Viet Nam to Sharpen Multilateral Diplomatic Skills as Global Player

10 Jun 2003

Ha Noi - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of France launched today a new initiative to boost Vietnamese diplomats and negotiators’ skills in multilateral forums as the country is speeding up its international integration.

France will contribute $160,000 to the total budget of $460,000 of this three-year project, titled Strengthening capacities for Multilateral Development Diplomacy (MDD). With support from UNDP, the project will run courses to train Vietnamese diplomats and government officials on MDD and help Viet Nam establish a MDD training center in MOFA’s Institute for International Relations (IIR) with textbooks, reference materials and resource trainers that can carry out research on MDD and conduct similar courses in the future. With this project, Viet Nam will enjoy international standard expertise and experience in MDD through international consultants and foreign lecturers.

Mr. Le Van Bang, MOFA Deputy Minister said: “I hope the project will turn out highly qualified Vietnamese diplomats and officials in the field of MDD who will make Vietnamese voice heard more clearly at different international fora ". According to UNDP Resident Representative Jordan Ryan, understanding the rules of the global game is a challenge for a developing country like Viet Nam but one that must be tackled if the nation is to benefit from globalization in critical areas including external trade, foreign investment, development aid and transfer of technology.

Mr. Ryan said the global agenda had changed in recent years to focus on sustainable development issues, brought up in a series of global summits during the 1990s and early 2000s. Consequently, countries have changed their MDD to embrace areas such as poverty reduction, environment, human rights, gender and many other social and economic issues.

“Diplomacy is not just dealing with protocol, rank and ceremony,” said UNDP Resident Representative Jordan Ryan. “Increasingly, it is expanding far beyond bilateral political relations between states into a multilateral, multi-faceted enterprise encompassing almost every realm of human endeavour.”

Mr. Antoine Pouilleute, Ambassador of France in Viet Nam stressed the importance of MDD for a country’s socio-economic development: “From security to health, from maritime transport to food security, from environment to human rights, there are hardly any sectors that are not governed, more or less, by multilateral norms. That these norms are not always respected, and some, more powerful than others, want to bypass them, will not change the fact that a State, member of the international community, has to maintain its place in multilateral organisations and negotiations.”

The negotiations that Viet Nam started recently as part of its official bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) illustrate one of the key roles of this new diplomacy. The broadening of international development agendas and rapid globalization have had major implications for government agencies, and in particular for the MOFA. MOFA’s traditional role was primarily concerned with “external affairs” and there was a clear division between those affairs and domestic issues, handled by other government ministries and agencies. The distinction is now blurred and most domestic issues have important external dimensions and, consequently, MOFA has to deal with a wider range of development issues.

However, both MOFA and other government agencies are inadequately equipped either with the information or the technical capacities to engage in MDD. There is also a lack of awareness within government agencies of the benefit of closer engagement with multilateral institutions. Unlike in bilateral diplomacy, MDD, which is absent in training for diplomats, requires more sophisticated technical expertise in engaging in diplomacy and coalition building.

To tackle this gap, particular emphasis will be put on a better understanding of major multilateral agreements, global conventions, international political and financial institutions, and UN System. Important MDD events for Viet Nam, including the current WTO negotiation/accession or the issue of Viet Nam’s membership to the UN Security Council will be addressed in a timely manner so as to facilitate the interactions with these institutions. Prior to this project, MOFA conducted a fact-finding mission to learn the international best practices in countries such as Sweden, Canada, France, Singapore and Malaysia.

Training courses will be open to officials from MOFA and other government agencies, involved in multilateral affairs. Journalists who cover similar issues or lawyers related to those issues will also benefit from this project.

Mr. Ryan said Viet Nam had come a long way from traditional bilateral diplomacy to active multilateral diplomacy in order to speed up its development and stimulate economic growth and social progress. Viet Nam became a full member of the United Nations in 1977 while its relations with the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) were normalized in 1993.

Viet Nam has increasingly and more actively involved in the affairs of the UN system in recent years. It has successfully played its role as Vice President of the UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board, Member of the UN Economic and Social Council and the UN Commission on Human Rights. It has expressed keen interest to apply for similar roles in various UN committees in the coming years and, in particular, to campaign for a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2008.

Viet Nam has also actively sought to raise its profile outside the UN system. It joined the Mekong Committee in 1978, the Mekong River Commission and ASEAN in 1995, and APEC in 1998.

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