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‘Soft’ Coercive Diplomacy versus Informal Resistance: Attempts at Deporting ‘Illegal Vietnamese’ from Reunifying Germany, 1990-1995

In: The Hague Journal of Diplomacy
Author: Matthias Maass1
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During the period of Germany’s reunification in the early 1990s, disagreement between Germany and Vietnam over the return of Vietnamese individuals to Vietnam escalated into a diplomatic dispute that also spilled over into Vietnam’s negotiations with the European Union over a major eu–Vietnam treaty. In mid-1995, however, the German and Vietnamese governments finally agreed on a repatriation arrangement that allowed Germany to begin deporting about 40,000 Vietnamese who were living in Germany illegally.

This article explores the episode in the wider context of diplomatic dispute resolution. While Germany was demanding full cooperation from Vietnam on the issue of returning Vietnamese nationals, the Vietnamese government initially resisted large-scale repatriation for economic and social reasons. Hanoi attempted to frame the discussion within bilateral negotiations, economic costs and human rights, whereas Bonn argued from the perspective of customary international law and applied increasingly coercive diplomacy. German authorities escalated the disagreement and made economic threats with the aim of changing Hanoi’s behaviour.

In order to frame this approach analytically, this article uses a modified form of coercive diplomacy. The analysis proceeds in three stages: first, the article analyses the origins of the dispute, which had its roots in German reunification; second, it evaluates the legal arguments advanced by each side; and third, it investigates Germany’s ‘soft’ coercive diplomacy and Vietnam’s response. The article concludes with an evaluation of Germany’s approach, benchmarking 1995’s diplomatic outcome against results on the ground, namely the number of returnees to Vietnam.

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