Vietnam's Foreign Policy and the Greater Mekong Subregion

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UNU Insitute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies
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UNU-CRIS Working Papers
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The paper attempts to shed light on Vietnam’s foreign policy design towards China as it translates into subregional economic cooperation schemes in the Mekong Basin, most importantly the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). The GMS is one of the growth areas, which emerged throughout ASEAN after the end of the Cold War, encompassing China’s Yunnan province, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The present paper approaches an evaluationof the effectiveness of Vietnam’s foreign policy approach taken in 1991 in order to preventdependence on China as Vietnam’s main foreign policy concern. As a result, Vietnam has participated in multifarious subregional cooperation schemes in order to enhance importance andleverage in political and economic world affairs vis-à-vis China. Relevant for the realization of Vietnam’s goals is the robustness and effectiveness of these cooperation schemes themselves. In its current state of development, Mekong cooperation is very informal without major structures or relevant economic and political cohesiveness. Region-wide stable regime formation cannot be anticipated given the differences in politicaland economic development and the widespread mutual distrust among the Southeast Asian GMS members and suspicion towards China, an indispensable country to make the GMS a worthwhile long-term undertaking. However, stable regimes are essential to effectivelyaddress Vietnam’s security concerns, the lack of which forces Vietnam to look out for the USas major – albeit unlikely – ally to balance against China. The emerging task is a tightropewalk between the US and China, countries that in the eyes of the Vietnamese leadership are both central to secure Vietnam’s economic, political and diplomatic independence.