In the coming month, US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Vietnam, a Southeast Asian nation with a population of 97 million. Despite a bloody conflict with the US in its history, Vietnam and the US now view each other as strategic partners. The US sees Vietnam as a critical partner in its efforts to contain China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region. This shift in perception is not uncommon for the US, as it has allied itself with communist states in the past when it serves its agenda.
Although both Vietnam and China are communist countries, Vietnam holds historical and nationalistic grievances against China. Vietnam has a long history of struggling to maintain its independence from Chinese dynasties, despite close cultural and economic ties between the two countries. This historical enmity, along with competing claims in the South China Sea, has fueled nationalist unrest in Vietnam against China.
These tensions have not gone unnoticed by the US, which sees an opportunity to exploit the rift between Vietnam and China. The US not only views Vietnam as a potential military counterweight to China, but also as a manufacturing base to replace Beijing. Vietnam’s lower development status and younger labor force make it an attractive economic partner for the US. As a result, the US has been actively expanding its diplomatic presence in Vietnam, including the construction of a new $1 billion embassy compound.
For Vietnam, the relationship with the US is not seen as shameful, but rather as a reconciliation with a former enemy. In 1973, Vietnam effectively defeated the US, leading to the American withdrawal. From Vietnam’s perspective, the US is now the “loser” seeking a closer relationship, which does not pose a threat. However, this does not excuse the past bombings and atrocities committed by the US.
China is now faced with the dilemma of preventing Vietnam from getting closer to the US. Beijing must maintain a path of non-alignment and good neighborliness to keep Vietnam from becoming a strategic threat. While Vietnam may never become a formal ally of the US due to historical political correctness, there are concerns that the relationship could be upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership. President Biden has been actively seeking partnerships and alliances against China, and Vietnam’s inclusion in an anti-China coalition is a possibility.
To prevent this, China must de-escalate tensions in the South China Sea and counter the US-controlled media narrative. Treating Vietnam as a comrade rather than a subordinate neighbor could help China maintain its advantage in terms of ideology and culture. However, the battle for hearts and minds in Vietnam is complex and influenced by geopolitical factors.
In conclusion, the historical conflict between Vietnam and the US has not hindered the current strategic partnership between the two countries. The US sees Vietnam as a potential military and economic partner to counter China’s rise. China, on the other hand, must navigate its relationship with Vietnam carefully to prevent it from drifting closer to the US. The shifting dynamics in the region highlight the complexities of geopolitics and the pursuit of strategic interests.