This article is part of the ‘Blue Security’ project led by La Trobe Asia, University of Western Australia Defence and Security Institute, Griffith Asia Institute, UNSW Canberra and the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue (AP4D). Views expressed are solely of its author/s and not representative of the Maritime Exchange, the Australian Government, or any collaboration partner country government.

What are the maritime governance priorities for Vietnam?

As a maritime nation with a coastline of 2,000 miles and a claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of over 500,000 square miles, Vietnam has placed strong emphasis on the maritime domain.[1] In its National Defence White Paper published in 2019, safeguarding the sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction of Vietnam over its waters and maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight were placed as the top priorities for maritime governance.[2] Another priority is using marine resources to promote economic growth. In particular, the Vietnamese government has identified six marine economic sectors for development:  (1) tourism and marine services; (2) exploitation of seaports and sea transport services; (3) exploitation of oil and gas and other marine mineral resources; (4) aquaculture and fishing; (5) coastal industry; and (6) renewable energy and new marine economic sectors.[3] To date, the marine sector has become an engine of economic growth for Vietnam as the economy of 28 coastal provinces and cities accounts for approximately 60 percent of the national GDP.[4]

In recent years, the Vietnamese government has also paid increasing attention to protecting marine ecosystems and marine resources while developing the blue economy. This goal is reflected in Resolution 36-NQ/TW on the “Strategy for the sustainable development of Viet Nam’s marine economy by 2030, with a vision to 2045” adopted by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam in 2018.[5] This resolution highlights the importance of maintaining harmony between economic development and marine protection. In addition, Vietnam prioritizes the prosperity, safety, and resilience of its coastal communities, as more than half of the country’s population resides in littoral areas.[6] Finally, Vietnam seeks to strengthen foreign relations and promote international maritime cooperation. The main purposes are to address common maritime security challenges and secure a peaceful and stable marine environment.[7]

What does Vietnam see as the most critical maritime security challenges?

Vietnam faces a variety of maritime security challenges. In terms of traditional maritime security, the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the East Sea) disputes have been a top-tier concern. Vietnam claims the Paracel Islands (Hoàng Sa in Vietnamese) are part of its territory, but these have been occupied by China since 1974.[8] Furthermore, Vietnam is involved in the dispute over the Spratly Islands (Trường Sa in Vietnamese) along with China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.[9] Amid recent incidents in the disputed waters and increasing Chinese aggression, the authorities of Vietnam have become increasingly wary of these issues.[10]

Vietnam also encounters numerous non-traditional maritime security challenges. These challenges include, but are not limited to, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; smuggling; sea-level rise; marine piracy; and marine environmental pollution. Looking at the IUU fishing example, on October 23, 2017, Vietnam received a yellow card from the European Commission warning over the country’s inadequate efforts to combat the issue.[11] The yellow card is still in effect and Vietnamese vessels continue to harvest in foreign waters without proper permissions.[12] Climate change has posed another acute threat to Vietnam since sea level rise can adversely affect Vietnam’s low-lying coastal and river delta regions. According to estimates by the World Bank, 6 to 12 million Vietnamese people will be potentially vulnerable to coastal flooding by 2070 – 2100.[13]

What are the maritime governance strengths of Vietnam?

Vietnam has several strengths conducive to governing the maritime domain. These relate to the unitary nature of its national governance system. To begin with, Vietnam is a one-party state in which the Communist Party exercises its leadership over the state and the society. This structure is believed to allow the Party to gain legitimacy and smoothly control the development and implementation of national policies.[14] Various agencies assist the Party and the central government in managing and developing the maritime sector. These include for example, the Coast Guard, the People’s Navy, the Border Protection Force and the Directorate of Fisheries.[15] There is especially strong political will and commitment from Vietnam’s central government to integrate into the global maritime system and comply with international maritime law, such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).[16] Finally, with regard to the participation of civil society, Vietnam’s National Assembly issued the Law on the Implementation of Grassroots Democracy in 2022 to improve the self-governance role of its citizens. [17] The government also builds an “all-people national defence” in which the entire population is encouraged to participate in protecting the country’s independence and sovereignty.[18] In the context of maritime governance, this creates more chances for Vietnamese people, businesses in the maritime industry, and non-governmental organizations to contribute to the decision-making process and cooperate with the government in implementing national maritime strategies.

What are the most significant maritime governance capacity gaps of Vietnam?

Although Vietnam has endeavoured to strengthen its capacity in maritime security, there are several shortcomings that the country needs to overcome. First, Vietnam encounters financial resource constraints. Vietnam remains a developing country with a GDP of $409 billion in 2022.[19] This, in turn, has limited Vietnam’s budget allocated for maritime security missions and prevented sufficient modernization of the Vietnam Coast Guard and the Vietnam People’s Navy. Second, despite the high political commitment of the central government, law enforcement at the local level is relatively weak and not consistently synchronized across coastal provinces and cities.[20] Another problem is the issue of overlapping responsibilities among maritime security agencies in Vietnam. This can lead to confusion and inefficiency in tackling maritime challenges.[21] Third, as pointed out by the United Nations Development Programme, Vietnam’s capacity in marine science and technology is limited.[22] In fact, the Communist Party has also acknowledged the need to embrace innovation, invest more in marine research, and train marine human resources.[23] Fourth, there is a lack of maritime domain awareness in Vietnam.[24] For example, the remote-sensing capabilities of Vietnam are still underdeveloped, with modest use of technologies beyond coastal radar and terrestrial Automatic Identification System. Furthermore, many of its fishing vessels remain unequipped with vessel monitoring systems, which makes it challenging for the Vietnamese authorities to track vessels’ activities. [25]

 What are priority areas for international cooperation that would improve maritime governance capacity in Vietnam?

To understand Vietnam’s priority areas for international cooperation, one must first understand its stance on international maritime cooperation. In general, Vietnam welcomes all forms of international cooperation in the maritime realm while emphasizing that maritime cooperation needs to be based on reciprocity, mutual understanding, and respect for international law.[26] Furthermore, Vietnam adopts a “Four No’s” policy meaning no military alliances, no siding with one country against another, no foreign military bases, no using force or threatening to use force in international relations.[27]

The first area for prioritizing cooperation is technological and scientific transfer. Vietnam needs to continue seeking external assistance to support technical areas that include shipbuilding, port construction, the exploration and conservation of marine resources, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The second priority area for cooperation is joint patrols and inspections. The purpose of this practice is to enhance cooperation and foster mutual understanding between the navies and coast guard forces of Vietnam and other countries. Further, these help maintain a rules-based order, preserve peace and stability in the shared waters, and prevent transnational maritime crimes.

The third priority area for cooperation that would enhance Vietnam’s capacity is policy transfer and information exchange. Learning from the experience and best practices of other countries in maritime strategy building, maritime law enforcement, and dealing with maritime-related challenges can be beneficial for Vietnam. For example, it helps improve Vietnam’s maritime domain awareness. Moreover, Vietnam can draw upon others’ experiences to further develop its existing policies and laws. Interaction with other partners might also inspire Vietnam to come up with more innovative and effective solutions for its prevailing problems.

How can existing regional and minilateral security frameworks contribute to maritime governance in Vietnam?

Regional and minilateral security frameworks have played an important role in the maritime governance of Vietnam. For instance, at the regional level, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has established several platforms for senior officials and experts to meet and discuss security issues including maritime security-related topics. Examples of these platforms are the ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Maritime Forum.[28] Moreover, ASEAN has engaged in dialogues and intensified maritime cooperation with many external partners, such as Australia, China, the European Union, India, Japan, and the United States. Fora such as the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum and the ASEAN-EU High Level Dialogue on Maritime Security Cooperation have allowed participants to discuss maritime issues of common interest and strengthen their maritime capacity. Being a member of ASEAN, Vietnam has certainly benefitted from this. The country has utilized these platforms to voice its concerns in the maritime domain and call for respect of international laws.[29]

Notably, China and ASEAN have also accelerated negotiations on a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea with the purpose of reducing the risk of conflict and facilitating peaceful resolution of current maritime disputes.[30] As one of the claimants, the outcome of the COC negotiations will significantly affect Vietnam. The country has been striving for an early adoption of the COC.[31]

In addition to existing dialogue-based mechanisms, it is imperative for ASEAN to focus on more practical and operational cooperation. For instance, ASEAN could encourage member states including Vietnam to improve their domestic maritime laws and ratify relevant international conventions and agreements. ASEAN also needs to actively seek technology transfer, financial support, and materiel assistance from its external partners.

Minilateral security frameworks involving extra-regional powers, such as the Quad and the AUKUS, are argued to help counter China’s assertive policies in the South China Sea and maintain regional stability.[32] However, in general, Vietnam still maintains a cautious approach and a neutral stance towards these frameworks.[33]

[1] Mai Le, “Results of Activities Relating to The Management of Vietnam’s Marine Protected Areas System from 2010 to 2020, As Well as Tasks for The Years 2021-2030,” Directorate of Fisheries, April 19, 2021,

[2] “2019 Vietnam National Defence (2019 Vietnam National Defence White Paper),” Ministry of National Defence, 2019,

[3] “Vietnam Set to Become a Powerful Marine Nation by 2030,” Vietnam Law & Legal Forum, December 31, 2018,

[4] “Blue Economy Scenarios for Viet Nam” (UNDP, May 2022),, p. iv.

[5] “Party’s Resolution on strategy for sustainable development of marine economy,” Socialist Republic of Vietnam, October 22, 2018,

[6] “Blue Sea Economy – a Driver to Carbon Neutrality by 2050,” VietnamPlus, May 13, 2022,

[7] “2019 Vietnam National Defence (2019 Vietnam National Defence White Paper).”

[8] “1895 – 2020: China’s Maritime Disputes,” Council on Foreign Relations, n.d.,

[9] “Country Profiles: Vietnam,” Maritime Awareness Project, n.d.,

[10] “Việt Nam Reaffirms Willingness to Peacefully Settle South China Sea Disputes: Foreign Ministry,” Việt Nam News, April 6, 2023,

[11] European Commission, “Commission Warns Vietnam over Insufficient Action to Fight Illegal Fishing,” October 23, 2017,

[12] Mai Le, “Requesting That Localities Complete the Database On Fishing Vessels as Soon as Possible,” Directorate of Fisheries, December 1, 2022,

[13] Climate Risk Country Profile: Vietnam (2021) (The World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank, 2021),, p. 2.

[14] “Vietnam Country Report 2022,” BTI Transformation Index, accessed May 10, 2023,

[15] Anh Tuan Ha, “MDA Enhancement to Address Maritime Security Challenges in the South China Sea: A Vietnamese View,”

[16] “UNCLOS Significant to Vietnam’s Long-Term Development,” Vietnam Law & Legal Forum, December 13, 2022,

[17] “Law on the Implementation of Grassroots Democracy,” Vietnam Law & Legal Forum, March 18, 2023,

[18] “2019 Vietnam National Defence (2019 Vietnam National Defence White Paper).”

[19] “Socio-Economic Situation in the Fourth Quarter and 2022,” General Statistics Office of Vietnam, December 29, 2022,

[20] Phuong Van To and Robert S. Pomeroy, “Addressing Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing of Vietnamese Fishing Vessels in Foreign Waters,” Asian Fisheries Society 36, no. 1 (2023): 24–36, pp. 30 – 32.

[21] Dung Xuan Phan and Son Minh To, “Tides of Insecurity: Vietnam and the Growing Challenge from Non-Traditional Maritime Threats,” ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, no. 5 (2023), pp. 36 – 37.

[22] “Blue Economy Scenarios for Viet Nam,” p. 101.

[23] “Party’s Resolution on strategy for sustainable development of marine economy.”

[24] Phuong Nguyen, “High Ambitions, Tall Orders for Vietnam’s Military,” Nikkei Asia, November 2, 2016,

[25] Gregory B. Poling, “From Orbit to Ocean—Fixing Southeast Asia’s Remote-Sensing Blind Spots,” Naval War College Review 74, no. 1 (2021), pp. 16 – 18.

[26] “Maritime Cooperation Must Be in Line with International Law: Spokesperson,” VietnamPlus, January 12, 2023,

[27] Phuong Nguyen The, “Vietnam’s 2019 Defense White Paper: Preparing for a Fragile Future,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, December 17, 2019,

[28] “ASEAN Regional Forum,” ASEAN Regional Forum, n.d.,; “Maritime Cooperation,” ASEAN, n.d.,

[29] Thu Nguyen Hoang Anh, “After 40 Years, UNCLOS Remains Significant to Vietnam,” Fulcrum, September 20, 2022,

[30] Stanley Widianto and Ananda Teresia, “China, ASEAN to Intensify Negotiations on South China Sea Code,” Reuters, February 22, 2023,

[31] Hong Hiep Le, “Vietnam’s Position on the South China Sea Code of Conduct,” ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS), 22, no. 2019 (April 8, 2019).

[32] William Choong and Ian Storey, “Southeast Asian Responses to AUKUS: Arms Racing, Non-Proliferation and Regional Stability,” Fulcrum, October 22, 2021,

[33] Derek Grossman, “Why China Should Worry About Asia’s Reaction to AUKUS,” The RAND Corporation, April 15, 2023,; Jack Butcher, “Vietnam’s Cautious Approach to Quad Reflects Delicate Strategic Balance,” Young Australians in International Affairs, October 25, 2022,

About Thu Nguyen Hoang Anh

Thu Nguyen Hoang Anh is a PhD candidate in Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Concurrently, she is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Pacific Forum. She holds an MA in Transnational Governance from the European University Institute and a BA in International Relations from Tokyo International University. Previously, she was an intern at the Fisheries and Aquaculture Unit, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Her research interests include International Relations of the Asia-Pacific, maritime security, and public policy.