Is Vietnam moving to join the Quad?

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/20 22:23:39

The first-ever ASEAN-Australia Special Summit came to a close in Sydney on Sunday. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attended the summit during an official visit to Australia from March 14-18. Phuc, with his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, issued a joint statement on the establishment of Vietnam-Australia strategic partnership, in which the South China Sea has been mentioned, albeit in an innocuous way.

Vietnam has frequently attracted international media attention due to its subtle relations with China as a South China Sea claimant as well as with countries including the US, Japan, Australia and India. Given the newly established Vietnam-Australia strategic partnership and Hanoi's recent active diplomatic engagement with the US, India and Japan, some raised a provocative question: Is Vietnam trying to join the Quad grouping - the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes Japan, India, the US and Australia? Or is Vietnam a "shadow member" of the Quad?

The Indo-Pacific strategy has been in the spotlight for a while. It has been used as a leverage against China. But nobody is clear as to the form of the strategy and how a country or region can join it.

India is a part of the Indo-Pacific strategy and a member of the Quad. But there is no Indian official statement saying that the Indo-Pacific strategy, or the Quad, is targeted at China. That the grouping is a joint effort to confront China is merely hyped up by Indian media.

Hanoi is developing relations with Quad members, while at the same time strengthening economic cooperation with China. It has developed warm party-to-party relations and worked with China to tone down the South China Sea dispute. Vietnam is not as provocative as it was two years ago, but has become more adept at striking a balance between China and the US and other influential powers.   

Australia, though a traditionally faithful ally of the US, has enjoyed close economic ties with China. It's for the economic benefits that Canberra has vacillated between the West and China, emphasizing that "Beijing is not a threat."

The Chinese economy has become the powerhouse of the West Pacific. The "China threat" theory is unfounded. Confronting China is not as appealing as cooperating with it. Serving the US in confronting China will bring more harm than good. Therefore, countries in the region have opted for complicated diplomatic gestures that can be interpreted in various ways, making the Indo-Pacific strategy ambiguous.

The US and Japan promoted the Indo-Pacific strategy with a clear aim to counter China. But Australia and India are ambivalent. If Vietnam really wants to become a part of the strategy, it will be more ambivalent.

The Vietnam-Australia strategic partnership is justified as the two sovereign states have the right to define their bilateral relations.

China has maintained comprehensive strategic partnerships with both Vietnam and Australia. We don't need to read too much into Phuc's visit and what came out of it.

 

This is an editorial of the Chinese edition of the Global Times on Tuesday. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: ASIAN REVIEW

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