China looms large over Biden’s trip to Vietnam
China looms large over Biden’s trip to Vietnam: President Joe Biden’s visit to Vietnam this weekend may be brief, but it has significant consequences for American attempts to counter China.
Vietnam, a one-party communist state bordering China, has emerged as one of the United States’ most crucial allies in Southeast Asia, a country on the front lines of the world’s two greatest economies’ battle.
Normalization of ties between Washington and Hanoi occurred in 1995, 22 years after the conclusion of US participation in the Vietnam War, and the two countries have been “comprehensive partners” since 2013. During Biden’s visit, the partnership is anticipated to be upgraded to “comprehensive strategic partner,” Vietnam’s highest level of diplomatic cooperation, placing the US on pace with China, Russia, India, and South Korea.
According to Alexander Vuving, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, the improvement represents a significant diplomatic triumph for the United States.
“It sends the message that the United States is capable of attracting many important countries in the region, including Vietnam, which is ruled by the Communist Party and is considered close to China,” he added.
China has gained influence in Southeast Asia in recent years, according to Vuving, notably in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. He said that the improved US-Vietnam relationship “to some extent redresses the regional balance of power.”
Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific affairs coordinator, has labeled Vietnam, a nation of around 100 million people, as a regional “swing state.”
This is due in part to the fact that the United States and Vietnam “share a common commitment” to opposing Chinese hegemony in Asia, according to Vuving.
Vietnam wants to “benefit from the Chinese market, from trade with China, but at the same time they want to reduce their vulnerability to China,” he said.
Vietnam is vital to the United States, both economically and strategically.
According to the Census Bureau, it surpassed Britain as the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner last year. Meanwhile, the United States is Vietnam’s most important export market.
According to the National Tourism Bureau, the United States was also Vietnam’s second-largest supplier of visitors last year, after only South Korea.
Vietnam, Asia’s fastest-growing economy last year, aspires to be the next global semiconductor powerhouse, and its electric car sector is expanding. VinFast, a Vietnamese EV manufacturer, is suddenly one of the world’s most valuable auto businesses, after to a U.S. market debut last month that saw its worth surge beyond that of Ford and General Motors.
Vietnam is also becoming an increasingly significant destination for US investment, particularly as the trade conflict between the US and China forces some American firms to shift sections of their manufacturing operations.
“Vietnam will become an increasingly important link in the global supply chain,” said Le Hong Hiep, a senior scholar in Vietnam studies at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
Washington, which eased an arms embargo on Vietnam in 2016, sees it as a prospective market for weapons and military equipment as Hanoi seeks to minimize its dependence on Moscow.
According to analysts, the United States regards Vietnam as a key strategic partner in its quest to contain China’s ascent, notably its vast claims in the South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway through which billions of dollars in commerce flows each year.
According to Matthew Pottinger, who served as the Trump administration’s deputy national security advisor, Biden’s brief trip to Hanoi is likely designed as a signal to Beijing.
The Biden administration is “putting pressure” on China by strengthening relations with Vietnam, he claimed in an interview with NBC News.
“It demonstrates that the administration understands what’s going on here,” Pottinger added.
In some ways, the United States has been an “ardent suitor” of China, he noted, sending a succession of top officials to Beijing in an attempt to strengthen relations.
“To torture the ‘ardent suitor’ metaphor, the United States is also ‘dating around,” Pottinger added. “We’re trying to make this other side jealous as well.”
Hiep, on the other hand, said that Biden’s visit to Vietnam is not just about China. He said that the two nations had a “enormous interest” in cooperating on matters such as trade, investment, technology, and climate change mitigation.
“It’s true that China has a role to play in all of these developments,” he added, “but it’s only part of the picture.” “There are other, more important things to consider in this evolving partnership.”
According to Hiep, Hanoi and Washington are unlikely to discuss China in reference to their improved ties, especially since Vietnam seeks to maintain a balance in its interactions with the two nations.
China has cautioned the United States against exploiting its relationships with specific Asian nations to attack a “third party.”
“The United States must abandon the zero-sum game and Cold War mentality, adhere to the basic norms governing international relations, refrain from targeting any third party, and avoid undermining regional peace, stability, development, and prosperity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Monday during a regular briefing in Beijing.
Advocacy organizations have encouraged Biden to use his visit to highlight Vietnam’s deteriorating human rights record and to fight for the release of over 150 political detainees.
The State Department placed Vietnam on its special watch list for violations of religious freedom last year, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in a report released Tuesday that, while Vietnam had made some progress in the last decade, a recent crackdown on civil society and increased violations of religious freedom indicated a “clear reversal in that once-positive trajectory.”
Human rights seem to have taken a “back seat” in the United States’ fight with enemies such as China and Russia, according to Hiep.
“The United States now appears to prioritize strategic interests over value considerations,” he added, “so they have continued to pay attention to Vietnam’s human rights record, but they appear to adopt a less critical approach.”
Enhanced regional connections
The region was disappointed that Biden, who arrived in India on Friday for the Group of 20 countries’ annual summit, chose to forgo a conference of Southeast Asian leaders in Indonesia this week after attending the event in Cambodia last year. Instead, Vice President Kamala Harris represented the United States at the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in her third visit to the area.
Both ceremonies were anticipated to be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The White House disputes that the Biden administration has been inadequately involved in the area, pointing out that Biden was the first president to welcome ASEAN member nations at the White House last year. At the Cambodian summit last year, the United States and ASEAN elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
“I would argue that America’s commitment to, and relationship with, ASEAN and its member states has never been stronger,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, telling reporters on Thursday.
Hiep said that the United States’ role in Southeast Asia has increased in recent years, particularly during the Biden administration. He cited Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as well as measures to enhance relations with nations like the Philippines, which consented to a larger American military presence this year.
While the United States has a soft power and popularity advantage over China in most of Southeast Asia, the region generally views China as the dominant economic power in Asia, according to a comprehensive polling analysis released last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
According to the research, the gap in economic influence is expanding in favor of China, which is the main trade partner for all ten ASEAN member countries and the largest investor for the majority of them. However, rising regional worries over China’s language and actions are opening up chances for the US to improve connections, according to the report.
“To meet the moment,” the study added, “Washington should advance a positive political, security, and economic agenda.”
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