In a significant move that has caused unease in Beijing, Vietnam has elevated its relations with the United States and Japan to match its relationship with China. This strategic decision highlights Vietnam’s intention to hedge its bets by seeking economic cooperation with China while aligning closer with the US to counter Beijing in maritime disputes.
Adding to the tensions, President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, are scheduled to visit Vietnam this week. Beijing hopes to use this visit as an opportunity to enhance political trust and economic cooperation with its neighbor.
However, China and Vietnam have been experiencing widening differences on security-related issues, particularly in the highly contested South China Sea disputes. Vietnam’s recent diplomatic upgrades with the US and Japan have only fueled Beijing’s concerns.
China views Vietnam as its largest trading partner in Southeast Asia and a vital gateway to the region. As such, Beijing wants to ensure that Hanoi does not align too closely with the US, which could potentially undermine its influence.
During Xi’s visit, both countries are expected to discuss issues such as a “community of shared destiny” and the upgrade of a railway that would connect Kunming in China to Haiphong in Vietnam. These discussions highlight Vietnam’s cautious approach as it navigates its warming ties with the US and Japan while seeking to maintain political and security guarantees from China.
It is unlikely that Xi’s visit will significantly alter Vietnam’s foreign policy direction. Vietnam will continue its balancing act, prioritizing political and security stability while actively seeking economic cooperation. As long as China does not display overt aggression in the South China Sea, Vietnam will try to maintain good relations with both China and the US.
This visit holds regional significance, taking place shortly after Xi’s summit with US President Joe Biden in San Francisco last month. It further underscores the complex dynamics at play in the region and the ongoing power struggle for influence in the Asia-Pacific region.
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