This week, Vietnamese and Lao defense officials held yet another round of consultations to discuss ongoing developments in the security realm of the relationship. The meeting was just the latest in a series of interactions between the two neighboring Southeast Asian states that gave a sense of cooperation in this area in 2018 and beyond.
As I have noted before in these pages, Vietnam and Laos, both one-party, communist states in Southeast Asia, share an important defense relationship as part of their broader diplomatic ties, with various areas of focus ranging from Hanoi’s ongoing support of Laos’ military to the management of their joint border (See: “What’s Next for Vietnam-Laos Border Cooperation?”).
The past few years have seen an uptick in the level of diplomatic activity between the two sides, including on the defense side, and that has continued on into 2018. The highest level of engagement was in mid-January when Vietnamese Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich was in Laos for defense consultations at the invitation of his Lao counterpart, Senior Lieutenant General Chansamone Chanyalath, and both sides signed off on a defense cooperation agreement and mapped out priority areas for 2018. But other visits have followed since, including in March when Senior Lieutenant Phan Van Giang, the deputy defense minister and chief of the General Staff of the VPA, met with his Lao counterpart Suvon Luongbunmi in Hanoi amid a range of other military consultations between the two sides.
This week, both sides held another one of these bilateral defense interactions. Luongbunmi was on an official visit to Vietnam from May 13-17 for what was effectively a return visit of Giang’s earlier visit to Laos back in March.
The visit itself saw a series of meetings and engagements, including a ceremony held for the Lao delegation as well as consultations with officials including Vietnam’s Deputy Defense Minister Phan Van Giang and Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich.
Unsurprisingly, few details were publicly disclosed about the exact range of subjects discussed at the meeting itself. The Vietnamese defense ministry’s account of the visit suggested that the areas up for discussion were familiar. They ranged from border cooperation to a crack down on transnational crimes to the search and repatriation of remains of Vietnamese personnel from the wartime period to education and training.
Nonetheless, the Vietnam-Laos defense relationship bears watching over the next few years. As I have noted previously, with 2019 seeing the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Army (LPA) and the 75th anniversary of the VPA, the two countries have already signaled the furthering of military-to-military ties in several areas, including not just traditional areas like exchanges, education, and training, but also areas such as cooperation on the advancement of their military presses. Though these areas of cooperation may not make as many headlines, they reinforce the continued significance of domestic politics and party-to-party ties in the bilateral relationship, and that includes defense ties as well.