Russia & Global South

Vietnam-Russia Relations After 2022:

Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities of “Bamboo Diplomacy”

in A Multipolar World

June 24, 2024
  • Nguyen Ba Hai

    The College of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan
  • Kazushige Kobayashi

    Associate Professor at the College and Graduate School of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, the Russia Program at GW
Experts in international relations, Nguyen Ba Hai and Kazushige Kobayashi, analyze how successfully the Vietnamese leadership manages to implement the concept of "bamboo diplomacy" while balancing between Russia, China, and the Western countries.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Hanoi on 20 June 2024, Vietnam became the first Southeast Asian nation since February 2022 to welcome the Russian leader for an official state visit. This visit follows the earlier visits by American President Joe Biden (September 2023) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (December 2023), making Vietnam the epitome of multi-aligned foreign policy that has received the Russian, Chinese, and American leaders in less than a year. Vietnam is an important case in exploring Russia’s engagement with the Global South for several reasons. First, as Hanoi strives to engage with all great powers, the case of Vietnam offers unique insights into the dynamics of multi-aligned foreign policy. Second, Vietnam is a rising economic star that has undergone a phenomenal transformation from one of the poorest nations in Asia to a vibrant commercial hub. Finally, Vietnam was the first ASEAN member to conclude an FTA with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in 2015. The Vietnamese case hence demonstrates that Vietnam-Russia relations are embedded within the larger context of multilateral economic interactions.

Since 2022, Vietnam has sought to maintain a functional bilateral relationship with Russia while at the same time deepening its ties with the US and its Western allies. Hanoi has abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly resolutions related to Ukraine. The only exception to this pattern was Hanoi’s casting of a vote against the UNGA Resolution to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council. Between 1995 and 2023, Russia provided approximately 81 percent of Vietnam’s arms imports, and Hanoi and Moscow further reinforced their bilateral ties by signing more than twelve new agreements on 20 June 2024. In the years to come, it is expected that the safeguarding of Vietnam’s national interests will continue to take priority as Hanoi seeks to navigate, maintain, and balance its security partnerships with competing great powers.

Western sanctions after the 2014 Crimean crisis prompted Russia to reorient its foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific and other regions. In this context, Vietnamese-Russian trade volume grew rapidly in the 2010s. Vietnam was the first ASEAN member state that concluded an FTA with the Russia-led EAEU in 2015. Accordingly, the trade tariffs between Vietnam and EAEU member states have seen significant reductions in the past years, prompting the further expansion of bilateral trade between Vietnam and Russia. The steady expansion of Vietnam-Russia economic relations was disrupted by the imposition of Western sanctions against Russia in 2022, but Hanoi and Moscow have taken concerted steps to mitigate these challenges. The recent Vietnam-Russia summit on 20 June 2024 produced new bilateral agreements designed to further expand economic cooperation between the two nations.

Despite the relative decline of societal ties between Vietnam and Russia after the end of the Cold War, Vietnamese citizens continued to view Russia and President Putin favorably in the 2010s. Even after February 2022, Vietnam largely refrained from directly criticizing Russia. In August 2023, Vietnam launched a 45-day visa-free visit scheme for Russian citizens and enhanced its tourism cooperation with Russia. In February 2024, Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot resumed direct flights from Moscow to Ho Chi Minh City. Overall, bilateral educational, cultural, and tourism cooperation between Vietnam and Russia has largely gone back to “business as usual” in 2023.

Despite the relative decline in bilateral trade volume, President Putin’s recent visit to Hanoi demonstrates that Vietnam-Russia bilateral relations remain resilient. Yet, given that Vietnam’s bamboo diplomacy is operating in an increasingly complex terrain of multi-alignment involving Moscow, Beijing, and Washington, American foreign policy actions may play a key role in (re)shaping the further evolution of Vietnam-Russia relations. Further research is needed to explore the dynamics of multi-alignment and their implications for US foreign policy in the post-Western world.
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