Between Integration and Differentiation: International Relations Studies and the Promise of Global IR in Vietnam.

AuthorDo, Thuy T.

Although the first International Relations (IR) department in Vietnam was established in 1959 in what is now called the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV), and the first undergraduate programme in IR was launched there in 1970, IR and/or International Studies (IS) (1) remains a new discipline in Vietnam. It was not until 1995 that a second Faculty of International Studies was opened in Vietnam at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH) --Vietnam National University Hanoi. Subsequently, in 1997, the third institution--the Academy of Journalism and Communication--established an undergraduate programme in IR.

As a result of Vietnam's open-door policy and its proactive international integration process since the early 1990s, IR has become an increasingly popular field of study across the country. The DAV was the first institution that introduced a master's and doctoral programme in IR in 1993 and 2010, respectively. To date, a dozen universities across Vietnam have established IR programmes. IR is also taught and studied at numerous research institutes within the network of Vietnam's Academy of Social Sciences, the Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy, the Graduate Academy of Social Sciences as well as various research institutes within the Ministry of Public Policy and Ministry of Defence. (2)

Against this backdrop, this article explores two central questions: first, what characterized, and which forces dictated, the course of IR studies in Vietnam over the past decades? Second, how has Vietnamese IR academia responded to recent calls for "non-Western IR theory" or "Global IR"? (3) The existing literature provides little information about these issues. Despite growing scholarly interest in non-Western IR theory in Southeast Asia as well as the region's rise in the international political economy, studies on the practices of IR research and teaching in the region, Vietnam included, are few and far between.

With a view to examining the reality of current research and teaching trends in Vietnam, a detailed questionnaire was sent to approximately 100 eligible Vietnamese IR scholars, located at 12 IR departments and research institutes in Vietnam over a period of six months (from October 2020 to March 2021). The response rate was about 40 per cent, split equally between genders. The survey provided many useful insights to help sketch an overall picture of the state of IR in Vietnam. However, given that the questionnaire was designed in English and many Vietnamese scholars do not speak the language, the outcome of this survey was likely skewed towards reflecting the perspectives of younger Vietnamese IR scholars who have had greater international exposure. This study, therefore, also relies on other sources of data such as the research works and publications of Vietnamese scholars, the curricula and syllabi of IR programmes across Vietnamese universities, first-hand observations and personal reflections from the author's engagement with Vietnamese colleagues.

In terms of methodology, the research primarily drew on the sociology of science. Among other things, sociologists of science posit that the development of the IR discipline in a particular country is affected by relevant social factors such as national context (e.g., culture, ideologies, political system, foreign policy), institutions (e.g., administration systems, funding), languages and the reflexivity of scholars themselves. (4) This approach, therefore, is helpful in identifying the intervening factors that have shaped the course of Vietnam's IR studies as well as its response towards Global IR.

The article proceeds in three sections. It begins with an analysis of the state of the IR discipline in Vietnam, focusing on emerging research and teaching trends. The article will then evaluate the challenges and prospects for advancing Vietnam's IR scholarship as well as its possible contribution to Global IR. The article concludes that the IR discipline in Vietnam is heading towards more diversification and integration with the evolving trends in the field. However, given certain political, institutional and historical reasons, the Vietnamese IR community retains a distinctive and somewhat ambivalent view of the non-Western IR movement. Nonetheless, with its unique position as a postcolonial socialist state that has successfully integrated into international society, Vietnam has great potential for making contributions that shape the common heritage of the IR discipline.

The State of the IR Discipline in Vietnam

Research Trends, Theories and Methods: Increasing Diversification

Before the 1990s, IR research in Vietnam was characterized by a dual trend: on the theoretical side, it was dominated by Marxism-Leninism and the socialist ideology and on the practical side, what was deemed IR research was in fact diplomatic history and foreign policy studies. As such, IR research focused mainly on international history, particularly Vietnam's diplomatic history and its relations with major partners, mostly socialist and other developing countries. Institutionally, many IR departments in Vietnam were first established as a constituent unit under history departments.

In general, IR research in Vietnam to date remains largely policy-oriented, focusing on studying real world issues that may have an impact on Vietnam's foreign policy and national interests. During the Cold War, IR studies in Vietnam closely followed the dynamics of the US-USSR-China triangle, the international communist movement, and their impact on the struggle for national independence and unification. It can be said that IR research then was ideologically driven, reflecting the lens of Marxist class struggle and Cold War dynamics. (5)

The end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Vietnam's subsequent admission into ASEAN in 1995, provided a strong push for diversifying Vietnam's foreign relations and political thought. As Eero Palmujoki observed, "the new developments in Asia and Vietnam's efforts to integrate into them have made questionable the role of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine in the field of Vietnam's foreign policy. The 'unity in diversity' doctrine prevailing in Southeast Asia has so far helped the Vietnamese Communist Party to maintain its role in domestic affairs and to fit its foreign policy into the regional context." (6) With newfound interests, Vietnamese IR scholars began to study a wide range of emerging issues such as Vietnam's ASEAN membership, Vietnamese foreign policy, the country's relations with the major powers and its neighbours, Vietnam's integration into the international and regional orders, the changing Asia-Pacific security structure, China's rise and strategic competition among the great powers. (7)

With greater interest in Vietnam studies worldwide, and scholarly openness in Vietnam as a result of Doi Moi, Vietnamese scholars have had more opportunities to participate in joint research projects in English led by some of the most prestigious Vietnamologists on various IR topics such as power transition, geopolitics, the South China Sea dispute as well as Vietnam's foreign policy and relations with the major powers. (8) This trend of research diversification and intellectual openness was also reflected in the survey. Accordingly, Vietnamese IR scholars have expressed a wide range of research interests, including the international relations of a particular region (61.5 per cent), the foreign policy of a particular country (56.4 per cent), IR theory and international/global security (both 51.3 per cent), international/global history (41 per cent), comparative foreign policy (35.9 per cent) and international organizations (33.3 per cent). Research areas that received the least attention included intercultural communication, non-traditional security issues (both 2.6 per cent) and gender in IR (5.1 per cent). As with other cases in Southeast Asia (discussed in this special issue), research by Vietnamese IR scholars is predominantly policy-oriented and empirically-based (together accounting for 86.9 per cent), while interest in theoretical research remains modest (13.2 per cent). In particular, IR research in Vietnam has strong linkages with area studies. Accordingly, Vietnamese scholars typically express great interest in studying countries or regions with established political and economic ties with Vietnam. These include Southeast Asia (79.5 per cent), East Asia including China (64.1 per cent), global/cross-country research (33.3 per cent), North America (not including Mexico) (33.6 per cent), Western Europe (23.1 per cent), South Asia (10.3 per cent) and Russia (7.7 per cent). The regions not mentioned received little interest from Vietnamese IR scholars.

As the Vietnamese IR community grows, local scholars have increasingly published notable works in both English and Vietnamese that have made an impact on IR as a discipline in Vietnam. These include providing Vietnamese perspectives on the evolving international and regional order, (9) multilateralism and Vietnam's integration into international organizations, (10) the changing dynamics of Vietnam's diplomacy and foreign policy, (11) regional cooperation and Vietnam's relations with ASEAN member states and regional partners, (12) strategic culture and its influence on the foreign policy of major powers (13) and most recently, a new wave of literature that discusses the role of middle powers in world politics and its implications for Vietnam's emerging middle power diplomacy. (14)

Given Vietnam's strategic location as a medium-sized country neighbouring China, Vietnamese scholars pay great attention to the evolving dynamics of great power rivalry, particularly the intensifying US-China strategic competition in Asia, reflected in recent regional strategies such as the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and their implications for...

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