both the economic restructuring and the fight against corruption have achieved certain progress, the actual results still leave much to be desired mainly because of the VCP’s unwillingness to embrace radical measures to reform the economy and to make its fight against corruption truly effective. As a result, although the two measures tend to help the VCP gain more popular support in the short term, whether or not they are sufficient to significantly improve the VCP’s political legitimacy in the long run is still unclear. Continue reading “Navigating the Crisis: The VCP’s Efforts to Restructure the Economy and Fight Corruption”

Vietnam’s Domestic–Foreign Policy Nexus: Doi Moi, Foreign Policy Reform, and Sino-Vietnamese Normalization

[Asian Politics & Policy] This article examines the link between Vietnam’s adoption of the Doi Moi (renovation) policy and transformations in its China policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a case study of the domestic–foreign policy nexus. The article argues that during this period, changes in Vietnam’s foreign policy in general and its China policy in particular originated first and foremost from the Vietnamese Communist Party’s (VCP) domestic agenda of promoting economic reform and protecting the regime’s survival. As the VCP considered hostile relations with China as detrimental to both its economic reform and regime security, it strived to mend relations with China as quickly as possible. Against this backdrop, Vietnam made a number of important concessions to China regarding the Cambodian issue in order to accelerate the normalization process, which eventually concluded in late 1991. Continue reading “Vietnam’s Domestic–Foreign Policy Nexus: Doi Moi, Foreign Policy Reform, and Sino-Vietnamese Normalization”

South China Sea Disputes Keep Vietnam-China Relations Cold

[ISEAS Perspective 22/2013] Despite recent significant improvements in bilateral relations, a number of problems still exist which can threaten Vietnam’s relations with China in the long term. Disputes in the South China Sea [Biển Đông, or East Sea, in Vietnamese] stand out as the single most challenging one. Resurfaced recently, the disputes have not only remained the most serious sticking point in bilateral relations but have even pitted the two countries against each other in deadly armed confrontation on a number of occasions as well. The management and resolution (if ever) of the disputes therefore bear significant implications for the future relations between the two growing economies.

This paper provides an analysis of how the South China Sea disputes have been a constant irritant to Vietnam—China relations. Accordingly, the paper will first be examining factors that make the disputes intractable. Next, it will review joint efforts to manage and resolve the disputes, their successes as well as limitations. Finally, it will discuss some recent developments which show how serious a challenge the disputes have been to bilateral relations. Continue reading “South China Sea Disputes Keep Vietnam-China Relations Cold”

Pre-Colonial Vietnam’s Development under Sino-Vietnamese Cultural and Economic Interactions

[International Studies] This article seeks to provide an analysis of how cultural and economic interactions with China affected Vietnam’s course of national development and its perception of China in the pre-colonial period. The article argues that due to geographical proximity, a far more powerful China had long been a permanent and major source of military threat for Vietnam. Nevertheless, in the domain of cultural and economic interactions between the two asymmetric powers, China’s influence on Vietnam appeared to be mixed, sometimes threatening but sometimes beneficial for the smaller power in certain aspects. Therefore, a more balanced account of Vietnam’s relations with China in the pre-colonial era should take into consideration not only the antagonistic rivalry perpetuated by the ‘tyranny of geography,’ but also the resilient cultural and economic symbiosis made possible by the condition of geographical proximity between the two countries. Continue reading “Pre-Colonial Vietnam’s Development under Sino-Vietnamese Cultural and Economic Interactions”

The Dominance of Chinese Engineering Contractors in Vietnam

[ISEAS Perspective 4/2013] 


Since bilateral normalization in 1991, Vietnam-China economic relations have been developing rapidly. One particular change is the dominant position in Vietnam that Chinese engineering contractors have managed to attain. According to China’s Ministry of Commerce (2010), Chinese engineering companies were by the end of 2009 involved in projects worth US$15.42 billion, turning the Vietnamese market into their largest in Southeast Asia. Various Vietnamese sources also confirm that these contractors are strongly outcompeting contractors from Japan, South Korea, and Western countries. On occasion, Chinese contractors have accounted for up to 90 per cent of EPC (Engineering/Procurement/Construction) contracts for thermal power plants in Vietnam (Nhat Minh, 2012). Continue reading “The Dominance of Chinese Engineering Contractors in Vietnam”

Performance-based Legitimacy: The Case of the Communist Party of Vietnam and Doi Moi

[Contemporary Southeast Asia]  Abstract: This article examines the link between the legitimation process of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) and its adoption of the Doi Moi (renovation) policy. It argues that socio-economic performance emerged as the single most important source of legitimacy for the CPV in the mid-1980s as its traditional sources of legitimacy were exhausted and alternative legitimation modes were largely irrelevant or ineffective. The CPV’s switch to performance-based legitimacy has had significant implications for Vietnam’s domestic politics as well as its foreign policy and has served as an essential foundation for the Party’s continued rule. At the same time, however, it has also presented the CPV with serious challenges in maintaining uninterrupted socio-economic development in the context of the country’s growing integration with the global economic system which is experiencing instability. It is in this context that nationalism, couched in terms of Vietnam’s territorial and maritime boundary claims in the South China Sea, has been revived as an additional source of legitimacy in times of economic difficulties. Continue reading “Performance-based Legitimacy: The Case of the Communist Party of Vietnam and Doi Moi”

Vietnam’s strategic trajectory: From internal development to external engagement

[ASPI Strategic Insights] Vietnam has recently emerged as a key player in Southeast Asia. Strategically located at the heart of the Asia–Pacific region, Vietnam is home to a population of 88 million people and a promising economy that has registered an average annual growth rate of around 7% over the past decade. Since adopting the ‘Doi Moi’ (‘renovation’) policy in the late 1980s, Vietnam has also been pursuing an active and constructive foreign policy aimed at diversifying and multilateralising its external relations. Vietnam’s quest for deeper international economic integration and a greater political role has therefore brought the international community an opportunity to engage the once‑pariah state in building a peaceful, stable and prosperous regional order.  Continue reading “Vietnam’s strategic trajectory: From internal development to external engagement”