19.06.2024 Author: Ksenia Muratshina

Vietnam: an economic tiger with a human face

Putin to Vietnam

On the eve of the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, New Eastern Outlook offers readers 10 facts about the country, describing it as an actor in modern international relations. 

Historical roots

Vietnam has an ancient culture and a rich historical heritage. By the beginning of the common era, Vietnamese regions had at least 400 years of experience in state development. The Vietnamese people has vast experience – both military and peaceful – of interaction with their neighbours, knowledge of their mentality and their own culture of military strategy, which is still being studied abroad.

An internal core

Vietnam consistently adheres to the socialist path of development and the values of socialism. This does not interfere with the market in the economy, on the contrary, it harmoniously balances it. The Communist Party, the Central Committee and the Komsomol operate in the country, honouring the memory and ideas of not only their legendary military leaders commanded by Ho Chi Minh, but also V. I. Lenin. General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China Nguyen Phu Trong was born into a peasant family, graduated from the Faculty of Philology at Hanoi University, worked in journalism for a long time and then gradually moved up the party ladder. The President, General To Lam, also started his career among the lower officer ranks. Two of his predecessors were dismissed by the National Assembly due to corruption scandals and financial fraud. High-profile lawsuits in Vietnam are not uncommon. Corrupt officials receive long prison terms with confiscation of property. In addition, the possibility of the death penalty has been preserved, including for corruption.

The socialist market economy

No, this is not an oxymoron or a typo. This is exactly the type of economic relations that exist in Vietnam today. Thanks to the strong role of the state and skilfully implemented economic reforms, Vietnam manages to combine socialist norms and market development. Private businesses account for two thirds of GDP, of which 20% is accounted for by foreign companies. Many foreign multinational corporations have production facilities in Vietnam due to attractive economic conditions and must ensure strict compliance with local legislation. In terms of GDP, the Vietnamese economy ranks 37th globally. Throughout recent years, including the troublesome pandemic years, the Vietnamese economy has shown steady growth.

One of the ‘tigers’

In the global economy, Vietnam is often referred to as one of the Asian ‘tiger economies’, although in the scientific community – and in Vietnam itself – there is a discussion about the parameters of these ‘tigers’ and how this term is applicable to the Vietnamese economy. It is suggested that Vietnam still needs to increase exports, labour productivity, investments in R&D, increase GDP per capita and reduce the dependence of economic growth and innovation on foreign business. Today, Vietnam refers to itself a ‘medium-level power’, which is also largely due to economic achievements.

No alliances, only special relationships

The foreign relations of modern Vietnam are diverse and multi-vector. The country adheres to the principle of balanced relations with various actors, does not ‘ideologise’ its relations and is not part of any alliances with strict obligations. However, Vietnam maintains special relations with one of country, i.e. Laos, ties with which are traditionally referred to as ‘relations of special solidarity’ in Vietnam. The close nature of cooperation is based not only on geographical proximity, but also has historical prerequisite. The peoples of Vietnam and Laos fought against colonialism together, first French and then American. Today, these relations include joint economic projects, humanitarian cooperation and mutual assistance, which was clearly observed during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and neighbouring countries did everything possible to support each other. Vietnam has good ties with Cambodia, which are only slightly inferior to Vietnam’s relationship with Laos. Their close relations led to humanitarian intervention when Vietnam sent troops to Cambodia in 1978 to end the bloody terror of Pol Pot. Today, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are actively developing relations on a trilateral basis and are strongly encouraging diverse interaction in the Greater Mekong subregion.

Comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia 

A comprehensive strategic partnership is developing between Russia and Vietnam. It is based on a solid foundation of friendly, allied Soviet-Vietnamese relations, intensive economic cooperation, mutual respect and shared interest of the peoples of the two countries. An extensive system of bilateral cooperation has been formed, including trust-based political contacts, cooperation between parties and public organisations, trade relations, joint ventures and extensive cooperation in the educational, scientific and cultural spheres.

Active multilateral diplomacy

Vietnam is an active participant in international life and a member of all key international organisations, including economic ones. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and participation in the work of the United Nations are the most significant in this regard. In ASEAN, Vietnam pays great attention to maritime security, economic interconnectedness and balanced relations with external partners. At the UN, Vietnam tries to take the initiative in various international cooperation programmes, participate in providing assistance to the poorest countries and peacekeeping missions. Hanoi has also consistently called on all countries of the world to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The sea and the island as a ‘part of the body and the blood’

The territorial dispute and conflict between Vietnam and China in the South China Sea have been a thorn in bilateral relations for decades. For Vietnam, this is more than a problem – it is a truly existential issue. Accordingly, this conflict is important to take into consideration for any outside observer in terms of regional studies and research because it first and foremost helps to better understand Vietnamese foreign policy. The intractable nature of the conflict will most likely only deteriorate over time, and its impact on all spheres of life – from security to culture – will increase.

Vietnamese celebrations of victory

 In Vietnam, the historical memory of the anti-colonial struggle has been preserved very well. For example, in October 2021, celebrations were held in honour of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Ho Chi Minh Trail at sea, which played a massive role in the victory over the American aggressor. In April 2024, the country celebrated the 70th anniversary of the victory over the French colonialists. Such events serve as the best reminder that no one has managed to conquer the Vietnamese people, and they have always maintained the victorious spirit and the desire to independently determine their path of development.

Goals for the future

It is not in vain that Vietnam is considered one of the most dynamically developing economies not only in Asia, but also globally. It will not suffice for Vietnam to be a ‘mid-level power’; the country is setting new goals for itself, such as in the development of space technologies and highly environmentally friendly agriculture, the digitalisation of the economy, increasing the level of urbanisation and the overall attractiveness of cities. Given the inherent strategic thinking and planning in the Vietnamese state, it is reasonable to assume that it will be able to achieve these goals and reach new levels of its development.


Ksenia Muratshina, PhD in History, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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