Vietnam nurtures partnerships with Cambodia, Laos

Vietnam nurtures partnerships with Cambodia, Laos

Tom Abke

Vietnam defense officials continue to reach out to their Southeast Asian neighbors to contain the spread of COVID-19, control shared borders, battle transnational crime and improve the management of natural disasters.

About 71% of Vietnam’s 4,510-kilometer border touches Cambodia or Laos. Vietnam’s 2019 defense white paper describes the close historic ties to the two countries and how they enjoy “special strategic relationships” with Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Defense Ministry and military helped the Lao People’s Armed Forces control the spread of COVID-19 by sharing experiences and providing medical supplies, Lao Defense Minister Gen. Chansamone Chanyalath said in a December 4, 2020, meeting with Vietnam Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich.

The ministers agreed to improve defense cooperation in 2021 to promote “defense security stability” and “socioeconomic development.” In addition to furthering pandemic prevention and control, their focus will be on coordinated border control and fighting transnational crimes such as drug trafficking. They also agreed to hold a bilateral defense policy dialogue in 2021 at the deputy minister level.

The plans discussed by the ministers were formulated into a Defense Cooperation Agreement for 2021, which they both signed.

Lich and Cambodian Defense Minister Gen. Tea Banh reviewed the implementation of their Defense Cooperation Plan for 2020 in a January 8, 2021, virtual meeting. They recognized successes in training, pandemic containment, border protection, and the search for and repatriation of the remains of Vietnamese Soldiers who died while serving in Cambodia. (Pictured: Vietnam Defense Minister Gen. Ngo Xuan Lich participates in a January 2021 online meeting with his Cambodian counterpart, Gen. Tea Banh.)

In the months to come, the ministers plan to accelerate delegation exchanges and coordinate cross-border crime and drug smuggling prevention efforts.

Banh and Chanyalath congratulated Vietnam for its success in chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2020, including its arrangement of defense meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic and a time of complex changes in the global and regional security environment.

In the area of disaster management, Vietnam and Laos signed a memorandum of understanding on December 6, 2020, to promote collaboration on weather forecasting and natural disaster warning. With Cambodia, they announced plans in July 2020 to hold a joint disaster relief exercise along their borders, Cambodia’s Khmer Times newspaper reported.

Drills will include preparations to deploy helicopters, boats, trucks and ambulances in relief efforts. No date has been announced for the exercise.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.