Multilateral diplomacy - development perspective and vision in the spirit of the Resolution of the 13th  Party Congress

Dr. Luu Thuy Hong
Academy of Journalism and Propaganda
Wednesday, December 21, 2022 09:30

Communist Review - Multilateral diplomacy is no longer a new terminology in contemporary international relations both in theory and reality. However, the correct awareness of multilateral diplomacy, thereby making adequate policies and behavior is considered a long process. Vietnam is one of the few countries that has been aware of multilateral diplomacy since its early days and, at the same time, has used multilateral diplomacy relatively effectively and in line with reality, especially since the 21st century until now.

The general debate of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, USA _Photo: UN

Multilateral diplomacy - a theoretical approach

Multilateral diplomacy is a form of diplomacy among three or more actors in international relations (mainly states) in the process of negotiation and decision-making at the same time to respond to different demands on a particular issue (1). The main and popular forms of multilateral diplomacy today are international organizations (organizations of different characteristics ranging from community organizations, and alliances to cooperative organizations with simple commitments; organizations at different levels, such as regional, inter-regional, or global levels; in diverse fields: economic, political, cultural, social...); forums, associations (with diverse nature and scale but they have looser constraints); movements, conferences, meetings, workshops... (at diverse scale, low constraints to solve one or some impromptu or annual issues).

In multilateral diplomacy, interests are always the crucial factor determining the actor’s behavior. In different moments and circumstances, countries have different interests, so their motivation to join multilateral mechanisms and the moment to use multilateral diplomacy in international relations are also different. Currently, actors in international relations (mainly independent and sovereign states) are engaged in multilateral diplomacy quite actively, showing that multilateral diplomacy is meeting its goals. A remarkable point in multilateral diplomacy is the correlation between forces and national power. This is an important foundation to shape the world order and the principles of conduct ("rules of the game") in international relations in general and multilateral diplomacy in particular. This plays a significant role in determining behavior and voice in the negotiation process. In addition, national power - which is viewed as the basis of foreign policy-making and implementation - also determines the state's behavior in multilateral diplomacy. Therefore, big countries act in the direction of domination and "subsidy" for multilateral institutions, while small countries act in the direction of acceptance, compliance, and "sponging on big countries" (2).

Besides, the behavior of states depends on the level of institutionalization of multilateral organizations. A multilateral organization with a high level of institutionalization is more likely to force countries to comply with the rules and vice versa, a low level of institutionalization can lead to the disobedience of rules (3).

The “rules of the game” (principles, regulations) of international multilateral institutions also make an impact on the behavior of states. Different forms of multilateral diplomacy will have different “rules of the game”. But their common point is that the main result is multilateral international agreements. These agreements constitute the "rules of the game" that constrain actors’ subsequent behavior in multilateral cooperation. Consequently, during the process of shaping the "rules of the game", a country that is allowed to participate in the negotiation and come up with an accepted idea, and has its proposal approved in the final agreement of multilateral diplomacy can confirm its interests and position in this multilateral "playing field". This will be an essential basis for a state to create a favorable environment for its future actions. However, due to the question of national sovereignty, the inadequacy of institutions, and the ability to meet the needs of the parties in multilateral international agreements, the "rules of the game" in multilateral relations constrain only partially state behavior when it is needed, an actor (a state) will pretend sovereignty and national interests to ignore these "rules of the game" (4).

In fact, the behavior of actors is quite diverse. However, in general, there are three typical behaviors: 1- They must accept and abide by the common "rule taker"; 2- They take advantage of the "rule of the game" or legal loopholes to optimize the national interests (so-called rule manipulator); 3- They change, adjust or shape a new "rule of the game" to adapt to their new position and power (so-called rule maker or shaper) (5). Actors can change their behavior according to their interests, the correlation of forces, the "rules of the game" and the multilateral "playing field" in different times and issues. What is more, an actor at the same moment can have one or two, or even all three behaviors in different multilateral relations.

In the 21st century, the views and multilateral diplomatic activities of most countries in the world are diversified, clear, and specific. For example, the US pursues selective and effective multilateralism by building a multilateral system led by the US, and Western countries exert influence on other countries. America's multilateral diplomacy coexists with bilateral and pragmatic diplomacy. The American administration develops, moderates, or abandons multilateral diplomacy according to its interests at different times. This is clearly shown in its multilateral diplomacy which aims to impose "rules of the game" to ensure its national interests. And it is also willing to leave the old multilateral organization and initiate a new multilateral regime for its national interest.

Russia has always advocated a deep adherence to the principles of multilateralism (6). Increasing attention is paid to multilateralism as a form of force gathering to revive the country and counter Western influence. Russia's multilateral diplomacy is extended from global, regional to sub-regional levels and is selective with the following views: 1- " Representatives of leading countries" assume responsibility to handle global problems, which is different from the leadership of one power country; 2- In multilateral diplomacy, the multilateral policy needs to be negotiated between the parties concerned and Russia does not accept a decision that has not been approved (such as decisions made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the European Union to which Russia is not a member shall be null); 3- Multilateral diplomacy needs to become the foundation, reflecting the division of power in an emerging multipolar world including China, India, Brazil, which Russia attaches great importance to (7).

China is currently demonstrating a strong and widespread approach to multilateral diplomacy, especially with sub-regions, regions, and important institutions in diverse areas. China began to assert its position, its power, and leadership in several multilateral institutions through its active involvement in proposing multilateral initiatives, making investments and contributions, demonstrating its responsibility in global governance, and enhancing China's "soft power". China offers the doctrine of a harmonious world, in which the role of multilateral organizations is attached the great importance, and countries need to work hand in hand for mutual prosperity, and respect the diversity of cultures and political systems; developing countries have more decision-making power. China actively carries out multilateral activities, propagates new ideas, delivers new messages on building a harmonious and democratic world, and creates a new world economic order. Particularly, the country advocates non - alliance strategy (8).

Vietnam's multilateral diplomatic views and activities in the spirit of the Resolution of the 13th Party Congress

Over the past time, Vietnam has achieved some significant results in foreign affairs. International economic integration has developed deeply from the regional to the global level, diversified in forms. The country has actively participated in international multilateral institutions, forums, conferences, etc. especially the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); It has concluded multiple new generation bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, notably the Vietnam - Eurasian Economic Union (VN - EAEU FTA) Free Trade Agreement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), European Union–Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). “Foreign relations and international integration continue to expand and deepen, creating a stable and sustainable relationship framework with partners. Vietnam has been actively involved in developing principles and standards in regional and global multilateral institutions” (9).

On that basis, the 13th Congress of the Party (January 20, 2021) has developed a guideline for national growth in general and foreign policy in particular: 1- Ensuring the highest interests of the nation and the people on the basis of fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, equality, cooperation, and mutual benefit. Maintaining rapid and sustainable growth; 2- Strongly arousing patriotism, national self-reliance, great national unity, and aspiration to develop a prosperous and happy country; 3- Combining national strength with the power of the times; upholding the will to be independent, self-reliant, proactive, actively integrating into the world and improving the efficiency of international cooperation, maximizing internal resources, taking advantage of external resources, in which endogenous resources, especially human resources are the most important (10). Although this guideline on multilateral diplomacy (11) has not been concretized into an official document by the Communist Party of Vietnam, it is considered a basic premise (principles, mottos) to make policy and adopt behavior (activities) on multilateral diplomacy.

At the 13th Congress, the Party affirmed its foreign policy goals: “Continue to implement the foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, multilateralization, and diversification; proactively and actively integrate into the world comprehensively, extensively and effectively; maintain a peaceful and stable environment, constantly enhance Vietnam's international position and prestige”(12); however, the Party has not mentioned multilateral diplomacy which is only expressed implicitly in the words "multilateralization, diversification". The Party pointed out: “Strengthening bilateral diplomacy and developing multilateral diplomacy. Actively participating in and promoting Vietnam's role in multilateral mechanisms, especially ASEAN, the United Nations, APEC, Mekong sub-regional cooperation, and regional and international relations, in the important issues and mechanisms of strategic importance, suitable to specific requirements, capabilities, and conditions...; being proactive, active and responsible to work with ASEAN members to build a Solidarity Community... Actively joining multilateral security cooperations with new thinking on national defense” (13). In the five-year and ten-year socio-economic development strategy approved by the 13th Party Congress, although the key goals and tasks are not multilateral foreign affairs and the foreign policy is mentioned generally: " Maintaining independence and self-reliance, continuing to improve the quality and efficiency of foreign affairs and international integration"(14), in the direction, tasks, and solutions for 10-year socio-economic development, the Party mentioned clearly: "Strengthening international cooperation in security issues, accomplishing the mission of peacekeeping of the United Nations". It is noticeable that in the direction of foreign affairs, the Party continues to affirm and develop the viewpoint stated in Directive No. 25-CT/TW, dated August 8, 2018, of the Party Secretariat on "Strengthening and raising the level of multilateral diplomacy by 2030": To stepping up and raising the level of multilateral diplomacy, closely combining with bilateral diplomacy, accomplishing international responsibilities, especially within ASEAN, the United Nations and cooperation frameworks in the Asia-Pacific (15).

In general, Vietnam has identified multilateral diplomacy as an important content in foreign policy by the repetition of the expression "raising the level of multilateral diplomacy" in the Document of the 13th Party Congress. In addition, the viewpoint on multilateral diplomacy is defined quite specifically, such as the key partners are ASEAN, the United Nations, and APEC, cooperation in the Mekong sub-region...; prioritized fields are economy, national defense, and security...; attitude adopted in multilateral diplomacy is proactiveness. In the coming time, Vietnam's multilateral diplomatic policy is defined by the Party as: "Actively implementing regional and international commitments, integrating them with strategies, policies, plans, and programs to develop economy and society. Actively joining in multilateral institutions to enhance Vietnam's role in building and shaping multilateral institutions and the international political-economic order, fully implementing international commitments and trade agreements” (16). Accordingly, Vietnam will take an active role in shaping the "rules of the game" in multilateral diplomatic activities.

In particular, Vietnam has made progress by adopting thinking on multilateral diplomacy when affirming: "Continue to reform international cooperation on the law proactively and actively, making effective use of international rules and regulations and participate in regional and international activities; proactively propose initiatives and cooperation mechanisms on the principle of mutual benefit for peace, national independence, democracy and social progress in the world to enhance the quality of law cooperation” (17). Thus, it can be seen that Vietnam advocates multilateral diplomacy by combining three behaviors: rule taker, rule manipulator, and rule shaper. Vietnam expects to become a rule-shaper in multilateral diplomacy. However, the level of its behavior depends on the multilateral diplomatic model in which Vietnam participates.

Since the 13th Party Congress up to the present, amid a changing world with a complicated and unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam's multilateral diplomatic activities have still taken place flexibly and in a brisk lively manner. This proves that Vietnam is showing its active role in shaping the "rules of the game" and principles of multilateral institutions. Vietnam fulfills its role and position in the regional and global multilateral "playing fields". For instance, Vietnam has completed its role as a 2020-2021 non-permanent member of the UN Security Council by participating in hundreds of meetings and voting on resolutions and launching many important initiatives on the primacy of law in protecting world peace and security; promoting the protection of people, especially women and children; responding to non-traditional security challenges (climate change, sea level rise...); promoting closer cooperation and enhancing the role of organizations, regions and sub-regions, cooperation between organizations, regions, and sub-regions with the UN to maintain regional and international peace. Noticeably, in December 2021, Vietnam successfully organized the first UNSC Arria-formula meeting: Addressing challenges of children without parental care in conflict settings. As the rotating chair of the UN Security Council, in April 2021, Vietnam has organized and chaired about 30 meetings under the motto of proactiveness and responsibility, objectivity, transparency, and flexibility to harmoniously handle and balance the interests of countries on the debate topics, and promote cooperation and consensus at the Security Council (18); It has speeded up the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and Presidential Statement and emphasized the need to strengthen international cooperation to jointly address the critical issue of mine clearance after the war for the safety and sustainable livelihoods of residents (19).

Vietnam’s active and proactive participation in ASEAN's activities in 2021 has been affirming its role as rule sharper at the largest multilateral forum in this region. Vietnam has been involved in a series of important and high-level meetings of ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Summit, the ASEAN Summit with partners, and the third online and offline Mekong-Korea Summit. Besides, Vietnam has actively coordinated with the President of Brunei to promote the implementation of priorities for 2021, especially to concretize programs and action plans initiated by Vietnam since 2020, such as ASEAN Fund for COVID-19 Epidemic Response, Asean stockpile for public health emergencies, ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework (ATCAF)...

Participating in multilateral diplomacy within the framework of APEC is also a remarkable highlight of Vietnam in 2021. President Nguyen Xuan Phuc attended and gave a speech at the 28th APEC Summit (November 2021) held in New Zealand. Vietnam also participated in numerous major events of the APEC week, such as the 28th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting (28th APEC), the Dialogue between APEC leaders and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), and the APEC business summit. At the same time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Industry and Trade of Vietnam also attended the Inter-Ministerial Meeting of APEC Economic leaders. In particular, at the 28th APEC, Vietnam proposed some ideas recognized by economic members which are the sharing and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and medical supplies and resources, the requirement for APEC to adopt a new vision and approach to economic recovery by promoting a digital economy, e-commerce, free trade, removing trade barriers to restore production and business, avoid disruption of production chains, the need of supporting vulnerable populations, small and medium-sized enterprises by countries members, the proposal of measures to enhance green and inclusive growth. All of Vietnam's initiatives and proposals have been fully recorded in APEC documents, including the APEC Leaders Declaration, APEC Ministerial Declaration as well as the Action Plan to implement the APEC Vision to 2040; This demonstrates the responsibility and the proactiveness of Vietnam as a member of APEC in building and consolidating solidarity within APEC for a peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific region” (20).

Despite facing countless difficulties and challenges, through effective diplomacy in general and multilateral diplomacy in particular, Vietnam has affirmed its position as a developing country. With the current position of the country as well as the correct policy of the Party and State, promoting and elevating multilateral diplomacy will be an important strategy for Vietnam to achieve national goals. ./.


(1) Luu Thuy Hong: Multilateral diplomacy in contemporary international relations system, Truth National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2015, p. 49

(2), (3) See: Dang Dinh Quy (Editor): Multilateralism in the world and Vietnam's multilateral foreign policy, Truth National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2019, pp. 89 - 90

(4) See: Hoang Khac Nam: Theory of international relations, The World Publishing House, 2017, Hanoi, 2017, pp. 37, 64

(5) See: Dang Dinh Quy (Editor): Multilateralism in the world and Vietnam's multilateral foreign policy, Ibid, pp. 89 - 90

(6) Elena Wilson Rowe - Stina Torjesen: “The Multilateral Dimension in Russian Foreign Policy”, 2009, The-Multilateral-Dimension-in-Russian-Foreign-Policy/Rowe-Torjesen/p/book/9780415542920

(7) See: Luu Thuy Hong (Director of the project): Multilateral diplomatic activities (university key project), Academy of Journalism and Propaganda, Hanoi, 2021

(8) In China's White Book on "Peaceful Development" in 2011, it is emphasized the principle of no military alliance, the core of China's new-style security ideology and concept; recognition of non-traditional security factors

(9) Documents of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, Truth National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, vol. I, p. 69

(10) See: Document of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, ibid, vol. I, p. 110 - 111

(11) In the document of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, the Party uses the terminology "multilateral diplomacy"

(12) Documents of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, ibid, vol. I, pp. 117 - 118

(13), (14), (15), (16) Documents of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, ibid, vol. I, pp. 162 - 163, 201, 281 - 283, 164

(17) Documents of the 13th National Congress of Deputies, ibid, vol. II, p. 154

(18) See Thuy Dung: "Vietnam assumes the role of President of the UN Security Council", Government Electronic Newspaper, March 25, 2021, -nhan-vai-tro-chu-tich-hoi-dong-bao-an-lhq-102289742.htm

(19) See: Hoang Kieu: "Vietnam's 10 imprints at the United Nations Security Council for the 2020-2021 term", Voice of Vietnam website, January 18, 2022, https: //

(20) See: Doan Ca: "Vietnam is a leading and responsible member of APEC", People's Army website, November 31, 2021, https://www.qdnd .vn/chinh-tri/tin-tuc/viet-nam-la-thanh-vien-di-dau-dong-gop-co-trach-nhiem-trong-apec-677336

This article was published in the Communist Review No. 992 (June 2022)