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Changes in a globalized and integrated world - opportunities and challenges

Under the impact of globalization and international integration, today’s world is witnessing changes in various aspects of social life, including the shift of power from the West to the East and major powers’ adjustments in their strategies which have created opportunities and posed challenges to small and medium-sized countries.

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1. The shift of power and the adjustment in strategy

The world has witnessed three major transfers of power which have basically changed the world’s complexion in political, military, economic, cultural and social fields. The first was the rise of the Europe between the 15th century and the late 18th century under the impact of industrial revolution, trade and investment. The second was the rise of the United States in the late 19thcentury, particularly after the end of the World War II (1945), which made this country a superpower ruling the world’s order until the late 20th century. In the 21st century, the U.S. considerable decline and the swift rise of several countries, especially China and India, have led to the third transfer of power on a global scale from the West to the East, changing the balance of power among major powers in the Asia - Pacific region, greatly impacting on international relations, prompting a multi-polar, multi-centre world. Against this backdrop, most of the countries, particularly major powers, have made adjustments in their strategies for their rivalry position.

With the aim of maintaining the status of sole superpower, the United States is stepping up its global military, security strategy via force gathering and strategic adjustment towards each region in an effort to contain challengers to its “No.1 position”. However, currently, Trump’s Administration must be cautious about finding the way to balance the U.S. interests in the world, while maintaining and raising its status as a superpower to “make America great again” and ensure that this country still imposes “rules of the game” in the international relations.

After many years of development, China is expanding its strategic space to confirm its status as a major power of the region and the world. It is now employing measures when increasing its military power and rapidly developing its navy to expand its marine operations, extend its influence in Southeast Asia and East Asia, gradually compete for influence in Asia-Pacific region against the United States. It should be noted that China is speeding up the implementation of the “Belt and Road” Initiative, taking part in and fostering the development of the association of five major emerging national economies (BRICS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which are aimed to build China-centred, China-driven mechanisms of cooperation. The rise of China has led to conflicts between this country and the U.S. in many regions worldwide, especially in the Asia-Pacific region and the East Sea.

As for Russia, President Putin is sparing no effort to revive Russia’s status in its traditional spheres of influence and the world against the containment of the U.S. and the West, particularly after its annexation of Crimea. More specifically, Russia has increased forces and weapons, attacked and won numerous victories against the Self-Proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in Syria. It has proved that in spite of economic difficulties, Russia is still a major power which is strong enough to protect its interests and force the U.S. and the West to contemplate its role in solving global issues.

It is predicted that by 2020, Japan will have been challenged its No.3 position as an economic power by India. Therefore, to maintain its status as a major economic, political and military power in the region and the world, Japanese Government has amended the Constitution to encourage the freedom of action towards the issues of national security. At the same time, it has brought into play the “economic diplomacy” tool; strengthened its allied relations and shared responsibilities with the U.S. for international issues; focused on handling its relations with China, particularly disputes over seas and islands; actively taken part in ASEAN-led mechanisms of cooperation to occupy a more important role.

With its recent rapid development, India is very likely to be the world’s third largest economy. In its strategy, India will continue to maintain the balance in relations with major powers, particularly the U.S. and China; to reinforce its influence in South Asia and Indian Ocean; to step up the “Look East” Strategy, extend its influence in Southeast Asia, and pay more regard to maritime security and protection of maritime order.

As far as the EU is concerned, it is concentrating on settling its central issues, such as Brexit, public debt crisis, immigration, terrorism. As a result, regard paid to and resources for the Asia-Pacific region tend to be decreased. However, the EU still maintains its relations with partners in other regions, including the ASEAN.

Meanwhile, ASEAN continues to maintain and promote its geostrategic position, while ensuring the adaptability and self-reliance in its relations with major powers. The Association gives priority to implementing the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and plans for cooperation in the three pillars, namely political-security, economic, socio-cultural Communities; narrowing the gap of development;  facilitating integration; maintaining intra-bloc unity; and strengthening diplomatic ties with all partners outside the region, including the EU.

Besides, global issues, non-traditional challenges, particularly populism and protectionism are rather negatively impacting on international relations. Those have supported the protection of partial interests of each countries; resisted international integration, reduced economic connection and support for the freedom of multilateral trade. Consequently, disputes over the interests of the countries and economic, commercial issues have been increased; even “retaliation” could lead to a trade, exchange rate war. Notably, it is the first time a populist nominee (Donald Trump) has won the election for president of the United States. With the slogan “America First”, the US Administration has implemented policies to limit immigration and withdraw from several agreements for the sake of protection of production and national interests.

Things mentioned above reveal that competition for power, interests and strategic position between major powers, especially between the U.S., China and Russia is both negatively and positively impacting on the world’s complexion, creating opportunities and posing challenges to small and medium-sized countries.

2. Opportunities and challenges to small and medium-sized countries

Concerning opportunities, there is a positive common point that countries all advocate building a world of peace, cooperation and development and not using violence for solving disputes and differences. It at least creates confidence and peaceful environment for countries to foster cooperation and national construction. For the sake of influence worldwide, small and medium-sized countries, including Vietnam will become the subject for major powers to induce and compete for in both political and economic terms. As a result, the role of small and medium-sized countries will be increasingly heightened. If they seize this opportunity to raise their voice over international political issues and together set out “rules of the game”, to some extent, major powers will make concession. Accordingly, status and role of small and medium-sized countries in international relations and settlement of global issues will be respected while relations with major power will be strengthened, and they will not be dependent on any major powers.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. increasingly active intervention in the region, the rise of China and the engagement of major powers in regional issues have opened up opportunities for regional countries to develop their relations with China, the U.S., and other major powers, creating favourable conditions to encourage the trend of peace, cooperation and development in Asia-Pacific, in general and the Southeast Asia, in particular.

Against this backdrop, in spite of difficulties and limitations, ASEAN will be likely to continue to be the facilitator for regional cooperation. First, doubts and political distrust among major powers will facilitate ASEAN’s central role in designing mechanisms for regional cooperation. Major powers will be more tolerant towards ASEAN-led mechanisms of cooperation and dialogue. Second, the success of each ASEAN member state in national modernization and their effort to maintain regional peace and stability have made ASEAN an important organization to the order of the East Asia. Third, ASEAN has agreed to build the Community with three pillars since late 2015 to make cooperation more practical. This is also a favourable condition for ASEAN to play the core role in cooperation with major powers. Due to strategic competition, all major powers support ASEAN’s role in building mechanisms for regional cooperation. ARF, ADMM-Plus, Shangri-La Dialogue, etc., are considered as irreplaceable mechanisms of cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, regardless of their limitations. In other words, ASEAN, a bloc of small and medium-sized countries, is backed by major powers, acting as a facilitator to the process of regional cooperation, which is an important characteristic of the Asia-Pacific region.

Changes in a globalized and integrated world have posed challenges to small and medium-sized countries, particularly the maintenance of independence and self-reliance in international relations. Most of the small and medium-sized countries are developing or underdeveloped ones and thirsty for investments, transfer of technology and finance from developed ones, thereby leading to economic dependence on a major power to some extent. Economic dependence will bring about political dependence and loss of independence and self-reliance in internal affairs and international relations. It is thought to be the most serious challenge to small and medium-sized countries nowadays.

Another challenge to small and medium-sized countries is to create a relative “balance” in their relations with major powers, not to jump on the bandwagon, in order to avoid becoming the cause of confrontation among major powers which could lead to armed conflicts and wars. Reality has shown that when a conflict of interests between major powers appears, they will seek to pass it to small and medium-sized countries. In other words, major powers will seek to conduct “proxy wars” like those taking in small and medium-sized countries in the 20th century.

In addition, non-traditional security challenges (natural disasters, epidemics, terrorism, trans-national crime, climate change, energy security, food security and water security issues, etc.) and consequences of populism and protectionism have caused difficulties in human and material resources and necessitated new perception and approach to the concept “national sovereignty” in the era of international integration when interdependence among countries in the world is unceasingly increased. Those challenges have been causing far-reaching consequences to peace, stability and development of human race. Thus, to seize the opportunity and eliminate challenges to strengthen international cooperation, facilitate development, prevent and remove risks of armed conflicts, small and medium -sized countries should formulate sound, proper policies and strategies.

As for Vietnam, fully aware of the trend of the times and the global and regional complexion, our Party and State have drawn up sound, timely guidelines and strategies on the basis of national interests. As a result, we have taken advantage of opportunities to foster national development, and obtained historic, significant achievements in the cause of socialist construction. It is noted that our country has escaped the socio-economic crisis and underdevelopment to become a middle-income developing one. Politics and society have been stabilized; defence and security have been strengthened; diplomatic relations have been expanded and increasingly deepened; Vietnam’s status and prestige have been raised. Those achievements have provided an important foundation for our country’s continuous reform and robust development in the upcoming years. In order to grasp the opportunities and minimize challenges in the context of globalization and international integration, Resolution of the 12th National Congress of the  Communist Party of Vietnam determined that  it is necessary to “Ensure national supreme interests on the basis of international law for the sake of equality and mutual interests, consistently implement the diplomatic line of independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation and development; diversify and multilateralize diplomatic relations; proactively and actively integrate into the world; be a friend, reliable partner, and responsible member of the international community. On the basis of both cooperation and struggle, diplomatic activities are aimed to maintain peace and stability and take advantage of external resources to develop the country and improve people’s life; resolutely, persistently defend national independence, sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity, protect the Party, State, people and socialist regime; raise the country’s status and prestige and contribute to the cause of peace, national independence and democracy worldwide”.

Prof. Vu Van Hien, PhD, Vice Chairman of the Central Theoretical Council

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