In the newly announced “Top 500 Global Most Valuable Brands in 2021”, Viettel (Vietnam Military Telecom Group) is the only brand in Vietnam to make the list, ranking 325th, up 32 places from 2020. It is also Southeast Asia’s only brand on the list. Viettel is the epitome of Vietnam’s digital transformation, and Vietnam’s digital power strategy is worthy of our attention.
On January 4 this year, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued the Vietnamese Government’s “National Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution by 2030” and proposed the “National Digital Transformation Plan.” This plan proposes to take the initiative to make full use of the opportunities brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, master various advanced technologies, and apply them widely in economic and social fields; steadily (expand) R&D in new technologies to accelerate the transformation of the mode of economic growth mode and economic restructuring. We will make every effort to promote the strong development of the digital economy, and strive to build a digital country. By 2030, we will create 100,000 digital economy enterprises and 1.5 million digital technology practitioners across the country, so that Vietnam’s digital economy will reach 30% of the total GDP. The degree of digitalization of the country has entered the top two in ASEAN, the top 70 in the world, and the front ranks of digitally advanced countries.
The above-mentioned strategic goal of Vietnam, of building a digital country and realizing overtaking on a curve, is not just a plan that is still on paper, but already has a solid realistic foundation. Although on the whole, Vietnam’s industrial base is relatively weak and the overall level of innovation is relatively low, Vietnam’s knowledge base is not bad. Emphasizing education is one of the typical characteristics of East Asian Confucian cultural circle countries. Vietnam’s foundation is among the best in ASEAN countries. In recent years, Vietnamese middle school students have performed more prominently in the field of mathematics and computation. These foundations are more prominent in Vietnam’s digital industry. At present, Vietnam’s overall digitalization level ranks fourth among ASEAN countries, and is much higher than the overall average level of ASEAN.
In absolute terms, Vietnam’s performance is even more outstanding. Vietnam is one of the first countries to launch 5G services in the international community. On January 20, 2020, Viettel announced the launch of its own 5G services in Vietnam. At present, although Vietnam’s GDP is only 270 billion US dollars (not even as much as Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, which are relatively backward, in China), Viettel has entered the ranks of the top ten mobile networks in Asia. Moreover, its brand value reached approximately US$4.3 billion in 2019, and its business scope covers the three major states of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
After the intensified strategic competition between China and the United States, the then Secretary of State Pompeo proposed the “Energy Growth and Development Initiative in Asia” (EDGE Asia) in June 2018, in an attempt to contain China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative by assisting East and Southeast Asian countries in energy and infrastructure construction. Among them, Vietnam is regarded by the United States as a very important strategic pivot.
In fact, the U.S. aids Vietnam not only in the field of energy, but also intensified cooperation with Vietnam in the field of information and digital technology as an important infrastructure field. In consideration of its actual interests, Vietnam cancelled its 5G cooperation with Huawei and instead announced the launch of its own 5G service. Soon after, Vietnam also signed an agreement with the United States on the cooperative development and utilization of 5G technology. At the same time, Vietnam is also vigorously expanding its territory within ASEAN and expanding its digital information industry. At present, in addition to its domestic network, Vietnam also uses Viettel to operate and control the Indochina optical fiber cable. With the support of the United States, Japan and other countries, it vigorously promotes the “East-West Digital Corridor” project in an effort to integrate related industries in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar into one. A unified Indochina Peninsula market, so as to grasp the advantages of digital information, and occupy a favorable position in future competition.
At present, the business scope of Vietnam’s digital information industry represented by Viettel covers Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, East Timor, Malaysia, Cameroon, Haiti, Peru, Burundi, Tanzania, Mozambique, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Paraguay and other countries. With the development of business, Viettel has further expanded its tentacles to Brunei, Thailand, the Middle East and the hinterland of Africa.
It is worth noting that the overseas expansion targets of Vietnam’s digital information industry are all concentrated in low- and middle-income developing countries. Most of these countries belong to the countries on the “Belt and Road”, which is along the key areas of competition faced by Chinese companies going global. Viettel’s expansion in these countries is sure to become a competitor of Chinese companies. In particular, the “East-West Digital Corridor” project has a deeper background of US-Japan intervention and a strong strategic nature, and it also requires China’s attention.
(The author is a professor at the China and Neighboring Countries Research Center of Fudan University)
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