What are Vietnam’s opportunities in the face of new reforms in China?

Vietnam-China relations in the past were based mostly on trade and construction bids. What will be important for the new period?

Three decades ago was the time for China to grow and rise. They focused on economic development and luring investment and going abroad, opening their market, promoting cooperation, and expanding its influence. 

During that period, China tended to behave moderately and persuasively, paying attention to promoting the image of a China which was ‘rising peacefully’. In the international area, China contributed, adapted or adopted rules of organizations.

However, now China has successfully risen and has become stronger, despite internal challenges.

China is not only striving for market opening but also increasing resilience and affirming its position and influence. China is reforming rules and building new rules at the same time, and may become the one that imposes rules in the future.

How should Vietnam adapt to a stronger China?

Chinese Party General Secretary and President Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized three “news” – entering a new stage of development, implementing a new development perspective, and building a new development landscape.

Of the three, developing, opening and promoting the role of the western region, including Guang Xi and Yunnan, areas adjacent to Vietnam, are particularly valued by China, because this relates to achievements of reducing poverty as well as the “getting rich together” strategy. 

The nine most important border cities that receive support for upgrading are mentioned in the development program. They include Dongxing. The 14 border gates to be upgraded include Friendship Pass. Guangxi has been identified as the peak of open cooperation towards ASEAN, and Yunnan as the center of refraction towards South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean rim. 

Guang Xi and Yunnan have  created free trade zones under the pilot plan on establishing six free trade zones issued by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China in August 2019.

China is focusing on building industrial production chains and cross-border service chains, implementing cross-border trade, finance, logistics, tourism and labor services. This will bring both opportunities and challenges for Vietnam.

The question is how Vietnam should prepare to grasp opportunities from Chinese reforms and settle existing problems.

In recent years, China not only has continued to promote investment and trade but has emphasized production capacity and infrastructure connections by creating cross-border economic cooperation zones.

The 2022 Vietnam-China Joint Statement emphasized these views. The two sides agreed to promote connections between the two countries’ development strategies, speed up exchanges, and sign a cooperation plan between the two governments on promoting connectivity within the framework of the “Two Corridors, One Belt” and the “Belt and Road” Initiative, focusing onproduction capacity, infrastructure and transport, and completing the assessment of the standard-gauge Lao Cai – Hanoi – Hai Phong railway.

The two countries have also mentioned sharing of experiences on e-commerce development across borders, cooperation among logistics firms and among banks, and national switching organizations in e-payments, and the increase of capacity of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

As such, renewable energy, e-commerce, digital transformation and infrastructure, including the North-South Expressway, would be the key cooperation fields.

How should Vietnam continue to develop relations with China alongside development with other large countries in the new circumstances? What will it do to adapt to a rising China, and grasp the opportunities and challenges from China’s new reform round? These are the questions that need answers. This is a matter which needs the great effort of both countries to settle problems and at the same time seeking new driving force for growth and new growth points for the future.

Thai An