Vietnam-US ties enter new phase after Biden visit

What does the newly strengthened partnership mean for the Untied States and Vietnam — and how does China view their reinforced alliance?

The United States and Vietnam signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership” during US President Joe Biden’s 24-hour visit to the Southeast Asian country.

Washington and Hanoi — former adversaries — only resumed diplomatic relations in 1995, two decades after the end of the Vietnam War.

Since then, bilateral trade has grown to the tune of $138 billion (€129 billion) a year.

Diplomatic milestone

For Vietnam, the upgraded relationship is significant. The US will be added to a small but illustrious list of strategic partners — that also includes China, India, Russia and South Korea.

Washington is Hanoi’s most important trading partner after Beijing — and the United States is Vietnam’s largest export market.

Biden’s visit prompted fresh partnerships and business deals between the two countries, something that was welcomed in Vietnam, said Hanh Nguyen, a research fellow at Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies (YCAPS).

“The Communist party in Vietnam wants to turbocharge the economy with technology investments, such as in semiconductor industry, to capitalize on concerns over Taiwan tensions,” Hanh told DW.

“Therefore, strategic cooperation might help Vietnam to maintain its access to US consumer markets.”

Countering China’s growing assertiveness

Many see the Washington’s strengthening ties with Hanoi as part of a US campaign to counter Chinese influence.

However Biden said on Sunday that their agreement was not aimed at containing China — but rather to create stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

The United States is principally focused on deepening ties with other members of the so-called Quad strategic alliance that also includes Australia, India and Japan, said Ali Wyne, a senior analyst at Global Macro Geopolitics at Eurasia Group, a geopolitical consultancy headquartered in New York.

“To demonstrate, however, that it is invested in the entirety of the region, it is increasingly working in parallel to shore up ties with ASEAN members, which are generally warier of embracing strategic competition with China,” added Wyne.

Territorial row over the South China Sea

Biden’s visit to Hanoi came amid ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea between Beijing and Indo-Pacific countries — including Vietnam.

Increased tensions between the Philippines and China have seen confrontations between Philippine supply ships and the Chinese Coast Guard.

The altercations have seen Manila tighten military ties with the US in efforts to protect its maritime security concerns.

Communist allies

Nevertheless, Hanoi is strategizing for its own benefits and isn’t looking to side with the US in its tensions with Beijing, according to Bill Hayton, an associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House, a think-tank in London.

“Many in the US are deluding themselves into thinking that Vietnam will become a partner in a contest with China,” Hayton told DW, adding that Vietnam has no intention of playing such a role — a view echoed by Hanh Nguyen who said that Hanoi is hedging its relationship with both US and China.

“Vietnam wishes to maintain an equidistance between China and the US, to get the benefits from both partnerships and avoid having to take sides,” Hanh said.

Meanwhile, according to Joel Atkinson, a professor of East Asian international politics at Seoul’s Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, China’s state media made a special point of emphasizing that even though the Vietnam-US relationship has been raised to the “comprehensive strategic partnership” level it falls short of China’s party-to-party “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Vietnam.

Edited by: Keith Walker

Author: Tommy Walker

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