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Vietnam won't become a cat's paw for US

By Wang Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-08 15:11

US President Joe Biden leaves from the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, US, Sept 6, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Vietnam from Sunday to Monday, ostensibly as part of Washington’s strategy to leverage Hanoi to counter Beijing’s influence in the region. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sept 1 that he looks forward to President Biden’s historic visit to Hanoi to celebrate all (that) the two countries have achieved together and to plan for their shared future.

What kind of “shared future” does the US administration want to build with Vietnam during Biden’s “historic visit”? It may be disappointing for Washington, but “a marriage of convenience” with the US is something Vietnam is unlikely to be interested in. Despite Vietnam having disagreements, even disputes with China, such a “marriage of convenience” will not happen for some basic reasons.

To begin with, Vietnam-China relations have a long history, much longer than the whole of American history. Vietnam cannot join hands with the US and go against China based on just some strategic calculations. For decades, Vietnam has attached great importance to its healthy relationship with China. The diplomatic priority Hanoi accords to Beijing will prevent it from changing its foreign policy, and forming a military or strategic alliance with the US.

Besides, due to its commitment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Vietnam is unlikely to play the role a “little brother” for the US. It is widely believed that ASEAN is crucial for Southeast Asian countries’ development and prosperity. And Vietnam embraces and participates in “ASEAN’s efforts to ensure peace, security, stability, dialogue, and cooperation”. Vietnam knows that by getting involved in the US-China competition or leaning toward one side, it will only harm its own as well as ASEAN’s interests.

Given the feeling of racial superiority some arrogant politicians in Washington have, which prompts them to raise “human rights concerns” here, there and everywhere, except their own country, the US will never accept Vietnam as an equal partner. The derision with which US elites talk about socialism will evidently hurt the dignity of the Vietnamese people because Vietnam is socialist country. This will make it almost impossible for the US to establish closer relations with Vietnam.

Yet we have to admit that the US is now the largest market for Vietnamese exports. According to US data, Vietnam-US trade in goods exceeded $138 billion in 2022, a remarkable expansion from nearly no economic links when ties were established 28 years ago.  .

However, Vietnam is a sovereign country with growing influence in the international arena. It can make its own judgment and decisions, and knows how to best serve its people and promote the policies of ASEAN. But no matter what it does, all indications suggest it will not become a cat’s paw for either the US or China. Rather, it will adopt a much more balanced policy toward the two largest economies in the world.

On Aug 24, roughly a week before Biden’s trip was formally announced, Ambassador Tran Duc Mau made a comment in Hanoi Times on the “historic event” of the Republic of Korea’s move to build “a new era of trilateral partnership” with Japan and the US. He said the move left China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea deeply concerned. From the tough reactions of China and the DPRK, it became clear that the three countries’ ties with China and the DPRK would further deteriorate.

It will not be wise of Vietnam to trade its “traditional friendship with China” for a “shared future” with the US. As Ambassador Tran Duc Mau said, the ROK has already provided a parallel lesson hard to unlearn. No wonder Vietnamese leaders have sought to reassure China that their country’s relations with the US will not hurt Sino-Vietnamese ties.

According to Vietnam News, the 8th border defense friendship exchange between Vietnam and China is scheduled to take place in Vietnam’s northern province of Lao Cai and its neighboring Chinese province of Yunnan on September 7-8. Obviously, the event has been designed to strengthen mutual trust and cooperation between the two Parties, States, and defense ministries.

In sum, although economically motivated to nurture close relations with the US, Vietnam does not get real “long-term” strategic incentives to deepen strategic relations with the US. For this reason, Biden’s visit to Vietnam, like those of previous US presidents since Bill Clinton, may be “historic” but not meaningful or fruitful for the US.

The author is a researcher at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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