Vietnam acting as ‘bulwark against China’ only US’ wishful thinking
Published: Nov 02, 2020 09:42 PM

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (center) prepares to leave the hotel to meet with Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in Hanoi on October 30, 2020. Photo: AFP


The Voice of America published an article on Saturday titled "Vietnam gets boost from Western allies in its defense against China," in which it said Vietnam's leadership this year of ASEAN has opened a door to bolster the country's defense against "longtime rival China" through strong relations with the West. 

It also quoted experts who declared that Vietnam was one of the "bulwarks against China." 

The views in this article represent most American political elites' wishful thinking that Vietnam and other ASEAN members would abandon their reciprocal cooperation with China, and devote themselves to the US' anti-China camp. Washington has underestimated these countries' political wisdom.  

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said in August that the US wants to see Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand eventually join an expanded Quad, according to Asia Times. This shows the US ambition to form an "Asian NATO." And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently concluded his Asia tour after completing his surprise trip to Vietnam. Pompeo told Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, "We have enormous respect for the Vietnamese people and your country's sovereignty." 

However, the series of US moves are destined to be in vain. In 2018, Vietnam overtook Malaysia as China's largest trade partner in ASEAN, and China has been Vietnam's largest trade partner for 15 consecutive years. Vietnam is an important country for China to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), especially the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and Vietnam's economy also benefits from the BRI.

Under such circumstances, all countries will consider their own interests instead of abandoning mutually beneficial cooperation and acting as the "bulwark" against China.

China and Vietnam are socialist countries. The US has been suppressing the rise of China, a major socialist power, and Pompeo even called the Communist Party of China a "new tyranny." This would more or less trigger Vietnam's vigilance. After all, for some American political elites, ideological disputes have been deeply engraved into their minds, and their prejudice against socialist countries is difficult to change.

To suppress China, Washington prefers to temporarily downplay such prejudice and try to win over Hanoi. But in the long run, people are also aware that once Vietnam completely turns to the US, ideological factors will be a thorn in their relationship.

The article also mentioned that Vietnam wants "powerful friends as backup" to fend off China's "expansion" in the South China Sea. China and Vietnam have maritime territorial disputes, but this is not the whole picture of their bilateral relationship. The two countries have the ability to manage this dispute and prevent it from becoming a dominant aspect of their relations. 

But some American politicians continue to instigate Vietnam in an attempt to arouse extreme nationalism in the country. Vietnam will come to realize that geopolitical tools will not help reduce maritime disputes. Exercising restraint on the South China Sea issue and peaceful negotiations are the best option. 

Under US coercion, Vietnam and some other Asian countries face increasing pressure to take sides. However, no matter how the US tries to lobby, maintaining cooperative relations with China and the US will still be these countries' first choice. The US tries to continuously expand its sphere of influence and stir up trouble in Asia, and it will only get itself trapped in the end.