Last week, Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), led a delegation to France in a much-anticipated trip for bilateral ties. Though the official visit saw both sides make progress across their strategic partnership, it also offered a sense of where the two countries are on defense side as well.
As I have noted before, France and Vietnam have a long historical relationship that extends back to Vietnam’s status as a French colony through the formalization of contemporary ties in 1973 and through the proclamation of a new strategic partnership in 2013. Defense ties have advanced as part of this as well. Both sides inked a defense cooperation agreement in 2009, and have subsequently been making progress on several fronts, from increasing exchanges and other interactions to specific areas such as combating transnational crime and military medicine and peacekeeping.
2018 represents a key symbolic year for the relationship, with it being both the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties and the fifth anniversary of the inking of the strategic partnership between the two sides. As is often the case for diplomatic relationships, these anniversaries have provided an opportunity for the countries to further step up their collaboration across a range of areas. That includes the defense side as well, and several interactions have already been ongoing, including the second iteration of the new Vietnam-France Defense Policy Dialogue in January following the first held in November 2016 (See: “What’s Next for Vietnam-France Military Cooperation?”).
Trong’s visit last week unsurprisingly also saw a focus on the defense side of ties as well, even though it was drowned out by other aspects of ties. While Trong had his own series of interactions, Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh held talks with French officials including Florence Parly, the French minister of the armed forces, and Ambassador Philippe Errera, director general for international relations and strategy of the Ministry of Armed Forces.
According to official Vietnamese accounts, during his meeting with Parly, Vinh made several proposals to further strengthen defense relations, including in the realms of exchanges, training, defense industry, military trade, and military medicine. The official joint statement issued by the two sides also touched on some areas of focus for the future of defense ties, including strategic dialogue, officer training, and French-language teaching, but also defense equipment, maritime and aviation security, in addition to regional and global issues on which they engage, like North Korea and the South China Sea as well as cooperation in multilateral forums.
In terms of notable steps, the key item was the signing of a letter of intent on the signing of a joint statement on a joint vision on defense cooperation for 2018 out to 2020, along with an agreement amending cooperation on hydrography, oceanography, and sea mapping which both sides had been working on. Though progress is no doubt incremental on these fronts, other defense-related visits as well as broader security engagements are expected this year that are expected to see further efforts as well. Both sides have indicated that 2018 will be an active one for ties, and that includes the defense realm as well.