The role of the external communication in implementing Vietnam’s foreign policy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alternate Member of the Party Central Committee, Deputy Head of the Central Propaganda Department - Faculty of Communication and External Culture, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam
Friday, June 10, 2022 09:54

Communist Review - External communication is a bridge to enhance mutual understanding between Vietnam and its partners, an important force in promoting and enhancing Vietnam's prestige and position, contributing to attracting resources for national development. Along with the deeper international integration, external communication activities play an increasingly important role and is more closely associated with the implementation of Vietnam's foreign activities.

Vietnam gives 550,000 masks to some European countries to tackle the COVID-19, April 2020 _Photo:

From the beginning of 2020 until now, it has been a very special time for the country's foreign affairs as well as external communication and propaganda. For the first time, Vietnam has taken on several international responsibilities at the same time; Besides, diverse bilateral diplomatic activities have been organized. Domestically, the past two years have been decisive for the successful implementation of the Resolution of the 12th Party Congress, the successful organization, and active implementation of the Resolution of the 13th Party Congress. Notably, those vital foreign and domestic missions were carried out amidst the unprecedented context of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is during that challenging time that external information and propaganda have been promoted with many innovations and creativity, making a significant contribution to the successful implementation of foreign policy. Achievements of external communication work in pandemic times have shown valuable theoretical and practical lessons for both communication and foreign affairs.

The coronavirus disease has been profoundly affecting aspects of human life in unprecedented ways. Especially, the foreign affairs of each country face great challenges. Firstly, the fact that countries mobilize their efforts to respond locally to the pandemic has created obstacles in orientating and linking multilateral forums. Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened strategic competition among big countries, posing small and medium-sized countries, including Vietnam, with difficult problems in foreign policy implementation to ensure national interests. Thirdly, in the face of social distancing and lockdown on a large scale, the implementation of foreign activities in the traditional way faces challenges. When countries around the world impose travel restrictions to tackle the epidemic, foreign activities, such as high-level visits, international conferences, exchanges, and meetings,... are all interrupted. The COVID-19 pandemic has created great challenges for international relations in general and the implementation of foreign activities of countries in particular. However, this is also an opportunity for countries to improve their adaptability and develop new diplomacy, and enhance digital technology in diplomatic interactions as well as in external communication. In that challenging context, over the past two years, Vietnam's external communication has harmonized with foreign policy and has strongly promoted the spirit of innovation, creativity, and flexibility, thus contributing significantly to national foreign policy achievements.

Firstly, external communication has promoted information about Vietnam's foreign activities at the multilateral level to give the nation a greater reputation. In 2020, Vietnam assumed major international tasks as Chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Chairman of the 41st ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA-41), and non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2020 to 2021. From the year 2020 until now, external communication has timely and comprehensively updated Vietnam's multilateral foreign affairs activities. Thereby, it has succeeded to promote the role of orientation and connection of Vietnam when assuming international responsibilities at a challenging time for multilateralism. During Vietnam’s rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, it has strengthened intra-ASEAN cooperation on all three pillars of politics - security, economy, and culture - society; improved ASEAN’s relationship with major partners; united the ASEAN Community (AC) to effectively respond to the COVID-19 epidemic. The theme “For a cohesive and proactive ASEAN” identified by Vietnam for 2020 has become extremely adaptable to reality and has become a “brand” of Vietnam as well as AC. As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Vietnam has shown the image of a responsible Vietnam that upholds international law and strives for world peace, stability, and growth. For the first time, based on Vietnam's initiative, the UN Security Council approved Presidential Statement reaffirming its commitment to the UN Charter; organized a meeting on cooperation between the UN and ASEAN. Vietnam has marked a historical milestone by proposing the UN General Assembly adopt a resolution to declare December 27 as the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness. This resolution has achieved a record number of co-sponsors (112 countries). Besides, the active engagement of the Vietnam People's Army in UN peacekeeping operations continued to be enhanced, emphasizing the image of “Uncle Ho's soldiers” in human affairs. It is obvious that, by continuous and inclusive communication, external communication has built a very positive panorama of Vietnam's multilateral foreign affairs during the pandemic time. Notably, in a pace of fast-changing world with countless international and foreign events, the main foreign media agencies of Vietnam have updated timely topical news to the international public. At the same time, new forms of communication have been used rapidly such as social networking platforms, and digital media to update news about conferences in real-time. For example, the ASEAN 2020 Vietnam Facebook page fully updated all activities related to Vietnam's ASEAN chairmanship, each post has a string of characters/symbols (hashtag) with a specific title such as ASEAN 2020 VN, Cohesive and Adaptive, 37 ASEAN Summit, ASEAN Z45 and so forth. By using new forms of communication, external communication not only enables faster access of widespread information about foreign multilateral activities of Vietnam to the international public but also enhances the image of Vietnam as a country with vision and creativity using digital technology in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

Secondly, external communication helps Vietnam strengthen trust, and deepen and stabilize its bilateral relations. In 2020, Vietnam celebrated the anniversary of diplomatic relations with different major partners, such as China, Cuba, Russia, the US, the European Union (EU)... External communication has shown its active role in disseminating information about Vietnam's progress with its traditional friends and major partners. Thereby, the reputation of Vietnam as a reliable and sustainable partner of countries, including world powers in different fields ranging from economy, and trade to politics, defense, security, and cultural exchange has been enhanced. Timely and in-depth reporting on the activities of heads of state and leaders of countries when coming to Vietnam(1) has highlighted the image of a safe country that has successfully tackled the epidemic and strived to maintain and promote international and regional cooperation. External communication also contributes to promoting good relations with neighboring countries, including Laos, Cambodia, and China. Through updated information about meetings, face-to-face, and online talks, phone calls between senior leaders, ministries, and authorities, and publications on history, friendship, and the relationship between nations, the main media agencies have focused on building the image of the Vietnam - Laos friendly relationship, which is internationally evaluated as “the exemplary relationship” and the comprehensive strategic partnership between Vietnam and China as well as the Vietnam - Cambodia relationship that stands the test of time.

Thirdly, the external communication has shared Vietnam's messages with an international audience, contributing to the positioning of Vietnam's status in the international media. Amid the challenging and complicated development of the COVID-19 epidemic, external communication has focused on spreading strong messages, attracting the attention of the international community. Firstly, it is the message of a transparent and safe country that has effectively controlled the COVID-19 epidemic. In the face of complicated developments and the rapid increase of coronavirus infections in the world, Vietnam's external media has focused on clarifying the transparency of the disease's evolution through daily updating news on the pandemic. In addition, the launch of communication campaigns, such as the 5K Campaign, the music project of the catchy hand-washing song “Ghen Co vy” (English: “Jealous [of] Coronavirus”), etc have spread the message not only to inhabitants but also to the international community. Secondly, it is the message of a nation of solidarity and humanity where “no one is left behind”. This is one of the diplomatic messages that make a strong impression on international friends. For the overseas Vietnamese community, the external communication has contributed to timely updating information about State and Government policies. For foreigners living, studying, and working in Vietnam, it has shown outstanding efforts of Vietnam in ensuring the health and safety of foreign citizens. Besides material support, treatment for people with coronavirus, spiritual encouragement and friendship are more valuable ​​than ever. That message has been widely shared with international friends so that they can understand that Vietnam is always willing to support anyone, regardless of nationality. People are at the root of all policies. Thirdly, it is the message of a country of responsibility and friendship. Despite great challenges in the control of the pandemic and the maintenance of socio-economic stability, Vietnam still clearly shows its high sense of international responsibility. External communication has promptly reported on Vietnam's practical actions in supporting and helping international friends. Despite its limited resources, Vietnam always shows the spirit of solidarity and mutual assistance toward other countries from the early days of the epidemic.

Efforts to accompany the foreign diplomacy in a challenging period have brought some valuable lessons for external communication work as follows:

Firstly, in the context of misinformation and disinformation, the content of the message needs to be taken into consideration. In general, the content of foreign messages launched in recent years has met the requirement of foreign policy. Their effectiveness is evaluated based on two main aspects: 1- The message is close to reality and accurate; this attracts the attention and enhances the trust of the international community to the information disseminated by Vietnam; 2- The message content is impressive, attractive to promote the image of a humane, self-reliant and responsible country which manages effectively the society and controls epidemic. It can be said that communication at a crisis time needs several factors to be successful, and one of them is the identification and sharing of appropriate messages to the international community. Thanks to those precise messages, it is during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic that Vietnam has made great strides on its journey to conquering the global public with a new and fascinating “Vietnamese story”.

Secondly, another important issue is the topicality and timeliness of communication activities. In the context that multilateral diplomatic activities are not conducted directly, foreign press agencies can not enter Vietnam to work, timely updating news on important multilateral events hosted by Vietnam has ensured the topicality, capturing the attention of the international public. Some assessments show that efforts to share information, especially through new forms of communication, have contributed to helping Vietnam's online foreign affairs activities gain a special international interest, even higher attention than some previous live events. In addition, while the information about the pandemic may confuse the world public, timely information provided by Vietnamese external communication on the epidemic has built trust among the international public. Capturing trends and promptly reporting the news have improved the efficiency of foreign affairs, making the name “Vietnam” become the top search trending in international media.

Thirdly, the efforts made by the external communication have contributed to widely spreading the image of Vietnam, creating a positive influence on the international media and community. When the COVID-19 epidemic has seriously affected the operation of the press and media, international news agencies can almost only access information about Vietnam through the external communication channel of Vietnam. Thanks to transparent messages, and timely, topical, and diverse information, the international media has a correct, comprehensive and objective view of Vietnam. It is noticeable that these objective assessments of international press agencies have affirmed the effectiveness of Vietnam's external communication in a challenging context.

Fourthly, one of the factors helping external communication overcome challenges is the proactivity and creativity in using new forms of communication. It can be said that the application of technological advances and many effective solutions for online news reporting, especially on social networks, have given Vietnam's external communication a new and modern look. First and foremost, it is the trend of social media, in which live content is growing strongly. Researches on “videos” by Facebook Live, Youtube Live, and Instagram Live show that hours spent watching live video content increased by 65% ​​from 2019 to 2020(2). Vietnam's external communication has caught up with this trend when flexibly updating ASEAN meetings on Facebook Live, thus showing its adaptability and affirming its creativity in flexibly using digital technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be said that, besides the message and content, the method of communication also constitutes a major factor to keep the public informed. The use of appropriate and modern tools makes better information access, harmonizing Vietnam's external communication with the general trend of the world media.

However, besides these above successes, there are some limitations. First, in terms of message consistency, to achieve optimal results, the message must have consistency in terms of content as well as form, especially it needs to have an identity so that each international audience, when receiving the message, can recognize that it is the message brand made by Vietnam. Second, the application of new media and social media has not been fully effective. In a pandemic time, especially in the Fourth Industry Revolution (Industry 4.0), the spillover effect of social media is huge thanks to its easy feedback and rapid spreading of information across borders to reach a large number of the public, creating a viral effect. Although Vietnam's external communication has made enormous efforts in approaching and deploying new media, it has not yet brought into full play the power of this communication method. The number of publications using an infographic, short clips, especially articles in press form with long form is still limited. Besides, although social networking platforms have been exploited, the number of people accessing and sharing news is still not high since the number of publications written in foreign languages ​​is low, the information sharing is at a small scale and there is no strategy to increase KPIs - performance indicators, such as the number of the like fan page, the number of comments or sharing of news... Some external media agencies have created their own social network accounts, but the number of interactions and followers is not high and they have not yet attracted international news agencies, and leaders of major countries to follow their fan page... Third, the coordination between major foreign media agencies is not synchronized. With the use of various media forms from state media to private media, from traditional methods to modern tools as well as the diversity of press media from newspapers, television to radio, and diverse platforms ranging from Facebook, Twitter to Youtube, close coordination between agencies is vital. In external communication work, coordination will enhance the spillover effect, improve communication efficiency, and meanwhile shows the coherence in national communication strategy.

In conclusion, amid challenging pandemic times, the external communication work has achieved encouraging results thanks to its adaptability and creativity, thus contributing an important part to the success of foreign diplomacy of the country. However, in the coming time, it still faces great obstacles in a fast-changing, digitally driven world. In the new situation, the task set by the 13th Party Congress is to “renovate the contents and methods, improve the effectiveness of external communication”(3), and contribute to further enhancing the performance of foreign diplomacy. On the basis of the achieved success and weaknesses, the future external communication work needs to continue to renew thinking, be creative and proactively adapt, stick to political missions, especially in promoting the country's fortunes and potential, contributing to enhancing the image and position of Vietnam. It is essential to actively exploit the strengths of new media platforms in external communication activities; be creative in developing external communication products; strengthen coordination in policy-making as well as implement specific activities on external communication. Currently, Vietnam's external media forces are increasing and becoming more diverse, from state agencies at all levels to major media agencies, and media organizations... To optimize and improve communication efficiency, due consideration should be given to strengthening a unified leadership and close coordination between external communication resources. To summarize, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the process of globalization and digital transformation that make far-reaching impacts on each country, the renovation of external communication is crucial to make a worthy contribution to the successful implementation of the foreign policy stated by the 13th Party Congress and the cause of national construction and defense in the new circumstance./.


(1) Including the event that Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide chose Vietnam as the first destination (October 2020) during his overseas trip after a month of taking office (September 2020)

(2) See: Anjali Lai, Elizabeth Velasquez: “The Data digest: US Consumers say Twitter and Facebook are equally entertaining, yet Twitter is more informative”,, accessed April 24, 2021

(3) Document of the 13th National Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, vol. I, p. 164 - 165

This article was published in the Communist Review No. 981 (January 2021)