Building a shared border of friendship, cooperation and development with Laos and Cambodia in the Central Highlands: Orientation and solutions
Communist Review - The Central Highlands region of Vietnam plays a crucial role in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle Area. Maintaining and consolidating peace, stability, and friendship for cooperation with cross-border countries in the Central Highlands is not only important for regional security and growth but also national defense and development.
Covering an area of about 54,600km2 with 5 provinces: Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, and Lam Dong, the Central Highlands is home to many ethnic minorities who are about 2.2 million inhabitants (accounting for 15.6% of the country's population in 2019) (1).
Dubbed the "roof of Indochina", located at the crossroads of three countries Vietnam - Laos - Cambodia, the Central Highlands is the "gateway" to the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle Area.
Over the past years, the Party and the State of Vietnam have always identified the Central Highlands as a key strategic area in terms of socio-economics, national defense, and security, and gave priority to transforming this area into a “locomotive" of the "Development Triangle Area”. To achieve this goal, one of the key tasks is to consolidate and maintain peace, stability, and friendship for the cooperation in the shared land border with Laos and Cambodia in the Central Highlands, thus creating an environment conducive to socio-economic development and trade between countries, contributing to exploiting the region's strengths and improving people's lives throughout the Central Highlands and surrounding areas. This is a task with dual implications. It means it is necessary to well manage borders and landmarks and to gradually solve existing problems in order to establish and maintain a clear and sustainable demarcation.
The Central Highlands region has 586.4 km of borderline passing through 31 border communes of 12 districts (2) of Laos and Cambodia. While Vietnam and Laos have completely established the border demarcation both on the ground and in legal terms, Vietnam and Cambodia have only completed about 84% of the land border demarcation. In particular, in the Central Highlands, the two countries have demarcated about 312.8km, and about remaining 119.4km needs to be done in the future (out of about 213km of land border demarcation between the two countries that has not yet been completed).
Over the past time, local governments of countries have been closely coordinating to well implement legal documents on the border signed between Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia such as the Protocol on Vietnam - Laos borderline and national border landmarks (concluded in 2016); the Agreement on management regulations of border and border gates on land between Vietnam and Laos (in 2016); the Agreement on border regulation between Vietnam and Cambodia (in 1983); The Protocol on border demarcation on land between Vietnam and Cambodia (in 2019),... Border control agencies of two countries regularly share information to deal successfully with security issues and difficult situations. Therefore, the borderline and landmarks are protected and maintained stably; landmarks that are damaged or are at high risk of landslide are promptly detected and reported to competent authorities for quick response. Security in cross-border areas has been maintained without complicated affairs, contributing to maintaining a borderline of peace, stability, friendship, cooperation, and sustainable development.
Currently, the Central Highlands is running 6 border gates, including 3 border gates with Laos and 3 ones with Cambodia. The land border gate system in the Central Highlands region acts as a bridge to promote trade between the region and other areas of the Mekong sub-region, between Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia, to take advantage of the strengths of each border locality for common socio-economic development. However, some border gates in the Central Highlands have not been properly and synchronously invested on both sides.
The challenging COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 has seriously affected most areas of cooperation between Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: Investment and trade activities in cross-border regions have been disrupted; traveling is restricted due to the epidemic prevention and control policies of governments. However, despite these obstacles, competent authorities have closely coordinated and made enormous efforts to effectively implement border and border gate work, making an important contribution to the control of the pandemic in all three countries, helping maintain socio-economic development goals and effectively manage borderlines.
Principles and orientations for building a shared border of friendship, cooperation, and development between Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia
On September 28, 2018, the 12th Politburo issued Resolution No. 33-NQ/TW, on the National Border Safeguarding Strategy, which identified the common goal as Building a national border of peace, friendship, stability, cooperation, and development; firmly safeguarding national border, balancing socio-economic development, national defense, and diplomacy in border areas and the whole country. The 13th National Congress pointed out that in the new situation, relevant authorities shall "Resolutely, persistently fight against the conspiracy and intervention of hostile forces that infringe upon national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security... and maintain the borderline of peace, security, cooperation, and development; handle remaining problems related to land borders with neighboring countries” (3).
In the term 2021 - 2026, directions, tasks, goals, and solutions for the socio-economic growth of the Central Highlands region are set out in the overall ten-year development strategy from 2021 to 2030, which are: "Building expressways and upgrading the internal transport network, routes connecting the Central Highlands provinces with the Southeast regions, the South Central Coastal provinces, Southern Laos and Northeastern Cambodia; Maintaining political security, social order, and national security in any circumstance” (4). In an attempt to make Central Highlands a worthy national strategic area in defense and security and a key economic region of the country, on April 14, 2022, the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 461/ Decision-TTg, approving the Central Highlands Development Planning from 2021 toward 2030, with a vision to 2050, whereby ministries and branches are assigned to report on the current situation and orientations to develop the fields under their management.
Principles and orientations to build the borderline with neighboring countries in the Central Highlands to promote friendship, cooperation, and development:
Firstly, strengthen the leadership of the Party and management of the State and strengthen the great national solidarity in the defense of national sovereignty and borders.
Managing and firmly protecting national sovereignty and borders are an important task for the whole country. In the current situation, strengthening the leadership of the Party and the State's management of border and territory should closely combine with the accomplishment of socio-economic tasks; Besides, it is required to consolidate political and social foundations of border districts and communes; attach importance to raising awareness and fostering the capacity of cadres and party members in managing and protecting national sovereignty and borders, thereby improving the leadership of party organizations and Government in border territories.
Due to the characteristics of the population living in the Central Highlands, more particular attention should be paid to strengthening and consolidating national solidarity and "people's heart posture” to build the people's security posture. The first and foremost mission is to encourage sedentary farming and settlement among ethnic minorities living in Central Highlands to limit nomadic lifestyle by allocating land and forests to each household and village, combining forest protection with protection of borders and landmarks under the guidance of specialized local authorities. At the same time, it is necessary to step up propaganda efforts to raise the awareness and intellectual level of inhabitants, especially village elders, village heads, and prestigious individuals of ethnic minorities living in cross-border areas so that they can understand the importance of safeguarding borderline and developing socio-economic life and not involved in planned acts of hostile and reactionary forces.
Second, closely and flexibly combine socio-economic development with national defense.
The 13th Party Congress advocated a "close and effective combination between economy, culture, society, diplomacy and national defense, and between national defense” (5). The Central Highlands is one of the seven key economic regions of the country, and is also a major strategic area for national defense and security, the core of the "Development Triangle region”. Therefore, building a border of friendship, cooperation, and development with Laos and Cambodia in the Central Highlands requires a close and flexible combination between national defense and socioeconomic factors. This contributes to strengthening overall power, safeguarding territorial sovereignty and national borders as well as improving the well-being of border residents.
Consequently, border local authorities at all levels should develop socio-economic preferential policies for mountainous and border areas; study and invest in the construction of works both serving the management and protection of national boundaries and serving the daily lives of border residents; invest in infrastructure and equipment in border checkpoints; formulate plans to develop land border gates of each province and sub-region (both in terms of agriculture, forestry, industry, and services, in short, medium and long term).
Third, strengthen the leadership and specialized border guards.
Due regard should be paid to thoroughly grasp and strictly implement the Party and State's policies on territorial sovereignty and national boundaries, as well as minutes and agreements within the framework of bilateral cooperation on borders between Vietnam - Laos, and Vietnam - Cambodia.
In the new situation, it is required to improve specialized forces in the field so that they can become regular, elite, modern forces and well-equipped; the system of bilateral legal documents and national laws should be well-studied to fulfill the task of managing borders and landmarks, firmly protecting national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, preventing the risk of conflicts early, from afar.
Fourth, continue to promote the role of prestigious persons in ethnic minorities.
Village elders, village heads, and prestigious persons always act as a bridge between local government and ethnic minorities, helping concretize the Party's guidelines and the State's policies in the daily life of ethnic groups, thereby contributing significantly to strengthening national solidarity. In 2022, the whole Central Highlands region has 3,433 village elders and prestigious persons, of which, 678 come from Kon Tum province, 955 from Gia Lai province, 1,021 from Dak Lak, 300 from Dak Nong, and 479 living in Lam Dong (6). In the new circumstance, top priority should be given to the contingent of cadres and prestigious persons in ethnic groups. In the immediate future, it is required to reform policies and training programs, give priority to cadres who come from ethnic minorities, and have influence and prestige in ethnic minority areas.
Fifth, boost diplomacy to consolidate and intensify the friendly relationship with neighboring countries Laos and Cambodia.
Boosting diplomacy with bordering countries in order to strengthen the friendly relationship, implement the open door policy, and intensify local cooperation, and trade exchanges, thereby boosting economic development of border regions in all aspects of life.
Provinces, local authorities at all levels, and border control agencies in the Central Highlands should continue to closely coordinate with neighboring countries in information sharing; strengthen bilateral patrols in order to maintain the stability of borderlines, border markers, and security, social order and safety in border - crossings; amicably deal with conflict to not aggravate the political situation; promote economic and cultural cooperation and exchange with bordering localities of Laos and Cambodia.
Main solutions to maintain and strengthen the borderline of peace, stability, friendship, and cooperation for the development
Firstly, well manage the borderline, and boundary markers and ensure social order and security in border regions.
With Laos, it is necessary to well manage the demarcated borderline, coordinate with this country to handle arising problems in the spirit of friendship and solidarity between the two countries. Although they have demarcated all borders that need now to be well managed, there are still problems related to the protection of landmarks, such as mold, damage, and landslides. .. affecting the stability and clarity of national landmarks.
With Cambodia, it is necessary to well manage the borderline and boundary markers and promote cooperation in areas where the demarcation has been completed; maintain stability in non-demarcated areas to promptly handle problems, not affect the mutual relationship.
In recent years, in addition to regular border forces, which are border guards, all provinces of Central Highlands have succeeded in mobilizing individuals to manage benevolently borders, and boundary markers and maintain security in villages. Therefore, it is necessary to encourage the involvement of all citizens in protecting borders and ensuring the stability and sustainability of these regions.
The border areas of the Central Highlands are facing complicated problems such as cross-border crimes, especially drug-related crimes. With an attempt to divide Vietnam and its neighboring countries, hostile and reactionary forces step up propagation efforts and abused freedom, democracy, ethnicity, religion, and human rights to incite people. Therefore, the management of border lines and landmarks should be associated with ensuring social security in border areas.
Second, step by step resolve the remaining issues on the land border between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Currently, 16% of border lines between two countries are not demarcated, of which the Central Highlands accounts for more than 50%. Through many exchange forums at all levels, the two sides expressed their goodwill to settle the uncompleted demarcation areas under international law and agreements on the border territory between them. Consequently, it is urgent now to complete the demarcation of about 16% of the remaining border lines to maintain national security, peace, and stability to develop the country and a friendly relationship with Cambodia.
Third, improve the bilateral legal framework on border management between Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
The formulation and improvement of the bilateral legal framework on border management and land border gate management are important conditions for maintaining a border of peace, stability, and cooperation for mutual development.
In the coming time, in addition to effectively implementing the "Agreement on the administration of mainland border crossings between Vietnam and Laos", the two countries will jointly review to assess periodically the results of 10 years since its conclusion in order to adjust the bilateral legal framework to suit the new situation.
In terms of border management between Vietnam and Cambodia, although the two countries have demarcated about 84% of the common border, it is still difficult and embarrassing to handle common issues. Therefore, in the implementation of the Protocol on the demarcation of border markers on the mainland between Vietnam and Cambodia in 2019, it is necessary to accelerate the conclusion of the Agreement on New Border Regulations and the Agreement on Border Gate to replace the 1983 Agreement, thereby, creating favorable conditions for organizing forces, deploying operational activities in border areas, contributing to maintaining stability on the whole borderline as well as in areas not demarcated, creating a stable environment for cooperation and socio-economic development in border areas, creating momentum for the two countries to demarcate the remaining 16% of border lines.
Fourth, strengthen border management and cooperation to promote trade borders et adapt to the actual situation and local needs of the two parties.
In the immediate future, it is urgent to strengthen border management to promote economic growth in crossing borders by planning and developing a system of border checkpoints, key economic zones at crossing borders, and a system of connecting infrastructure to promote trade, create strategic interlacing as well as concretize a comprehensive cooperation strategy between Vietnam and neighboring countries.
Enhancing economic cooperation in border areas following local realities and needs of the two sides enables the promotion of trade for the socio-economic development of border provinces in particular and the two countries in general. In particular, the accelerated cooperation within the "Triangle Development Area" will create an engine to promote socioeconomic growth, and safeguard security in the cross-borders of the three countries. This is one key element for the stability and development of border areas and each country.
Fifth, strengthen the construction of works that both ensure defense and security objectives and serve socio-economic development goals in border areas.
In recent years, the Party and State have promulgated many policies, programs, and projects on construction investment and socio-economic development along the Central Highlands borderline in order to exploit the land potential and build national defense and security posture in the area. These national programs and projects in infrastructure (construction of bridges, roads, installation of the electrical grid, combined military-civilian medical stations, patrol routes, defense works) in the crossing borders of Central Highlands will serve the people and society, develop economy, and meet the requirements of national defense and security.
Building a national border of peace, friendship, stability, and cooperation for development is the goal and task set forth by our Party and State. As the Central Highlands is a strategic area, its socio-economic development must be combined with building a border of friendship and peace, firmly protecting national sovereignty and security. In order to promote local strengths, Central Highlands provinces need to synchronously implement solutions to build a strong political system; combine socio-economic development with national defense and security; effectively manage border work; promote the role of prestigious persons in ethnic groups; and successfully conduct foreign diplomacy with neighboring countries. Effective management of cross-borders not only promotes the socio-economic development of the Central Highlands and the "Development Triangle" area but also creates a driving force for maintaining borders of peace, stability, friendship, cooperation, and sustainable development with Cambodia and Laos.
(1) See: Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, General Department of Statistics: Findings from a survey on the socio-economic situation of 53 ethnic minorities in 2019, Publishing House of Statistics, 2020, p. 54
(2) Appendix to Decree No. 34/2014/ND-CP, dated
April 29, 2014, of the Government on "The regulation of land border areas of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam"
(3), (4) Documents of the 13th National Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, vol. I, p. 163, 255
(5) Documents of the 13th National Congress, vol. I, p. 157
(6) See: "Promoting the role of prestigious persons in the villages of the Central Highlands", Nhan Dan Online, January 6, 2022, https://nhandan.vn/phat-huy-vai-tro -people-co-uy-tin-in-cac-buon-lang-tay-nguyen-post681207.html
This article was published in the Communist Review No. 997 (November 2022)