During the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Vietnam was left behind in Southeast Asia, "the world's most dynamic economic region." A popular saying was that Ho Chi Minh City was 30 years behind Taiwan and Thailand and Hanoi was 30 years behind Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam was admitted to ASEAN in 1996

Relationships with Laos and Cambodia have traditionally been shaped by Vietnamese convictions of cultural and political superiority that had prevailed during the nineteenth century when weaker monarchs in Laos and Cambodia had paid tribute to the Vietnamese court in a system modeled on Vietnam's own relationship to China. The independent Kampuchean Communist Party (KCP) was established alongside the Vietnamese and Laotian parties following the dissolution of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1955. The Kampuchean movement was the weakest of the three. [Source: Library of Congress *, Wikipedia]

The communist victory in Vietnam in 1975 was accompanied by similar communist successes in Laos and Cambodia. The impression of the noncommunist world at the time was that the three Indochinese communist parties, having seized control in their respective countries, would logically work together, through the fraternal bond of a single ideology, to achieve common objectives. What appeared to be a surprising deterioration in relations, however, was actually the resurfacing of historical conflict that ideological commonality could not override. *

In the 1980s, Laos and Cambodia had once more become Vietnam's client states. Laos, with a communist party long nurtured by the Vietnamese, entered the relationship with docility; Cambodia, however, under a ruthless, but anti-Vietnamese dictatorship of its own, resisted being drawn into the Vietnamese orbit. Tension between the two states escalated into open warfare and, in 1978, Hanoi launched an invasion that toppled the Pol Pot regime in Phnom Penh. In 1987 Cambodia remained a state governed precariously by a regime installed by Hanoi, its activities constrained by the presence of a substantial Vietnamese occupation force and a tenacious insurgency in the countryside. Repeated Vietnamese assurances that Hanoi would withdraw its troops from the beleaguered country by 1990 were received with skepticism by some observers. *

See South China Sea, Spratly Islands

See Separate Article on Relations with China

Relations with ASEAN in the 1970s and 80s

ASEAN's charter declares that membership is open to all states in the region--a gesture toward Vietnam that Hanoi repeatedly rebuffed. Before Vietnam's invasion and occupation of Cambodia in December 1978, integration of the three Indochinese states and ASEAN into a larger regional organization was discussed within the ASEAN community as a possible solution to regional problems. The proposal surfaced at an ASEAN summit meeting held in Bali in January 1976, when, following reunification, Vietnam requested observer status at ASEAN meetings. It was understood at the time, however, that the inclusion of communist states within a grouping of free-market countries was unprecedented, and the idea was interpreted to be more a goodwill gesture than a serious proposition. [Source: Library of Congress *]

From 1976 to 1978, ASEAN's differences with Vietnam were both symbolic and real. ASEAN, for example, proposed establishing Southeast Asia as a zone of peace, freedom, and neutrality and invited Vietnam to support the proposal. Hanoi refused but countered with its own proposal, calling instead for a region of peace, independence, and neutrality. Apparently, the Vietnamese objected to the term freedom because of their vulnerability to criticism on human rights issues. The term Independence, on the other hand, was promoted by the Vietnamese as a concept opposing all foreign military bases in Southeast Asia, an idea that many of the ASEAN nations did not share. *

During the Vietnam War, each ASEAN state pursued its own Vietnam policy. Malaysia and Indonesia maintained strict neutrality, whereas Thailand and the Philippines contributed personnel and materiel to South Vietnam. Perceptions of Vietnam as a possible threat to the region also varied among member nations. Indonesia and Malaysia viewed Vietnam as a buffer against Chinese expansionism, whereas Thailand, wary of possible repetition of historic patterns of confrontation with Vietnam, turned to China for protection following the war's end and the subsequent withdrawal of United States forces from Thailand. *

Following the 1978 invasion of Cambodia, however, the ASEAN nations were united in their condemnation of Hanoi. They took the lead in mobilizing international opinion against Vietnam, and, in the UN General Assembly, they annually sponsored resolutions calling for withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and for internationally supervised elections. The ASEAN nations also were instrumental in preventing the Vietnam-sponsored Heng Samrin regime in Phnom Penh from taking over Cambodia's UN seat. In June 1982, ASEAN was instrumental in persuading three disparate Cambodian resistance elements to merge into a coalition resistance government. *

ASEAN's position on Cambodia was important to Hanoi, because it was through ASEAN's efforts at the UN that the world's attention continued to focus on Cambodia in the late 1980s. The Vietnamese thus saw ASEAN as having the power to confer upon them or to deny them legitimacy in Cambodia. Vietnamese diplomats sought to convince the ASEAN countries that the invasion of Cambodia was intended to eliminate the threat posed by Pol Pot's alignment with China. Rather than have its activity in Cambodia perceived as potentially damaging to ASEAN's security, Vietnam wanted to assure ASEAN members that it was in the group's interest to join with Vietnam in countering the Chinese threat to the region. Cultivating goodwill with key ASEAN members was an important part of this strategy. Thus, in 1978 Vietnam and the Philippines agreed to negotiate but failed to settle their conflicting claims to the Spratly Islands. Foreign Minister Thach, during a late-1982 visit to Indonesia, took a conciliatory position in discussing Vietnam's and Indonesia's competing claims to the Natuna Islands, and in 1984 Hanoi made a similar gesture to Malaysia in order to help resolve their conflicting claims over Amboyna Cay. In 1987, however, resolving the war in Cambodia remained the key to any further resolution of differences between Vietnam and ASEAN. *

Vietnam’s Relations with Cambodia

See History of Cambodia, Cambodia

Vietnam’s Relations with Cambodia After the Vietnam War

The victories of the Vietnamese communists and the Cambodian communist Khmer Rouge in 1975 did not bring peace. Relations between the two parties had been strained since the close of the First Indochina War. The Geneva Agreements had failed to secure for the Khmer communists, as part of the first Cambodian national liberation organization, the United Issarak Front, a legitimate place in Cambodian politics. Some Khmer Communist and Issarak leaders subsequently went to Hanoi, but among those who stayed behind, Pol Pot and his faction, who later gained control of the Khmer (Kampuchean) Communist party, blamed Vietnam for having betrayed this party at Geneva. Pol Pot never lost his antipathy for Vietnam. Under his leadership, the Khmer Rouge adhered for years to a radical, chauvinistic, and bitterly anti-Vietnamese political line.

When the Vietnamese began formal military aid to the Khmer Rouge in 1970, the Khmer leadership remained skeptical. On the orders of Võ Chí Công two regiments were sent into Kampuchea. Võ Chí Công promised Khmer leader Ieng Sary that Vietnamese troops would withdraw when the conflict had been won by the communists. The entry of Vietnamese troops led many Vietnamese officials to believe that Khmer Rouge officials had begun "to fear something". In a conversation with Pha.m Hùng, Le Duan told him that despite some differences in opinions, the "authentic internationalism and attitude" of the sides would strengthen their party-to-party relations. However, by reading reports by Võ Chí Công, Le Duan probably concluded that "authentic internationalism" in Kampuchea was in trouble. At the time, the Vietnamese leadership hoped this situation would change, but privately they understood that the Kampuchean situation was different from the Lao situation. The Ba Chun massacre was perpetrated by the Kampuchean Revolutionary Army during one of their attacks on Vietnam in 1978. [Source: Wikipedia +]

After Pol Pot and his supporters seized control of KCP in 1973, KCP/VCP relations deteriorated sharply. North Vietnamese formations that were active in Kampuchea during the civil war were thereafter regularly attacked by their allies. By 1976 while it appeared that Kampuchea/Vietnam relations were normalizing, private suspicions within the respective leaderships grew. Le Duan, Tôn Du'c Tha'ng, Truong Chinh and Pha.m Van Dong sent messages congratulating the ascension of Pol Pot, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea as Premier, President of the Presidium and President of the Assembly of the People's Representative, respectively. In turn, KCP sent a congratulatory message to the PRGRSV on its seventh anniversary. On 21 September 1976 a Vietnamese women's delegation visited Kampuchea and the KCP sent public greetings to the 4th National Congress. The Vietnamese leadership hoped that pro-Vietnamese elements would develop within the KCP. When Kampuchean radio announced Pol Pot's resignation, Le Duan and the Vietnamese leadership took it seriously. During a meeting with the Soviet ambassador, Le Duan told him that Pol Pot and Ieng Sary had been removed from the KCP leadership. The change was welcome to Vietnam, since the two were a "pro-Chinese sect conducting a crude and severe policy." Le Duan added that "these were bad people [the KCP leadership headed by Pol Pot]", but that Nuon Chea was "our man and is my personal friend." However, all-out confrontation was not planned and Le Duan still believed that state-to-state relations could improve. He further noted that Kampuchea would eventually become like Laos, a socialist state and value its relationship with Vietnam and the Soviet Union.

Vietnamese Invasion of Cambodia

Skirmishes broke out on the Cambodian-Vietnamese border almost immediately following the communist victories in Saigon and Phnom Penh, and in less than four years Vietnam was again at war, this time with Cambodia. Vietnam offensive forces crossing the Cambodia border in December 1978 the took less than a month, to occupy Phnom Penh and most of the country. [Source: Library of Congress *]

When tensions between Cambodia and Vietnam broke into the open, the reason was ostensibly Cambodian demands that Hanoi return territory conquered by the Vietnamese centuries earlier. Vietnam's offers to negotiate the territorial issue were rejected, however, because of more urgent Khmer concerns that Hanoi intended to dominate Cambodia by forming an Indochina Federation or "special relationship." In any event, Vietnamese interest in resolving the situation peacefully clearly came to an end once the decisison was made to invade Cambodia. *

The invasion and the subsequent establishment of a puppet regime in Phnom Penh were costly to Hanoi, further isolating it from the international community. Vietnam's relations with a number of countries and with the United Nations (UN) deteriorated. The UN General Assembly refused to recognize the Vietnamese-supported government in Phnom Penh and demanded a total Vietnamese withdrawal followed by internationally supervised free elections. The ASEAN nations were unified in opposing Vietnam's action. Urged by Thailand's example, they provided support for the anti-Phnom Penh resistance. In February 1979, China was moved to retaliate against Vietnam across their mutual border. *

The ensuing conflict in Cambodia pitted Vietnamese troops, assisted by forces of the new Phnom Penh government--the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK)--against a coalition of communist and noncommunist resistance elements. Of these elements, the government displaced from Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese, Pol Pot's communist Khmer Rouge (which had established the government known as Democratic Kampuchea in Cambodia in 1975), was the strongest and most effective military force, mainly because of support from the Chinese. The extremism and brutality of the Khmer Rouge's brief reign in Phnom Penh, where it may have been responsible for as many as 2 million deaths, made it infamous. ASEAN's concern that the reputation of the Khmer Rouge would lessen the international appeal of the anti-Vietnamese cause led it to press the Khmer Rouge and noncommunist resistance elements into forming a coalition that would appear to diminish the Khmer Rouge's political role. *

Vietnamese Occupation of Cambodia

The tripartite Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) was formed on June 22, 1982. In addition to the Khmer Rouge, it comprised a noncommunist resistance force called the Kampuchean People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF)--under the leadership of a former official of Prince Norodom Sihanouk's government, Son Sann--and Sihanouk's own noncommunist force (the Armee Nationale Sihanoukiste-- ANS). The Cambodian government in exile needed the added legitimacy that noncommunist factions and the prestige of Sihanouk's name could contribute. The Chinese were reluctant to withdraw their support from the Khmer Rouge, which they viewed as the only effective anti-Vietnamese fighting force among the three coalition members. They were persuaded, however, to support the coalition and eventually began supplying arms to Son Sann and Sihanouk as well as Pol Pot [Source: Library of Congress *]

Despite an extensive record of internal squabbling, the coalition government in 1987 provided the international community with an acceptable alternative to the Vietnamese-supported Heng Samrin regime in Phnom Penh. From 1982 to 1987, the coalition survived annual Vietnamese dry-season campaigns against its base camps along the Thai-Cambodian border, and, by changing its tactics in 1986 to emphasize long-term operations deep in the Cambodian interior, increased its military effectiveness. The coalition's military operations prevented the Vietnamese from securing all of Cambodia and helped create a stalemate. *

In 1987 the situation remained deadlocked. Despite the costs, Vietnam's negotiating position remained inflexible. Hanoi apparently perceived itself to have gained enormously in terms of national security. The "special relationship" it had futilely sought with Pol Pot was effected almost immediately with the new Phnom Penh government when, in February 1979, a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed. In 1982 and 1983 a substantial number of Vietnamese reportedly settled in Cambodia, although Vietnam did not seem to be making a concerted effort to colonize the country. Instead, Hanoi appeared to be striving to build an indigenous regime that would be responsive to general Vietnamese direction and become part of an Indochinese community under Vietnamese hegemony. *

Vietnam’s Relations with Laos

In contrast to its relationship with Cambodia, Vietnam's relations with communist Laos have been fairly stable. Historically, the ethnic tribes comprising present-day Laos had been less resistant to Vietnamese subjugation, and relations had never reached the level of animosity characteristic of the Vietnam-Cambodia relationship. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Although Hanoi was a signatory to the Geneva Agreement of 1962 that upheld the neutrality of Laos, it has failed to observe the agreement in practice. During the Second Indochina War, for example, the North Vietnamese obtained the cooperation of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (Pathet Lao) in constructing and maintaining the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an unauthorized road communications network that passed through the length of Laos. Thousands of Vietnamese troops were stationed in Laos to maintain the road network and provide for its security. Vietnamese military personnel also fought beside the Pathet Lao in its struggle to overthrow Laos' neutralist government.

Cooperation persisted after the war and the Lao communist victory. In 1976, agreements on cooperation in cultural, economic, scientific, and technical fields were signed between the two countries, followed in 1977 by a twenty-five-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty was intended to strengthen ties as well as sanction Vietnam's military presence in, and military assistance to, Laos. Following Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia, Laos established links with the Vietnamese- supported PRK in Phnom Penh. Meanwhile, Hanoi maintained 40,000 to 60,000 troops in Laos. In 1985 the three governments discussed coordinating their 1986-90 five-year plans, and Vietnam assumed a larger role in developing Lao natural resources by agreeing to joint exploitation of Laotian forests and iron ore deposits. Nevertheless, such growth in cooperation prompted some debate on the Lao side over the country's growing dependence on Vietnam. *

See Laos

Vietnam’s Relations with Japan

Japan is Vietnam’s largest aid donor and one of its largest investors. The two countries established bilateral relations in 1973, when Vietnam was still at war. According to Human Rights Watch, Despite Japan’s considerable leverage as Vietnam’s largest bilateral donor, it has repeatedly failed to publicly comment on Vietnam’s deteriorating rights record.

Vietnam enjoys a good political and economic relationship with Japan, and the two countries are partnering to exploit the disputed offshore oil fields in the South China Sea. The leaders of both countries make periodic visits to the other. Japan supported Vietnam’s bid to join the WTO. It has provided Vietnam with million of dollars to fight poverty in Vietnam. Yoyogi Park in Tokyo hosts a large Vietnam Festival.

Currently, Japan is the third largest trade partner of Vietnam. Trade between Japan and Vietnam topped $10 billion in 2007 and reached $16.74 billion in 2010. The main export products of Vietnam to Japan are seafood, textile, crude oil, electric cables and furniture. The main Japanese products exported to Vietnam are machinery, steel, electronics, motorbikes, textile material and leather. In 2011, Japan’s official development assistance to Vietnam stood at $19 billion, 30 percent of the aid from 51 donors to Vietnam. Japan has funded a wide range of infrastructure projects in Vietnam. It provided $1. 6 billion in development assistance in 2009.

Japan is one of the top five investors in Vietnam. In 2011, Japan had 1,500 foreign direct investment projects in Vietnam worth $21.6 billion. Toyota, Honda, Canon, Hitachi, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi all have large operations in Vietnam.

In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, leaders from Japanese and Vietnam signed four documents: the Japan-Vietnam Joint Statement; two joint documents about cooperation on nuclear power plant construction and on developments of rare earths; and memorandum on accepting qualified Vietnamese nurses and certified careworkers into Japan. Besides these issues, the joint statement mentioned six tie-ups for economic cooperation, worth a total of 92.6 billion yen. The statement also touched on the South China Sea issue, referring to freedom of navigation in the area and the peaceful settlement of disputes as being in the interest of all countries in the region. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 2, 2011]

See Foreign Workers in Japan, Tourism in Vietnam

History of Relations Between Japan and Vietnam

An archaeological dig in Kyushu, Japan revealed fragments of a Vietnamese ceramic with the inscribed date of 1330. It is unknown how the fragments arrived there, although trade with Chinese or Javanese merchants could have brought the piece to Japan. An Edo period Japanese red seal ship sailing out of Nagasaki for Annam (Vietnam). As early as the 16th century, contact between Japan and Vietnam came in the form of trade. Along with Siam (Thailand) and Malaysia, Japanese red seal ships frequented Vietnamese ports. Vietnamese records show that when the port of Hoi An was opened by Lord Nguyen Hoàng in the early 17th century, hundreds of Japanese traders were already residing there. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Vietnamese traders brought silver, copper and bronze from Japan in exchange for Vietnamese silk, sugar, spices and sandalwood, which fetched a huge profit back in Japan. In order to handle the influx of traders, a Japanese district called Nihonmachi was set up at Hoi An. The metals trade was vital to Nguyen Lords for they needed coins for commerce and bronze to cast guns. +

The two countries enjoyed a warm degree of friendship. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu exchanged amicable letters and gifts with Lord Nguyen. His son, Lord Nguyen Phúc Nguyên would marry his daughter, Princess Ngoc Khoa to Araki Shutaro, an eminent Japanese trader. Traders from Japan often donated money to the locals and were treated well. Many settled and assimilated into their new surroundings. +

When Japan entered a period of self-isolation, trade continued to flow, either through the planning of permanent residents or through intermediary Dutch merchants. However, in 1685, the Tokugawa Shogunate became aware of the nation's overexploited silver and copper mines, and a trade restriction was put in place. Due to the importance of these metals, the new regulations dampened trade between Japan and Vietnam, as well as much of South Asia.

See World War II

In 1975, Japan set up its Embassy in Hanoi and in 1976 Vietnam's Embassy was established in Tokyo. The two sides signed an agreement on payment of war compensation of $ 49 million) as non – refundable aid from the Japanese Government to Vietnam. [Source: VietNam Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Good Relations Between Japan and Vietnam

The relationship between Vietnam and Japan has developed in various fields, especially since October 2006, when Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung officially visited Japan and opened a new phase of co-operation towards "strategic partnership between Vietnam and Japan for peace and prosperity in Asia". Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung paid an official visit to Japan, from October 30 to November 2, 2011. During his visit, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was received in an audience by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, held a summit meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and met with figures of the National Diet of Japan. [Source: Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency */]

According to a 2009 editorial in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Japan can look forward to cooperating with Vietnam in various business fields, including space development. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has just paid a visit to Japan, following in the footsteps of Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, who came here in April. In a joint statement issued after a meeting between Manh and Prime Minister Taro Aso, the two countries vowed to work on developing their bilateral relationship into a "strategic partnership." In his talks with Aso, Dung also agreed to promote bilateral economic cooperation in various fields on the basis of the joint statement. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 24, 2009 ]

“A large number of Japanese companies have advanced into Vietnam recently in pursuit of the so-called China-plus-one strategy: Having made huge investments in China, taking advantage of its cheap, able workforce, they are seeking to enter another country or region as a second production base in consideration of investment risks in China, including mounting labor costs. Vietnam fits the bill. The joint statement seeks not only the promotion of investment by Japanese companies in Vietnam, but also the improvement of the investment environment in Vietnam. With the statement, the attractiveness of doing business in Vietnam, which is known for its diligent workforce and low labor costs, will be further enhanced.

In the joint statement, Japan and Vietnam also agreed to expand their cooperation into new areas, including the space, nuclear and aircraft technology sectors. First of all, the two nations will cooperate to develop small satellites and construct a space technology center in the suburbs of Hanoi. It will be the first time that Japan has provided full-fledged support for another country's space development. It is expected that Japanese companies will build satellites for Vietnam and launch them on Japanese rockets. Meanwhile, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry agreed with the Vietnamese government in May 2008 on cooperation for the start of nuclear power generation in Vietnam in 2020.

See Nuclear Power

Increasing and Improving Trade Relations Between Japan and Vietnam

In December 2008, the two countries signed Vietnam – Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (VJEPA). This is a comprehensive bilateral agreement that will boost trade liberalization of goods and services, economic cooperation and investment. One of the major parts of the Agreement focuses on economic cooperation in such areas as agriculture, industry, trade and investment, development of human resources, tourism, and transportation. [Source: Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency */]

According to Japan’s commitment, the average tariff rate applied for Vietnamese goods exported to Japan will gradually be reduced to 2.8 percent by 2018. When the EPA comes into effect, at least 86 percent of agro-forestry- aquatic products and 97 percent of Vietnamese industrial products exported to Japan will benefit from preferential tariff rates. In return, the average tariff rate applied for Japan’s products exported to Vietnam will gradually be reduced to 7 percent by 2018. Aquatic, farm products, apparel, steel, chemicals, electronic appliances will benefit most from the commitment to trade liberalization. As such, within the next 10 years, Vietnam and Japan will realize a tariff reduction toward a bilateral free trade area, allowing over 94.5 percent of Vietnam’s export revenues and over 87.6 percent of Japan’s exports revenues to be exempted from import tariff. Apart from trade liberalization, investment and cooperation between the two countries will be protected. This is an agreement on comprehensive economic partnership, not merely a free trade agreement. Therefore, not only trade of goods but also services would be liberalized. It can be said that the Agreement will open up opportunities for businesses as well as consumers of the countries to access capital sources, modern technology, materials and goods in the most effective way. */

The Japanese quality requirements are very strict. The food consumption motto of Japan is "safe and nutritious fresh". So, in order to break into the Japanese market, Vietnamese exported goods must attain the required standards given by the Japanese importers. Agricultural products account for a large proportion of Japanese imports from Vietnam. Along with special tariff preferences great attention should be paid to safety standards of food hygiene or otherwise, it could be very difficult to get into this market. So, the strict requirements for quality, hygiene and food safety are big challenges for Vietnam’s enterprises. */

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated May 2014

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