The Philippine navy will soon return to a South China Sea island it lost to Vietnam 40 years ago to drink beer and play volleyball with Vietnamese sailors, symbolising how once-suspicious neighbours are cooperating in the face of China's assertiveness in disputed waters.

The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has drawn nearly every navy with a presence in Southeast Asia to aid in the search effort. The United States easily has the biggest and best equipped navy in the Pacific and was fast to participate after the flight carrying 239 passengers and crew vanished from radar on Saturday.

A photo of Greg Kleven, dated April 1967, shows him posing in front of a tin-roofed hooch, wearing an undershirt so stained it matches the sand beneath his feet. In his right hand, he is holding an M-16 rifle. His shaved head is cocked to the left and he's sticking out his tongue in a half smile. The 18-year-old enlistee is three months into his tour of Vietnam in a Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance company, a special operations unit similar to the Navy SEALs. He looks brash and ready to take on any Viet Cong who cross his path.

The Prime Ministers of Viet Nam and Japan reaffirmed yesterday their commitment to comprehensive development of the strategic partnership between both countries. In talks held between Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, the commitment found concrete expression in the latter's announcement of an official development assistance package of around US$1 billion (JPY1 trillion) for the second half of the 2013 fiscal year.

While China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Cuba officially claim to be communist states, the country that adheres most strictly to communist principles, according to Oxford University scholar Robert Service, is North Korea. He should know, he wrote the book on it — Comrades! A History of World Communism. Today, he says, Karl Marx would hardly recognize his manifesto. "In it's original form, it's long been dead," said Service.

Congratulations are in order for CPD as Jay Wang took the helm this fall and began engaging with the public diplomacy community as the new CPD director. As often happens with such beginnings, the focus intuitively turns to the future. I would like to suggest a counter-intuitive move and challenge public diplomacy scholars around the world to explore the contributions of ancient heritages to the practice of public diplomacy.

When Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, meeting with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang, announced the decision to establish the first Confucius Institute, at Hanoi University, Vietnam, the news stirred considerable controversy among Vietnamese intellectuals. Any move by the Vietnam’s communist government that smacks of dependency on China is likely to prompt protest. However, setting up a Confucius Institute, with its overtones of cultural hegemony, may only be distracting the Vietnamese public from more substantial concerns.

The repercussions of poor governance in Vietnam are such that the system of governance and constitutional structure need to be fundamentally changed. Much discussion has focused on a roadmap leading to participatory democracy, market mechanisms free of socialist guidance, rule of law and civil society. The challenge is great, and any transformation will depend entirely on the political willingness of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Observers have been waiting to see if anything will change among its elites.