We Vietnamese have thrown out all invaders after defeating them in bloody battles – France, the mighty US and then an expansionist China.
Now we are all set to win the battle against the Chinese virus – sorry, the Wuhan virus , and if our northern neighbour objects, the coronavirus or Covid-19.
My country has real good news. There is not a single Covid case in the last two days . And the total number of corona positive stands at a mere 67 people now.
Like all the big wars won by our small nation in the past, this fight against the virus is also going to be won by two factors typical of our brave people and our wise leaders –timely and appropriate response at the right place and meticulous planning.
This is what Asiatimes columnist David Hutt said of our success against Covid-19 :
” Through early and efficient border closures, uncharacteristic official transparency and strategic Covid-19 diplomacy, communist-run Vietnam is fast emerging as a likely post-pandemic winner. For a nation that has long-sought to secure it’s place as a reliable and responsible global actor, the coronavirus outbreak and its minimal impact on Vietnam has presented the nation an opportunity in crisis analysts say it is firmly grasping. “
Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia and a recognized Vietnam expert, says that Hanoi was “quick off the mark” in its version of “coronavirus diplomacy”, a gambit China, Taiwan and others have likewise deployed to strategic effect.
In recent weeks , Vietnam has boosted production of medical equipment and donated not insignificant consignments to many countries in need, including to the United States, Russia, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The latter five European nations, all grappling to cope with the pandemic, have indeed negotiated strategic partner agreements with Vietnam in recent years.
US President Donald Trump earlier this month thanked “our friends in Vietnam” in a Twitter post after America received 450,000 protective hazmat suits manufactured in Vietnamese factories owned and operated by US chemical company DuPont.
What an irony of history this is — that we Vietnanese donate life saving equipment to US which bombed and ravaged our country with explosives and even chemical weapons ( dont forget Agent Orange) for over a decade , so much so that many of our people were experiencing skin fall-off and burning skin 30 years after the war ended. So thank you, Mr Trump for your ‘thank you’.
Vietnam has also donated face masks, hand sanitizers and other Covid-19 fighting material and medical services to neighboring Cambodian and Laos, countries with which Vietnam shares special relations but where China has garnered significant influence.
“The coronavirus pandemic has been a great opportunity for Vietnam to enhance its soft power, as it helped to broadcast Vietnam’s generous behavior toward the international community,” said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Indeed, global praise for Vietnam is peaking just when China runs into huge criticism for not only for covering up the initial viral outbreak in its Hubei province, but also for spreading disinformation and malicious and ridiculously naive propaganda , including a bogus official allegation that the US planted the virus in China during the World Military Games at Wuhan.
Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the Washington-based RAND Corporation, says that Vietnam’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as its diplomacy amid crisis, will “enable it to demonstrate its value-added to the world.”
That was all too apparent even before the pandemic.
Vietnam was an early and a significant beneficiary of the US-China trade war with multinational giants and other companies relocating their factories from China to Vietnam to avoid punitive new US tariffs on China-made goods.
Japanese investment bank Nomura estimated that Vietnam’s economy enjoyed an 8% boost in 2019 due to the large scale in the supply chains.
Many analysts lije David Hutt now expect Vietnam to receive the lion’s share of “second wave” factory relocations driven by the pandemic and growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the West fueled by perceptions China is chiefly responsible for the outbreak.
Politicians in Washington, Tokyo and certain European capitals now speak openly and provocatively about the need for “decoupling” from China’s economy, to break dependence on a single foreign source for essential imports such as medical supplies.
“Vietnam is a major beneficiary of this diversification as it has proved to be friendly while still cost-effective to firms from the West,” said analyst Vuving. “Vietnam will be, in many cases, their first choice when they look around to find a reliable alternative to the now unreliable Middle Kingdom.
The shift, if indeed on the horizon, couldn’t be better timed for Vietnam. The World Bank forecasts in a worst Covid-19 case scenario that Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) will fall to 1.5% this year, down dramatically from around 7% in recent years.
While this would mark Vietnam’s lowest growth in decades, it will still be much higher than most of its Southeast Asian neighbors, including manufacturing hub Thailand, which is now officially projected to see -5.3% GDP growth in 2020.
Investors clearly see the difference as Vietnam’s bourse has emerged as the region’s best performer this year while several of the region’s other stock markets have tanked in anticipation of Covid-19’s economic damage.
Indeed, some experts suggest that Vietnam’s economy could bounce back faster than other Southeast Asian states in 2021, especially if the likes of the US, Japan and EU states move en masse to relocate their post-pandemic supply chains out of China and into Vietnam.
The Covid-19 crisis also comes at an important diplomatic time for Vietnam. This year the nation holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a non-permanent rotating position on the United Nations’ Security Council.
Vietnam has already hosted a virtual summit with other Southeast Asian leaders to forge a collective regional Covid-19 response at a time new cases are surging in several of the ten-member bloc’s member states, including Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
“It is in these grim hours that the solidarity of the ASEAN community shines like a beacon in the dark,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who chaired the meeting, said in his opening remarks.
Speculation is now swirling in diplomatic circles that Vietnam’s tenure as ASEAN chair could be unprecedentedly extended until 2021 due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus crisis.
David Hutt is perhaps right when he observes that the ASEAN chair would allow Hanoi more time to build regional consensus on two big China-related issues – (a) notching a long-sought code of conduct for the contested South China Sea and (b) an agreement on water resource management on the Mekong River.
Both prickly and escalating issues have put various ASEAN member states at loggerheads with China.
Vietnam-China tensions escalated this month after a Chinese surveillance ship sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in contested sea waters; the Philippines came to Vietnam’s diplomatic defense over the incident.
Hutt quotes a report compiled by American climatologists released this week which used satellite images to show for the first time that water levels in China’s dammed upper reaches of the Mekong River were running high despite months of severe droughts and parched water flows in to downstream Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
If Vietnam is to have any success in making its case against China and to emerge as a regional spokesperson for resolving the issues, Hanoi will need to win the support of the wider international community, including in the West and all our friends like India, who matter in the global forums.
Vietnam’s diplomacy in the recent years has been orchestrated to winning friends and allies to balance power in case of a conflict with China but without upsetting China needlessly.
Post-Covid, it seems we are all set to achieve our goals.
We Vietnamese have many wars in our history but only when forced to. And despite the assymetry in power, we have won each time. Our heroic fight has won us admirers and supporters all over the world.
I was in Calcutta recently on an advanced media course at the premier institute, Satyajit Ray Film Television Institute or SRFTI. There I learnt that at the peak of Vietnam’s anti-imperialist struggle , local Bengalis would frequently demonstrate in front of the city’s US Consulate and American Centre shouting a slogan ” Bhule Jabo Babar Nam, Bhulbo na Vietnam” ( will forget my father’s name but not the name of Vietnam). I was so touched. Human emotions, like the virus, recognises no national boundaries. The local Communist government in Bengal had also named the road housing the US consulate after our great leader Uncle Ho Chi Minh. A smart way to tease the Americans, one would say.
But now we Vietnamese are friends with the US and would like to be friends with China, who helped us in our anti-imperialist war , hoping China will learn its lessons after Covid is controlled and seek an united Asia by peace and brotherhood and not by display of military or economic muscle.
The virus respects no military or economy power . History will not as well. Only countries who rose above petty perceived national interests with noble and humanitarian intent will be remembered by posterity . In a post Covid world , countries like my dear Vietnam, like tiny Cuba whose doctors are saving lives across continents, will be remembered .The day is not far off when the world will no more respect the man in military uniform or the one with a fat chequebook backed by a huge bank balance. It will respect much more the doctor in white and the health workers assisting him or her in the battle to save humanity.
( Cat Hoang Anh is a senior journalist with the Voice of Vietnam)