The importance of regionalism - A2 Global Politics
Observer commentator Andrew Rawnsley goes on holiday to Vietnam to celebrate his significant wedding anniversary and ends up ruminating on the EU referendum. Which may have been trying for his wife, but is good news for us, as he produces a fascinating consideration of the nature of regionalism and why the eastern experience may be one which offers a guide to the British voters on the EU.
Vietnam is well entrenched in our historical memory largely because of the "Vietnam War" which still features on our GCSE history specifications, and has a cultural pull through a range of well known films in particular. Some of which carefully discriminating teachers like myself show in class when it's really, really relevant and instructive to do so (say, Friday afternoons, end of terms, times when other pressures have pushed out the lesson planning, afternoons when you just want an easy life, an undue confluence between me and my students' lack of desire for anything more than thoroughly passive learning.....). It is also increasingly popular on the student gap year trail - those years when teenagers can "find themselves" and realise they never lost themselves in the first place.
Anyway, the admirable Mr. Rawnsley provides us with a few useful pointers about the strengths of encasing a nation's future within helpful regional structures, and he does so by looking at the Vietnam situation. He notes, in particular, that:
Two millenniums of resisting a succession of foreign invaders have forged a tremendous sense of national pride in the Vietnamese. At the same time, this is a country that has become an ardent joiner of multinational organisations and economic partnerships. “Deep international integration” is now its lodestar. Membership of Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is seen as crucial to its security and prosperity. It takes pride in hosting summits of Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). It has signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which seeks to create a single market from 12 countries with a combined population of around 800 million commanding 40% of world trade. Modern Vietnam has grasped what its feudal emperors did not: you can’t wall yourself up against the world.
Any aspiring A2 Global politics student might find the point about the benefits of Asean particularly relevant to their exam preparation, while the rest of us may consider it a prescient warning about Brexit. Rawnsley went on to note the contrast between the country's communist rule and its capitalist pretensions, with Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Cartier occupying city centre space just metres away from monuments to Ho Chi Minh, the country's communist founder. And, of course, the west wants in, but Britain's best route is via the EU.
A Britain that wants to maximise its future prosperity will seek to be part of the future of coming countries such as Vietnam. There is Vietnamese interest in aspects of Britain, particularly a perceived British expertise in insurance, banking, science and technology. But compared with other global actors, we are not that significant in the Vietnamese scheme of things. Certainly not as important as its complex relations with the US and its Asian neighbours, especially the historic enemy and one-time occupier to the north. In so much as the UK matters to a country such as Vietnam, our influence is leveraged through membership of the EU. After three and a half years of negotiation, the EU and Vietnam recently signed a free trade agreement (FTA). When Mr Hammond came visiting, getting the FTA ratified was the main point of the talks from the perspective of his hosts.
Take or leave Mr. Rawnsley's conclusions as you wish - I prefer to take them if I'm honest - but the lessons from the far east about the importance and impact of regionalisation in a globalised world seem thoroughly on point.