ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


Vietnam, Russia, Georgia, Kosovo, ethnic minorities, (in)consistency by mattsteinglass
August 14, 2008, 1:30 pm
Filed under: Russia, United States, Vietnam

Where does Vietnam stand on Russia, Georgia, and South Ossetia? Basically, Vietnam will try to avoid having to stand anywhere for as long as possible; it has very good relations with Russia and the US, and its interests in terms of the general question of sovereignty and ethnic minority territories are very complicated.

Back in April, wunderkind US-educated Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremic came through Hanoi and gave a talk at the Diplomatic Academy, which is the training ground for future Vietnamese senior government officials. He wowed the crowd. It was the most open, most honest Q&A session I’ve ever seen in Vietnam, with normally reticent and conflict-averse Vietnamese students posing real stumpers on controversial issues. Jeremic made a very strong and convincing case that the US-led rush to recognize Kosovo’s independence was a huge mistake with negative consequences for every region in the world that faces ethnic or religious separatist movements.

Vietnamese were receptive to this argument, and not just because Vietnam still has ties to the old Slavic socialist bloc. Vietnam has its own problem of ethnic separatism, both among “Montagnard” ethnicities in the Central Highlands and among “Khmer Krom” ethnic Cambodians in the upper Mekong delta. Young Vietnamese have been raised for 2 decades hearing about the evils of the “FULRO” Montagnard guerrillas who fought on after North Vietnam took over South Vietnam in ’75, and whose successors are in some cases arguably linked to political protests in the Central Highlands in 2001 and 2004. So they definitely don’t believe in letting every ethnic minority decide on self-determination.

On the other hand, this argument becomes ambiguous in the case of Georgia. Russia has employed ethnic self-determination in its own interests there, backing ethnic Ossetians in South Ossetia and local Russians in Abkhazia, in a sort of “How you like this self-determination?” retaliation against US actions in Kosovo. While Vietnam has improving relations at the moment with its old Russian sponsors, it currently has more important relations (diplomatically and trade-wise) with the US. And Vietnam’s history with China makes it very sensitive to the situation of small countries faced with giant Northern neighbors with claims on bits of their territory. China has recently been making some very aggressive and not very legally plausible claims on Vietnamese sea boundaries, with an eye towards blocking or expropriating Vietnamese exploitation of undersea oil deposits; it’s already nixed Exxon and BP projects in what Vietnam considers its own waters. Finally, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov yesterday dismissively called Georgia a “special project” of the US government, which is true. But Vietnam is also a “special project” of the US government, and Vietnam’s government very much likes it that way. The US is starting to become an ambiguous guarantor for Vietnam against China, and I doubt Vietnam likes the idea of the US signaling its ambiguous guarantees can be blown away by puffs from strong regional powers like Russia and China.

Vietnam has a seat on the UN Security Council. It will be very interesting indeed to see how it votes if the Georgian situation comes up.

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1 Comment so far
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Kosovo also set the precendent for Aztlan, when the USA becomes a Bamana Republic under Brzezinski.

Comment by Nikos Tanrousses




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