Earlier this month, Vietnam and France held a defense dialogue between the two of them. The interaction highlighted the ongoing efforts by both sides to advance their ties in the defense aspect of the relationship as part of their wider foreign policies.
As I have noted before in these pages, Vietnam and France have a long historical relationship that dates back to France’s colonization of Vietnam as part of what was called French Indochina. Contemporary ties, first formalized in 1973, have begun accelerating over the past few years, with both sides inking a strategic partnership in 2013.
The defense side has also seen some developments in recent years as well. While both sides inked a defense cooperation agreement in 2009, they have been making inroads on various fronts, whether it be on functional areas such as military medicine and peacekeeping or in terms of individual interactions, such as exchanges or the visit of naval vessels. One of the aspects of defense collaboration has been the holding of a defense dialogue, with both sides holding the first Defense Policy Dialogue in 2016, followed by the second one in 2018.
Last week, this aspect of the defense relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of another dialogue between the two sides. Per Vietnam’s defense ministry, both sides held the first iteration of what was officially called the Vietnam-France Strategy and Defense Cooperation Dialogue. The dialogue was held in France from July 1 to 4, and it was led by Vietnam’s visiting Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh and the Deputy Director General for International Relations and Strategy at the French Ministry of Defense Hervé de Bonnaventure.
During the dialogue, both sides took stock of the state of bilateral defense ties as well as discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest. With respect to bilateral defense ties, per the official account of the meeting by Vietnam’s defense ministry, though both sides said they were content with the development of ties in areas such as UN peacekeeping operations, personnel training, cyber security, and information exchange, they also agreed that those outcomes were not on par with the potential of the relationship and their expectations, and agreed to push forward collaboration in unspecified areas. Regarding regional and international issues, among the matters in focus unsurprisingly was France’s integration into ASEAN-led multilateral organizations, with Vietnam set to hold the ASEAN chair into 2020.
Both sides also reflected on the significance of the new mechanism within their bilateral defense relationship. Vinh in particular noted that this marked the first real advancement of an additional form of collaboration within the Vietnam-France Joint Committee on Defense Cooperation.
Apart from the Dialogue itself, Vinh’s visit also saw him undertake a series of other defense related interactions as well. This include talks with Bernard Rogel, the chief of staff of the French president, as well as a courtesy call on Geneviève Darrieussecq, the minister of state attached to the minister for the French Armed Forces, where they agreed to establish a Vietnam-France working group consisting of Vietnamese and French military history experts to facilitate information exchange and the sorting of legacy issues related to the Indochina War.
Unsurprisingly, not much more in terms of specifics were publicly disclosed about the private deliberations between the two sides. Nonetheless, given France’s ongoing efforts to boost its ties with Southeast Asian states in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s desire to continue to develop ties with a wide range of powers in its foreign relations, the state of France-Vietnam defense relations will continue to be one among many of the alignments to watch in the region.