On January 11, Vietnam and France held the second iteration of a defense dialogue that both sides had begun in 2016. The interaction put the focus on the security realm of their ties during an active year for ties, with a couple of key anniversaries within the broader relationship.
Vietnam and France have a long historical relationship, with France colonizing Vietnam as part of French Indochina and ruling the country until its defeat in the First Indochina War and the proclamation of Vietnamese independence in 1954. Contemporary ties were formalized in 1973, but it was only much more recently that we saw an acceleration in the overall trajectory, with the two sides proclaiming a strategic partnership in 2013.
France sees engaging Vietnam as part of a broader effort to enhance its engagement in the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia more specifically, while Hanoi views boosting relations with Paris as part of its foreign policy objective of engaging multiple major powers, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
This applies to the defense side as well. Both sides inked a defense cooperation agreement in 2009, and have subsequently been making progress on several fronts as well, from increasing exchanges and other interactions to specific areas such as combating transnational crime. Following some consideration, the two countries began holding a Defense Policy Dialogue. The first iteration was held in Paris back in November 2016, and saw both sides ink agreements on military medicine and peacekeeping (See: “What’s Next for Vietnam’s New Military Peacekeeping Role?”).
This year is an important one for the relationship, with both sides commemorating both the 45th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relationship and the fifth anniversary of the establishment of their strategic partnership. Both sides have indicated that some key interactions are expected for 2018, including higher profile ones such as a visit by the French prime minister to Vietnam.
That includes the defense side as well. This week, we saw the first sign of that, as both sides held the second iteration of the Vietnam-France Defense Policy Dialogue, as they had agreed to do last year. The dialogue was held in Ho Chi Minh City on January 11 and was co-chaired by Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh, the Vietnamese vice minister for defense, and Vice Admiral Hervé de Bonnaventure, the deputy director general of international relations and strategy at the French defense ministry.
The Vietnamese defense ministry’s official characterization of the meeting focused on the fact that both sides had agreed to further step up cooperation in ongoing areas already discussed with varying degrees of progress since, such as training, military medicine, maritime security, aviation security and safety, peacekeeping operations, and defense industrial cooperation.
Though no additional specifics were provided, there was also mention of increasing visits by French vessels to Vietnam as part of a broader effort to boost defense interactions. Cooperation in the maritime security realm has been an important component of the defense relationship, not just in terms of individual interactions that grab the headlines but also France’s support of Vietnam as it contends with growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea (See: “Vietnam-China South China Sea Spat in the Headlines“).