Amid global and regional crises sparked by COVID-19, natural disasters and geopolitical changes, Vietnam has continued to show marked success in the fight against the pandemic and in economic growth, mainly due to strong political will and drastic measures by government and citizens, according to foreign organizations and experts. The country’s upcoming change in leadership, after the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party, will bring further new developments.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Vietnam has become a bright spot, a model for successfully containing the pandemic after taking rigorous, timely and effective measures to prevent and combat the pandemic. As the global crisis stretches into its second year, Vietnam continues efforts to research, produce and conduct clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines.
On June 29, 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a report titled “Vietnam’s Success in Containing COVID-19 Offers Roadmap for Other Developing Countries”, lauding Vietnam for having rapidly introduced containment, taken aggressive and cost-effective control measures and launched a whole-of-society fight.
“Soon after China officially reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) several cases of an unusual pneumonia on December 31, 2019, Vietnam finalized a health risk assessment,” read the IMF report. “Wearing of masks at public venues was strictly enforced, even before the WHO recommendation. While a higher-cost, mass-testing strategy was adopted in most advanced economies to combat the pandemic, Vietnam focused on high-risk and suspected cases. Groups of people who lived near confirmed cases, sometimes an entire street or village, were swiftly tested and isolated, which helped limit community transmission.”
“Treatment and quarantine in hospitals were provided free of charge for Vietnamese. Early containment and use of existing public and military facilities proved to be cost effective,” the IMF report continued. “From an early stage, communications about the virus and the strategy were transparent. This well-coordinated multi-media approach strengthened public trust and helped society adhere to protective and containment measures.”
On August 29, 2020, United Nations (UN) News released an article entitled “The Key to Vietnam’s Successful COVID-19 Response”, by Kamal Malhotra, the UN resident coordinator in Vietnam.
“Vietnam’s success has drawn international attention because of its early, proactive, response, led by the government, and involving the whole political system, and all aspects of the society…,” Malhotra wrote.
“Notably, the Vietnamese public had been exceptionally compliant with government directives and advice, partly as a result of trust built up thanks to real time, transparent communication from the Ministry of Health, supported by the WHO and other UN agencies. Innovative methods were used to keep the public informed and safe. For instance, regular text updates were sent by the Ministry of Health, on preventive measures and COVID-19’s symptoms,” Malhotra added.
Multilateral diplomacy milestones
In addition to successfully containing COVID-19, Vietnam has seen multilateral diplomacy milestones in the past year, including through its role as ASEAN Chair for 2020, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2020-21, and Chair of the 41st General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA).
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam convened ASEAN meetings online and launched 13 initiatives at ASEAN events. The ASEAN Summit 2020 saw the regional bloc adopt a record number of agreements and resolutions—including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement between Asia-Pacific nations and the world’s largest trade deal.
Vietnam also pushed global cooperation through the first-ever UN Security Council meeting on ASEAN-UN cooperation and the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness (December 27). Cooperation between ASEAN and the UN on international peace and security was a key theme throughout Vietnam’s term as ASEAN chair, beginning with the UN Security Council meeting on January 30, 2020.
Carl Thayer, professor emeritus and a Southeast Asia specialist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, has pointed to how Vietnam’s response to the pandemic has increased its standing regionally and globally.
Thayer and other analysts have pointed to Vietnam’s recent role on the UN Security Council, including its support for expanding coordination between ASEAN, the Security Council and other UN bodies, as well as pushing for global adherence to international law and the UN Charter.
In 2020, Vietnam was one of the few countries in the world that posted economic growth. According to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office, the country’s GDP expanded by 2.91%, with its biggest-ever trade surplus of nearly US$19.1 billion for 2020. Reuters and Singapore’s Business Times wrote that strict quarantine and tracing measures helped Vietnam to quickly curb outbreaks and recover economically faster than many Asian countries. Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that Vietnam is one of two countries (the other being China) to record positive economic growth amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides economic growth, Vietnam has also shown progress in technology and education through the pandemic. In 2020, Vietnam made advancements in developing 5G networks, using equipment manufactured by local industry and telecoms group Viettel. Meanwhile, the country saw students succeed in global academic competitions despite the impacts of the pandemic.
As the country enters a new decade, it appears aspiration to develop and become a prosperous society.
As Vo Tri Thanh, a senior economist at Vietnam’s Central Institute for Economic Management and member of the National Financial and Monetary Policy Advisory Council, wrote in government media outlet VietnamNews, “In 1986, the CPV initiated and led the ‘Doi moi’ (Renewal) process which started from changes to economic outlook. The shift of the economy from a centrally planned model to a socialist-oriented market economy, promoting industrialization and modernization and active international integration, proved a big success to Vietnam.”
“Though Vietnam is still facing challenges concerning institutions, infrastructure, manpower and sustainable development, the country has great ambitions to transition its economy to productivity and innovation-based, fostering reforms for inclusive development, catching up and striding along with global trends,” said the economist.
In 2020, Vietnam’s whole political system and all economic sectors focused on the dual target of combating the pandemic and developing the economy simultaneously.
On the economic front, Vietnam actively pushed new free trade agreements, including the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. On the digital front, Vietnam accelerated a national digital transformation that has already changed much of the country’s public administration. In June 2020, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved a National Digital Transformation Program, to be implemented by 2025, to develop the economy based on digital technologies.
The Communist Party of Vietnam is set to convene its 13th National Congress from January 25 to February 2, as well as sessions of the National Assembly, to select new leadership. With the country coming off of a strong year in 2020, the country’s next administration will likely continue to steer the country towards its socioeconomic development targets as well as multilateral goals around peace, security and prosperity in the region and globally.