After four years of steadily strengthening U.S.-Vietnam security relations under the Trump administration, the presidential transition to Joe Biden naturally carries some measure of uncertainty for Hanoi. Early signs from the Biden administration, however, are extremely positive for Vietnam.
Although there are valid reasons to question the trajectory of U.S.-Vietnam relations in the coming years, the overwhelming momentum is positive and is likely to stay that way. Any frictions that arise will probably be handled diplomatically to avoid greater damage to the relationship. But of course, nothing is guaranteed.
Over the last few years, tensions between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea have remained high. While the Biden administration is likely to continue positive momentum in bilateral ties, it is less clear what specifically Hanoi seeks from Washington to help it effectively deter Beijing.
This report explores Vietnam's perspective on rising U.S.-China competition by evaluating how Vietnam is responding to U.S. and Chinese influence in diplomatic and political, economic, and security and military domains.
The wide range of Chinese activities with Cambodia and Laos must be jarring for Vietnamese leaders. China has eclipsed Vietnam in Indochina, and that means that Hanoi's angst will only continue to rise in its own backyard. Vietnam will likely have to find alternative means of engaging Cambodia and Laos to combat Chinese influence in this critical region in the years to come.
With talks between the United States and North Korea at a standstill, U.S. policymakers must consider what the regime might do next and know what signs or decisions to look for. Will Kim open the DPRK economy? What if conventional deterrence fails on the Korean Peninsula? And what could lead to the use of nuclear weapons?
The South China Sea is where the rubber meets the road for U.S.-Vietnam security ties, and in this regard, Hanoi has gone as far as it is comfortable. Washington should expect Vietnam to continue seeking balance between China, which has economic and military superiority over it, and the United States, which can help offset Chinese power.
Once again, Chinese assertiveness against Vietnam in the South China Sea is on the rise. Vietnam has publicly protested each Chinese move, but these statements have yet to alter Beijing's bad behavior. Among its many options, Hanoi could look to Washington for further assistance.
The “Quad” countries met with several non-Quad countries to help each other amid the coronavirus pandemic. For all the good that can come of these countries working together, the Quad Plus, if sustained, may eventually jeopardize the Quad's primary mission: to counter China's assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
China's armed fishing militia plays an instrumental role in Beijing's strategy to enforce its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. Why did Beijing create a maritime militia to begin with and how has it evolved over time? What does this history suggest about its future?
In early March, the United States sent an aircraft carrier to Da Nang, Vietnam, in a display of goodwill and deepening security ties between the former adversaries. China is well aware of U.S.-Vietnam moves, and yet its public reaction to the USS Theodore Roosevelt can be summed up in one word: unfazed.
Vietnam's latest defense white paper is full of warnings to China and opportunities for the United States. Washington needs to reassure Vietnam that the United States is committed to the relationship by deepening existing military exchanges, which will give Vietnam greater confidence to stand up to China when the time comes.
While many issues warrant attention in 2020, two that should be near the top of Asia-watchers' lists are Taiwan and Vietnam. Both are on the front lines of Chinese coercion, and their ability to respond, either with or without American support, will set the tone in the Indo-Pacific well beyond 2020.
With the standoff between China and Vietnam at the disputed Vanguard Bank ended, it makes sense to take stock of how Hanoi's security strategy fared in countering Chinese coercion. It may be time for Vietnam to consider a careful recalibration to allow for more “struggle” and less “cooperation.”
Key U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific have been strengthening their defense ties with regional actors over the past two decades. To what extent is this a response to the perceived threat of a rising, assertive China? And how will these new commitments affect the United States?
What can Vietnam do now to make Chinese assertiveness against it less likely going forward? Although deepening the U.S.-Vietnam defense partnership in the short-term may be contributing to trouble with China, closer cooperation in the long-run could serve to deter China. Enhancing cooperation with Vietnam's other defense partners—namely Australia, Japan, and India—could help to deter Beijing as well.