Vietnam’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been lauded globally. The total number of COVID19 cases as of May 15, 2020, were estimated at 312, and the country has not reported a single death.[RVListenButton]
Vietnam’s success in dealing with the pandemic has been attributed to some decisive, but tough steps which it enforced without dithering like some of its neighbours in ASEAN. These measures included a lockdown from April 1, 2020 (which lasted for less than a month), quarantining of international travelers for a period of 14 days, and effective tracing. Vietnam’s experience in dealing with the SARS epidemic of 2003 also stood the ASEAN nation in good stead.
The fact, that Vietnam a country with a population of over 900 million people, has performed far better than many developed countries, has also been recognized globally. Vietnam’s effective handling of the pandemic is all the more remarkable given the fact that it shares a border, and close economic linkages, with China.
While the ASEAN nation has been able to control the virus, but at the same time, like other countries, its economy is likely to be impacted adversely. Its growth rate has been estimated at 2.7% this year according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (according to the World Bank, Vietnam’s growth will be around 1.5%, but it will escape a recession).
Even in the aftermath of the pandemic, Vietnam is likely to fare better, in terms of GDP, as compared to other ASEAN nations, but this is nowhere near the robust economic growth witnessed in previous years (in 2019, Vietnam grew at 7.02%).
In recent years, the ASEAN nation emerged as an important manufacturing hub, and has been able to draw in significant FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in manufacturing from a number of countries, including Japan and South Korea, and has not been merely dependent upon China.
In 2019, pledged investment in the manufacturing sector was estimated at a little less than 25 Billion USD (24.6) USD.
Investor friendly policies, efficient labor force and the country’s strategic location have played an important role in Vietnam’s success in drawing FDI, and emerging as an economic hub, not just within Asia, but globally.
Addressing a business conference, on May 9, 2020, attended by participants from multilateral institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Chambers of Commerce, and domestic and international business groups, the Vietnamese PM, Nguyen Xuan Phuc sought ideas to kickstart the economy. He also stated that his government would make all necessary efforts, to ensure that Vietnam attains 5% growth. The Vietnamese PM stated that foreign investments would be crucial if Vietnam was to achieve this objective.
Vietnam’s economy post-COVID
The question on most people’s minds is how will Vietnam deal with the economic challenges posed by the COVID19 pandemic. While in the short run, there are numerous challenges, the fact that many companies are keen to shift out of China is likely to help the ASEAN nation.
According to many analysts, while some companies are likely to shift to other Asian countries like India and Bangladesh, Vietnam is likely to emerge as a preferred destination, as a result of its location, logistical advantages and trade pacts with numerous countries including the US.
It would be pertinent to point out, that Vietnam had benefitted immensely from the China-US Trade wars, with numerous companies clearly preferring Vietnam, over its competitors.
Japan, which has earmarked over 2.2 billion USD for its manufacturing firms to shift from China, is likely to encourage its companies to move to Vietnam (Japan was the second-largest investor in Vietnam in the first quarter of 2020). Strategic ties between both countries have also witnessed an upswing in recent years. It would be pertinent to point out, that Vietnam along with Japan, also happens to be a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and this will help in bolstering economic linkages with other member states (already some member states within TPP are working closely to keep supply chains intact).
Apart from its economic relevance, Vietnam is also important from a strategic context. It is the ASEAN chair for 2020, and its increasing relevance in the Indo-Pacific region means that not just Japan, but even other key players in the Indo-Pacific, are likely to bolster strategic and economic linkages with the ASEAN nation in a post corona world.
Vietnam’s stature has risen not just because of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but also ramping up of medical equipment production — such as masks. It was able to provide masks not just to neighboring countries in ASEAN, but also the US, Russia, Germany, France and the UK. The ASEAN nation, despite the paucity of resources, has emerged as a key stakeholder in the battle against the deadly pandemic. In a post corona world, the ASEAN chair is likely to emerge as an important global player, both in the economic and strategic context.
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Consulting Editor, Geopolitics with The Dispatch, Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016) with the Stimson Centre, Washington DC. Mr Maini was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-14), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include; the role of Punjab in India-Pakistan ties, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the changing nature of Indian federalism. He is a contributor for a number of publications including; The Hindu, The Diplomat, Modern Diplomacy and The Geopolitics.