On July 29 in Hanoi, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sought to deepen defense security ties with Vietnam as both countries monitor China’s activities in the South China Sea (Vietnam calls it the East Sea) in a state of increasing alarm. However, Mr. Austin did not ask Hanoi to choose sides between countries.
Although the US and Vietnam have closer military ties, the administration of President Joe Biden says there are limits to the relationship until Hanoi makes progress on human rights, Reuters news agency reported. know.
Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and has received US military hardware, including coast guard ships.
Before his meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart in Hanoi, Mr. Austin said the US did not ask Vietnam to choose between countries.
“One of our central goals is to ensure that our allies and partners have the freedom and space to build their own futures,” Austin said.
He did not mention China, but in Asia there is a perception that China is causing countries to choose between Beijing and Washington, as tensions rise between the two great powers, still according to Reuters.
After meeting with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Minister Austin wrote on Twitter: “We discussed a strong bilateral partnership and I emphasize that the US supports Vietnam to become strong, independent and prosperous.”
Greg Poling, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington, told Reuters: “(Vietnam) wants to know that the US will continue to engage in military, continue to be present in the South China Sea.”
The two sides have signed a “memorandum of understanding,” under which Harvard and Texas Tech University of the US will create a database to help the Vietnamese search for people missing after the war.
“The two sides exchanged artifacts and information to assist in the search, excavation and identification of missing military personnel, and the US side officially expressed its commitment to a program to support Vietnam’s search for remains of soldiers,” the US Embassy in Vietnam said on Facebook on July 29.
There are still limits to the US’ willingness to deepen ties before Vietnam improves its human rights record. Vietnam has undergone sweeping economic reforms and social change in recent decades, but the ruling Communist Party retains a tight control over the media and is less tolerant of dissent, according to Reuters.
In Singapore on July 27, Mr. Austin said the US will always lead with its human rights values. “We’ll discuss those values with our friends and allies everywhere we go, and we don’t hesitate about that,” he said.
This month, Mr. Marc Knapper, who was nominated by President Biden as the next US ambassador to Vietnam, vowed to boost security ties but said the two sides can only reach their full potential if Hanoi has made significant progress on human rights.
Vietnam’s state-controlled media reported that Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shared views on the importance of respecting the legitimate rights and interests of coastal states, settling disputes peacefully as well as maintaining a peaceful, stable, secure, safe, orderly and free environment of aviation and navigation in seas and oceans in accordance with international laws.