When the whole world turned its back on Myanmar, Vietnam was at the forefront of the effort to mitigate waves of negative salvos from the West – similar to the tirades it withstood during the Indochina War.

The moment of truth came in 2004, when Vietnam was instrumental in breaking Myanmar’s international isolation that had long been orchestrated by European countries. As the chair of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Vietnam was the main driving force behind the push for the membership of Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos in the ASEM process, very much to the chagrin of the other members. During the Cold War, when Vietnam was in a similar position of lacking international recognition, it was Myanmar that rendered it support.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Gen Aung San led the Anti-Fascists People’s Freedom League, which allowed North Vietnam’s Propaganda and Information Agency to work in Yangon in 1948. During Vietnam’s struggle for independence, Myanmar provided arms and ammunition to fight against the French.

In 1954, the agency was transformed into a consulate. That same year, Myanmar Prime Minister U Nu visited Vietnam, and Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh visited Myanmar in 1958. The two countries established ties in 1975 when the Vietnam War ended, and the consular office was turned into an embassy. This long-established fraternal sentiment is still strongly felt today, and against all odds, their relationship has remained steady.

After both countries joined ASEAN – Vietnam in 1995 and Myanmar in 1997 – their relations have been further strengthened through ASEAN-led cooperative frameworks. Myanmar and Vietnam are also members of the CLMV Summit, both are actively engaged in action plans to promote trade, investment, environmental protection and water management.

Last week, during the historic visit of Vietnam Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Pou Trong to Myanmar, both sides agreed it was time to establish a comprehensive cooperative partnership. Most importantly, they agreed to enhance political ties through mutual visits and meetings at all levels, including the economy, culture, and science and technology. To strengthen connectivity between the two economies, they pledged to prioritise cooperation in transport infrastructure and tourism while expanding links in agriculture and forestry, telecommunications and banking.

Both countries agreed on measures to improve the investment level, which now favours Vietnam. Last year, Vietnam invested in 47 projects in Myanmar worth US$557 million (K761.6 billion), with two-way trade reaching $299 million. Last week, they agreed to increase bilateral trade to $1 billion by stepping up investment and trade promotion and facilitation.

To ensure regional peace and security, they vowed to boost bilateral security and defence cooperation by sharing information and experience. They applauded the effective implementation of bilateral security dialogue mechanisms and agreed to reinforce security cooperation, including working together to build and complete a legal framework for joint activities in fighting crime.

They expressed satisfaction with their coordination and cooperation at regional and international forums like ASEAN, the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, and agreed to continue their Mekong cooperation.

During Myanmar’s tenure as ASEAN chair, the group issued four statements on the dispute in the South China Sea. They reaffirmed their commitment to the rule of law and a political settlement of maritime disputes through peaceful means. Myanmar is not a claimant state in the dispute, but Nay Pyi Taw is firm in its position and its support of ASEAN centrality.

Vietnam also expressed appreciation of Myanmar’s support for its candidacy for non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council in 2020-2021. Hanoi served in this position in 2008-2009.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn - The Myanmar Times - SEptember 1st, 2017