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Discussion Paper Discussion Paper 150 (2020.1)

[No.150] Enhancing infrastructure connectivity in Vietnam under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy versus China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Nguyen Thi Hong Nga/2019 Nikkei Asia Scholarship Recipient



Amid the rise of China’s Belt and Road (BRI), Japan has adopted Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP), which aims to pursue peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and to some extent, counter China’s ambitions by promoting alignments with other regional countries. Given its favorable geo-strategic location and a long, troubled history with China, Vietnam appears to be an appealing partner to Japan. It even makes more sense as one of the three pillars of Japan’s FOIP also refers to “improving connectivity through infrastructure development” across regional economies while infrastructure connectivity is also a key component of China’s BRI approach. This paper thus examines how Japan has fostered infrastructure connectivity in Vietnam under the FOIP Strategy in response to China’s BRI and its recent transformations, and which choices Vietnam would make to benefit from both sides. The study shows that in addition to enhancing high quality infrastructure projects in Vietnam, Japan should also take further steps to work with a “high quality” BRI and “digital connectivity” strategy under BRI’s Digital Silk Road. The transformation of China’s BRI also sets off alarm bells for Vietnam to have second thoughts about the approval of China-funded infrastructure projects, which however, does not mean Vietnam should turn its back on Chinese capital. Essentially, a trilateral collaboration with the engagement of a private sector in infrastructure development could be a solution to strike a balance among Japan’s FOIP, China’s BRI, Vietnam’s national interests and international basic standards. In particular, Japan and China could consider to team up on “smart cities development” projects and spread out this model across Vietnam to improve infrastructure connectivity in the country.