Build stronger ties with VietnamVietnam is a young country with half of its nearly 100 million people under the age of 25. It is also located at a strategic spot, connecting China and ASEAN nations. While Vietnam advocated socialism, it adopted “Doi Moi” reforms to introduce a market economy and acknowledge private property. It keeps Confucian values but has opened its market to attract the foreign investment necessary for economic development. To put it simply, Vietnam is a utilitarian nation.
Its pragmatism is reflected in its foreign policy. Just 20 years after Vietnam fought a war against the United States, the Clinton administration lifted economic sanctions and normalized relations, clearing away the past. Today Vietnam and the United States engage in active trade and investment and hold strategic and military talks. The United States is Vietnam’s biggest export market, and Vietnam participates in the U.S.-initiated Trans Pacific Partnership, partly to check China’s growing influence. Vietnam fought a war against China in 1979 and the countries’ relations were severed for 12 years, but recently Vietnam and China mended those ties and established a strategic cooperative partnership.
Vietnam has even more utilitarian relations with South Korea, which sent 310,000 troops to the Vietnam War to fight on the American side. When diplomatic ties were established in late 1992, Vietnam agreed to “depart from the past and cooperate for future-oriented development.”
Geographically belonging to Southeast Asia and culturally belonging to Northeast Asia, Vietnam considers Korea as a “twin.” At a forum commemorating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties, the director of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences Nguyen Xuan Thang said, “Korea and Vietnam are both built on agricultural traditions and lifestyles, both drove away foreign invasion and attained liberation, and both have accomplished modernization and development by embracing the merits of other cultures.”
Along with Thailand, Vietnam is a major center for Hallyu. Korean television dramas make up 10 percent of all television programming, and young Vietnamese are familiar with K-pop stars such as 2AM, CNBlue, Afterschool, Big Bang and Lee Hyo-ri. About 2,600 college students major in the Korean language, and 53,000 migrant workers live in Korea. More than 40,000 Vietnamese women have immigrated to Korea through marriage. The two countries are now blood-related.
President Park Geun-hye’s visit to Vietnam, from Sept. 7 to 11, will provide an opportunity to launch a strategic partnership. The first need is a free trade agreement between the two countries. Trade between Vietnam and Korea grew by 40 times over the last 21 years, and Vietnam has become our second-largest export market in Southeast Asia after Singapore. Korea is the fourth largest investor in Vietnam, following Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. A free trade agreement with Vietnam would not only boost Korea’s gross domestic product but also contribute to Korean investments in local businesses and the opening of Vietnam’s markets.
The second opportunity is the export of nuclear power to Vietnam. With its increasing demand for electricity, the Vietnamese government hopes to expand nuclear power generation to 6.3 percent of the country’s total power by 2025 and 7.9 percent by 2030. Korea’s nuclear power technology can help Vietnam’s power generation and economic development. Also, the precedence would positively affect other markets, such as Indonesia.
The third opportunity is assisting the creation of the new science and technology institute V-KIST. Vietnam adopted an economic and social development strategy in 2011 with the goal of building an advanced industrial nation by 2020. In order to achieve the goal, it is promoting science and technology. When Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made a state visit to Korea, he requested Korea’s assistance in establishing a Vietnamese version of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. We may want to use this opportunity to sign an MOU between the governments to provide the V-KIST model in Vietnam.
Lastly, cooperation should be expanded beyond existing investments in manufacturing, mining, real estate, constructing, finance and insurance to future growth engines, such as information technology, climate change, energy and the environment. Through enhanced cooperation with Vietnam, Korea will become a step closer to utilizing the buying power of ASEAN, our second-largest trading partner, and securing the stable provision of resources.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a chair professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and executive president of the Asia Future Institute.
by Park Jin