Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ on Russia: Another word for pragmatism?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL June 20, 2024
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A bamboo water wheel shows the flexible nature of the bamboo plant. Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Unsplash

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has friends near the North. Actually, some 3,500 km from North Korea.

Mr Putin’s visit to Vietnam says something really important: he has friends that the West rather fancies sit in its camp.

And yet, here’s Mr Putin, popping up in Hanoi, not too long after Joe Biden visited.

Mr Putin went on from North Korea to Vietnam, a country with which western countries are pursuing closer ties. The visit is a powerful signal that Russia and Mr Putin aren’t as isolated as western capitals would wish, even as Russia’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine goes into its third year.

Vietnam is playing its cards with strategic ambiguity. As a leading exporter of garments and a rising economy, Vietnam is increasingly seen as a friend of everyone. In the past nine months, Hanoi played host to Mr Biden, as well as Xi Jinping… and now, Mr Putin. India’s defence partnership with Vietnam is increasingly prominent.

Meanwhile, Vietnam counts Russia as a major military partner as it is its biggest weapons supplier.

Vietnam explains its flexible friendships as “bamboo diplomacy”, a foreign policy like the plant that grows plentifully in the country and is known for being able to bend without breaking. Nguyen Phu Truong, head of the Communist Party that governs Vietnam, says bamboo diplomacy is a nod to that plant’s “strong roots, stout trunk and flexible branches”.

Bamboo diplomacy is an evocative name for what might be called pragmatism.

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