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When Kamala Harris landed in Vietnam last week, she had already been robbed of the limelight. Just hours before her plane landed, the Chinese ambassador to Hanoi met with the Prime Minister of Vietnam and promised to provide 2 million doses of Covid vaccine — twice the size of Harris’s announcement the next day.
Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy is the most obvious sign of its attempt to slow an unprecedented reconciliation between Hanoi and Washington.
Nearly 50 years after a long and destructive war ended, Vietnam and the United States are building a deeper security partnership. This involves U.S. warships visiting Vietnamese ports, their navy exercises together, and the U.S. equipping and training the coast guard in Hanoi to better protect its economic interests in the disputed South China Sea from China.
China, which has sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and regards the region as its sphere of influence, is fighting back to maintain Vietnam’s neutrality. Hanoi pursues the “Four Nos” policy, that is, non-alignment, no foreign military bases, non-alignment against other countries, and no force or threat of force in international relations. Vietnam’s foreign policy doctrine also points out that there is room for cooperation with other countries that are fighting against it, and there are conflicts of interest even with partners—a concept that requires a balance in Sino-US relations.
But in the face of China’s increasingly tough attitude, Hanoi sometimes tries to change. In 2014, China decided to extract oil in waters claimed by Vietnam, which led to violent confrontations at sea, and tensions began to escalate. Last year, after a Vietnamese fishing boat was hit and sunk by a Chinese Coast Guard boat, the friction became obvious again.
Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst at ASPI, a think tank supported by the Australian Department of Defense, said: “China does not respect good-neighborly and friendly relations and insists on its own propositions. Therefore, it is more difficult for Vietnam to maintain this very delicate balance.” She added that in this Under circumstances, Vietnam’s “presumptions are limited” to avoid alliances.
Hanoi also hinted at this. The Vietnamese government stated in its December 2019 national defense white paper: “Based on the situation and specific circumstances, Vietnam will consider developing necessary and appropriate defense and military relations with other countries.”
Beijing has noticed. Chinese diplomats, government officials and analysts often emphasize the potential of China-Vietnam cooperation and call on Hanoi to adhere to its four no principles. In June, the Minister of Trade of China The following benefits are outlined Strengthen economic exchanges between the two countries.
Beijing also likes describe The ruling Communist Parties in Vietnam and China are natural partners that share ideological values ??and are looking for any plans for the United States to incite regime change.
The problem for Beijing is the Vietnamese public. Vietnamese people have more suspicions about China than any other country in Southeast Asia, and their worries are deepening.
in a Polls According to a report released earlier this year, 90% of Vietnamese said they were worried about China’s growing economic influence, the highest among all countries in the region, and 92% welcomed the influence of the United States, which once again became the highest in Southeast Asia Asian countries.recent Learn Public diplomacy efforts by China and the United States have found that Vietnamese are more receptive to American social media narratives than Chinese.
But this sentiment is unlikely to bring Vietnam into the arms of the United States.
“Vietnam is very careful not to allow relations with China to deteriorate completely,” said Lin Enguo, a senior researcher at the Singapore Institute of International Strategic Studies. She believes that in the next five years, Vietnam will not elevate its security relationship with the United States to what it calls a “strategic” level—it may be the strongest without an alliance.
The core reason is economy. Compared with the United States, Vietnam is more economically dependent on its neighbor and its largest trading partner, China. Experts say that this situation may change as the United States re-engages in the TPP, the Donald Trump administration withdraws from regional trade agreements, and as part of the reorientation of the US supply chain from China, it strives to bring more investment to Vietnam.
“The United States has successfully strengthened its relations with Vietnam, and if it plays well, it will continue to be able to do so. But there is not much economic strategy,” Guo said. “This has weakened the overall contact between the United States and the region, and they need to solve this problem.”