Vietnam Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

According to abbreviationfinder, Vietnam is a nation in Southeastern Asia. Its capital city is Hanoi. Vietnam has relatively relaxed relations with the vast majority of countries, including the United States with which the country was at war with the 1960s and 1970s. An exception is China, which is a competitor for the right to territorial waters in the South China Sea. The relationship with Cambodia is also periodically strained.

vietnam military spending and defense budget

Vietnam’s relationship with the outside world has changed radically since the early 1990s. At that time, the country was internationally isolated, financially punished for its occupation of Cambodia and still ousted by the United States after the war. The only strong support came from the socialist countries with the Soviet Union at the forefront.

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After taking back his Cambodian soldiers in 1989 and signing the United Nations Peace Plan for the neighboring country in 1991, Vietnam was able to re-integrate into the regional community. Trade with the countries of Southeast Asia increased, and in 1995 Vietnam joined Asean. The entry was an irony of history, since Asean was partially founded in 1967 as protection against what was then perceived as the threat of communist North Vietnam.

Complex relationship with China

Until the 1980s, relations with China were extremely tense, partly because of Beijing’s support for the Cambodian Red Khmer, and partly because of the harassment of the Chinese minority in Vietnam after the end of the war in 1975. It went as far as the 1979 war (see Modern history).

An approach began in 1989 when Vietnam acknowledged that the country’s Chinese had been treated poorly. In November 1991, the relationship was formally normalized at a Beijing summit. The need for better relations was reinforced by the uncertainty both countries felt after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The two countries have also chosen the same ideological path, with market economy in a communist state.

In May 2017, Vietnam undoubtedly supported China’s infrastructure project BRI (the Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road), which will culminate in a network of roads, train lines and ports from eastern Asia to Europe. Some construction projects have yet to start in Vietnam.

The conflict over the Spratly and Paracel Islands

Despite normalization, relations with China remain sensitive. Both countries claim the largely uninhabited island groups Spratly and Paracel in the oil and gas-rich South China Sea. Screen savers have been involved with fishing and patrol boats involved, while politicians have often tried to dampen the contradictions.

When China placed an oil drilling platform in the Paracel Islands in May 2014, relations reached a bottom level. Popular anger led to riots and attacks on Chinese-owned factories in mainly southern Vietnam (although it was found that many affected facilities were owned by Taiwanese or South Koreans). The authorities initially seemed to tolerate the outbreak of violence but put a stop to it after a while. Several people were killed during the unrest and China evacuated thousands of citizens from the country. The enemy noises were sharp even at high level. The platform was later shipped off, but China has placed oil drilling platforms on the islands even at later times.

In early 2015, satellite images revealed that China had filled in reefs around the Sprat Islands to build a runway for flights. The intervention was condemned by Vietnam, USA with several countries. In January 2016, a Chinese aircraft lifted off the runway and a month later, China fired anti-aircraft missiles from the Paracel Islands.

The conflict has subsequently escalated, with more land fillings and military armaments on both sides. In 2017, China began cruising traffic in disputed waters. When Vietnam began to look for oil in the area, China threatened to attack with its fleet.

United States – from arch enemy to weapons supplier

The first approach to the United States came in 1986, when Vietnam offered to help find the remains of 2,600 fallen American soldiers who were still missing after the war in the 1960s and 1970s. In return, the United States promised humanitarian aid. After a few years of gradual approaching, the United States in 1994 abolished the economic boycott that has been in effect since the days of the Vietnam War. The decision was motivated by the willingness of the Vietnamese to cooperate in the search for the missing Americans. But behind the renewed economic ties also lay pressure from American companies that looked to be overshadowed by foreign competitors in the burgeoning Vietnamese market.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1995, the United States has become one of the largest investors in the country. In November 2000, US President Bill Clinton made a symbolically important state visit to Vietnam and in 2007 President Nguyen Minh Triet visited as the first Vietnamese head of state since the end of the Vietnam War White House in Washington. Relations have gradually strengthened with the rest of the Western world, although recent criticism has increased against violations of human rights.

The United States imposed a ban on all arms exports to Vietnam in 1984. Thirty years later, the US government partially repealed the arms embargo, enabling Vietnam to buy US marine security equipment. The United States denied that the easing of the embargo was a result of China’s advanced positions in the South China Sea.

At a visit to Vietnam in May 2016, US President Barack Obama announced that the United States had decided to lift the remaining embargo on arms sales to Vietnam. Obama said that the last lingering traces of the Vietnam War were thus gone. The US decision made it easier for Vietnam to gear up its defense. However, the United States emphasized that the decision was not related to the tense situation between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea, but that it was part of the normalization of relations with Vietnam after the war in the 1960s and 1970s.

Other important relationships

Vietnam’s relationship with Communist Laos is close, with close cooperation on both political and security issues. For Cambodia, relations are more complicated for historical reasons, although they are basically now relatively safe. However, the boundary between the two countries is not fully established, which has led to recurring inequality.

Vietnam has maintained good relations with Russia even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The countries cooperate primarily in the areas of trade, defense and energy.

From the end of the 1990s, Vietnam and India have been approaching each other, in line with China’s growing influence in Asia. In March 2000, the two countries signed a cooperation agreement in the field of defense: Vietnam trains Indian soldiers in the fight against insurgency and in warfare in jungle environments, while India assists Vietnam in the upgrading and modernization of the defense. The countries are also fighting piracy in the South China Sea together. In 2013, Vietnam gave India the right to look for oil in the South China Sea. In May 2018, India and Vietnam completed their first joint naval exercise, including that of the South China Sea.

With the EU (then EC; European Community), Vietnam established diplomatic relations in October 1990. A comprehensive cooperation agreement was signed in June 2012.


Vietnam has drastically shrunk its army since the early 1990s, when it consisted of just over a million men. The army has maintained its strong political position and is an important recruitment base for top positions within the party and the state. The equipment of the armed forces is being modernized. In addition to the regular armed forces with army, navy and aviation, Vietnam has a special air defense as well as semi-military forces, militia, in cities and in rural areas. There is a general duty of military service for at least two years for men between the ages of 18 and 35.


Army: 412 000 men (2017)

The air Force: 30,000 men (2017)

The fleet: 40,000 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 2.3 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 7.9 percent (2017)