With tensions becoming more and more serious in the Middle East and with two crucial leadership roles to play internationally, diplomats in Hanoi are probably working hard to make sure Vietnam’s big diplomatic month of January is a success.
Vietnam’s diplomacy has arrived at a critical moment, as it presides over the United Nations Security Council this month while assuming the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for 2020. The two roles will intertwine on Jan. 23, when Vietnam, led by Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy, is scheduled to host an open debate in the Council on the cooperation between the UN and Asean. The two organizations work together on many issues, such as counterterrorism and sustainable development. The secretary-general of Asean, Dato Lim Jock Hoi of Brunei, is expected to be among those attending the debate.
Vietnam is taking Kuwait’s elected seat in the Council as a member of the Asia regional bloc, offering Vietnam a chance to create a tighter alliance with Indonesia, another current elected member from Southeast Asia. This could mean a partnership, or “SEA2,” that mirrors another small, informal bloc on the Council, the “A3” — the African elected members (currently Niger, South Africa and Tunisia).
When asked about the potential Vietnamese-Indonesian alliance at a recent press briefing (see below), Ambassador Dang jokingly said, “It’s a kind of secret between the two missions,” adding that they want to work together to raise Asean’s profile at the UN. The organization was founded in 1967, and Vietnam joined it in 1995.
Vietnam’s other open debate, on Jan. 9, will focus on upholding the UN Charter in the context of international peace and security; the topic is timely, as many UN members are accusing the United States of having violated the Charter by killing the Iranian military commander, Qassim Suleimani, in a drone airstrike on Jan. 3 at the Baghdad airport. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was expected to speak at the Council meeting, but this week the US State Department turned down his visa request.
That’s another item on Vietnam’s agenda: dealing with unexpected events.
Since the killing of General Suleimani, many diplomats at the UN and high-level UN officials have been saying that the Jan. 9 meeting will give diplomats the chance to address the situation in the Middle East and US-Iranian tensions, even though the program of work for the month was adopted before the US operation. (In fact, Zarif applied for a visa on Dec. 20, according to the Iran mission to the UN.)
One issue to watch in the next two years for Vietnam, although Ambassador Dang declined to comment on it, is the one involving South China Sea maritime claims by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries in the region.
“Vietnam, you know, has made a very concerted effort over the past few years to say — despite what China is doing in the South China Sea, and we’re getting our military capabilities together — we still believe that this is ultimately an issue of international law, and the UN matters, in that sense,” Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior editor at The Diplomat magazine and a fellow at the Carter Center, told PassBlue.
Along with regular Council agenda items like the peacekeeping mission in Mali and the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, the Council is likely to focus on a draft resolution to curtail certain UN sanctions against North Korea, a proposal by China and Russia that first surfaced in late December.
Another mandate, on extending the life of several UN humanitarian-aid border crossings into Syria, expires on Jan. 10. Negotiations on an extension among the five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — are underway behind closed doors.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors as they assume presidency of the Security Council and highlights important data about their countries, including their carbon emission levels and maternal death rates, which signal their commitments to mitigating climate change and promoting women’s rights. Vietnam’s maternal mortality rate is considered “very low,” for example, totaling 43 deaths per 100,000 live births, based on most recent data from Unicef.
This column follows ones on Britain, South Africa, the US, Bolivia, China, Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, France, Germany and Russia, among others.
To hear an audio analysis with more details on Vietnam’s Council presidency, download PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, at Apple Podcasts, Patreon, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, TuneIn or Google Play.
Vietnam Ambassador to the UN: Dang Dinh Quy, 58
Ambassador to UN Since: July 2018
Language: Vietnamese, English, French, Russian
Education: B.A., Diplomatic University of Vietnam (1988); M.A., Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada (1998); Ph.D., Vietnam Academy of Sciences (2013)
His story, briefly: Ambassador Dang was born in 1961 in Dang Xa, a village 100 kilometers south of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, in the midst of the Vietnam War. “My village, close to a small city, was under two bombings by Johnson and Nixon. I experienced a lot of bombing until I was 15. At the time, my dream was very simple: we could sleep without the sound of bombs and annoyance during the night and have enough food to eat.”
But if the need for a more prosperous and peaceful world became clear to him at a young age, Ambassador Dang says he ended up in diplomacy pretty much by happenstance.
“I was born and grew up in a peasant family,” he said. “I came to diplomacy by chance, because the campus of the foreign affairs college of Vietnam is better organized and more beautiful than others, so when I was told by my friends to join the college of foreign affairs, that’s when I started my career.”
Dang joined the foreign ministry in 1989, working in the West Asia-Africa Department and the Department of Economic Affairs. In 1994-1995, he was sent to Japan to study development policy. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 2003 to work as a counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy, and in 2007 returned home to become deputy director of the Institute for International Relations in Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Before his latest appointment, Dang had served as vice-minister for foreign affairs since 2016, in charge of strategic studies, review and reporting, as well as strategic policy planning advice and training. In 2011, he worked for a private university in Hanoi, the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, while also serving at intervals as director of the academy’s East Sea Studies Institute.
Ambassador Dang lives with his wife and two children. He responded to questions via email about his career and what he hopes to accomplish during Vietnam’s two years on the Council. His remarks have been edited for space and clarity.
What achievements are you most proud of in your career? It’s hard to say they are personal achievements because they’re more like contributions. The first is my contribution to the drafting of a resolution on Vietnam’s integration into the world. The second involved negotiating and lobbying to gain Vietnam’s admission to the WTO [World Trade Organization] — America took Vietnam off its list of countries with concerns about religious freedom and [agreed to] full economic normalization between the two countries. The third contribution was during the campaign to make Vietnam a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council — it passed with 192 votes.
What do you think is the UN’s biggest issue right now? Multilateralism is facing its biggest challenges since the Cold War ended. The level of support and contribution is low, and cooperation and solidarity among members and especially big members is at the lowest.
How is Vietnam approaching its two-year term on the Council? We are not a permanent member, so we’re not utopian, but we will try our best to bring about change — small change but change.
How would you describe Vietnam’s relationship with the US? And how would you like to work with the US to balance your relationship with Russia and China? I think we have good relations with all of the P5, the five permanent Council members, and a comprehensive partnership with the US, and strategic and comprehensive ones with Russia and China, and with France and the UK as well. Our foreign policy is very balanced and independent, and we’re working closely with all P5 and other members of the Security Council. We try our best to cooperate and work with them. We have seen the relationship between Vietnam and the US normalize, and from enemies we became friends, then partners, and now we have a comprehensive partnership that’s becoming stronger. And we’re very happy.
Head of State: Nguyen Phu Trong
Foreign Affairs Minister: Phạm Bình Minh
Type of Government: Socialist Constitutional Republic
Year Joined the UN: 1977 (The US vetoed Vietnam’s application twice before. Vietnam was admitted after the unification of Vietnam, after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.)
Years on the Security Council: 2008-2009, 2020-2021
Closest Allies on the Council: China, Indonesia
Population: 95.5 million
Memberships in Regional Groups: Asean, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), Group of 77 (G77)
Maternal Death Rate: 43/100,000 (2017). By contrast, the rate for the US in 2017 was 19/100,000, both considered “very low” by Unicef.
GDP per Capita: $2,566 (2018); (world average, $11,200)
Emissions (tons of CO2/year, per capita): 2.1 (world average, 5)
Total Contributions to UN Operating Budget (rounded): $2,359,723
Total Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Budget: $422,727
Electric Power Consumption: 1.4 kwh/year, per capita (world average, 3 kwh/year)
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.