US-Vietnam relations in Joe Biden’s era: Need time to get closer together

US Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to arrive in Singapore on August 22. She will arrive in Vietnam on August 24 and bid farewell to Vietnam on August 26.

Not long after the Southeast Asian tour with an official visit to Vietnam by the US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin in the last week of July 2021, the US announced that the number two figure of the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris also will visit the region and make an official visit to Vietnam in August.

What signs can be seen from these high-level diplomatic moves of the US in the region and especially with Vietnam, what are the expectations for the US Vice President’s first visit to Asia with a visit to Vietnam? On August 3 from Hanoi, a number of observers of Vietnam-US political and diplomatic affairs shared their views from their own point of view with the BBC.

From Saigon, Dr. Nguyen Thanh Trung, visiting lecturer at Fulbright University Vietnam, director of the Center for International Studies, and head of the Department of International Politics at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Social Sciences) -NV), Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City told BBC News Vietnamese:

The two countries have overcome many barriers in the past in terms of differences in political systems as well as the perception of each other’s roles in peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Vietnam sees the US as it’s largest export market today, an important investor in high-tech industries, a partner who is sincerely healing the wounds of war, a country helping arms weapons and strengthen the defense capacity of Vietnam as a superpower can prevent China’s bold acts that violate international law in the East Sea (South China Sea).

The US sees Vietnam as a country with an important geopolitical position in the region, a populous market with about 100 million people and improved people’s income, a stable political environment, and has an important voice in maintaining international law and order in Southeast Asia.

Although the two countries now have many common interests, the relationship between Vietnam and the US still has a lot of room to promote. For example, how will China behave in the South China Sea or does Vietnam have the capacity to complicate China’s calculus in the South China Sea in the future? What will Vietnam’s role in a stable and prosperous Southeast Asia look like?

These are issues that I think the two sides need time to reach a common point of view. Therefore, I believe that the visits of senior US administration officials to Vietnam are intended to promote common understanding, and gradually build strategic trust.”

From the Institute for Research in Policy, Law and Development, Assoc. Dr. Hoang Ngoc Giao, Director, former Deputy Director of the Border Department of the Government of Vietnam, told the BBC:

Vietnam is a victim of China’s military/non-military acts that infringe upon its sovereignty and jurisdiction in the East Sea.

On the other hand, Vietnamese leaders are under significant political and economic pressure from China. Therefore, every step of approaching military/security relations with the West, especially the United States, should be considered very carefully.

The recent visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Vietnam demonstrates the US’s confidence in encouraging Vietnamese leaders to support the policy of linking regional allies and partners. The elevation of the strategic partnership may have been set by Minister Lloyd Austin with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.”

Would it be more convincing?

General Phan Van Giang, Defense Minister and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Regarding the first official visit to Vietnam within the framework of the two countries’ trip to Southeast Asia scheduled for August this year by US Vice President Kamala Harris, Mr. Hoang Ngoc Giao said:

It is known that the Vietnamese public is happy, and somewhat surprised, when they receive information about the official visit of the Vice President of the United States to Vietnam, less than a month after the visit of the Defense Minister.

I wonder if, after the visit of the Secretary of Defense, as Vice President, Ms. Kamala Harris, will bring more convincing points, so that Vietnam can firmly believe in raising relations with the US, and signing of the strategic partnership.

I think that even though the signing of an elevating relationship may not be reached immediately, this visit may bring preliminary agreements on the roadmap of steps to further strengthen the relationship between the United States and Vietnam. This visit is also an important political symbol of the United States’ commitment to the security and prosperity, independence and sovereignty of nations in the region.

On the other hand, every time the Vietnamese leader has specific agreements and/or steps in relations with the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, India, etc, domestic trust in Vietnamese leaders seems to be increasing in their determination to protect national sovereignty and security.”

The researcher from Vietnam reiterated the opinion of Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the current President and former Prime Minister of Vietnam, who said earlier that the bilateral relationship between Vietnam and the US “will not deteriorate but only get better and better.”

And from Saigon, Mr. Nguyen Thanh Trung said:

Strategic partnership represents the deep cooperation between two countries to achieve common strategic goals, that is, common long-term goals. Therefore, to become a substantive strategic partnership, it is necessary to have a strategic partnership. In my opinion, more changes are needed in terms of security and defense cooperation between the two countries.

We know that at present, the security-defense relationship between the two countries, although much improved, is still reserved in strategic goals.

The cautiousness mainly from the Vietnamese side comes from internal factors as well as external factors, which is China. However, the two countries are striving for the goal of becoming each other’s strategic partners as strategic trust is now being built with regular high-level visits. I hope Vietnam and the US can sign soon to upgrade the current comprehensive partnership to a strategic level.”

Previously, two other news and political observers from Vietnam also expressed their views to the BBC about the US Vice President’s visit to Vietnam, from Hanoi on Monday, Dr. Nguyen Cong Truc, former head of the Vietnam Government Border Board says:

In my opinion, Vietnam’s policy is very clear that Vietnam wants to be friends with all countries or blocs in the region and the world, especially big countries, even with neighboring countries like China. , Japan, Korea, countries in the region such as ASEAN, Australia etc., with Western countries, including the US, Vietnam are also willing to have good relations.

With the United States, if there is a mature need on both sides to upgrade to a strategic partnership, I think that’s okay, as long as the dynamics of that relationship don’t cause tensions and detrimental uncertainties to peace and stability in the region and affects Vietnam and other relevant countries.

In that spirit, I think Vietnam will welcome Vice President Harris’ visit, following the visit of Defense Secretary Austin.”

Also from Hanoi on August 2, Dr. Ha Hoang Hop, senior researcher at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies ̣̣̣ (Iseas – Singapore), said:

“For the US, currently the relationship with the US – Vietnam is at the level of a comprehensive partnership, but there is no word “strategy” so discussions have been since the Obama administration, to the Donald Trump administration. Trump and now the Joe Biden administration have made great efforts to forge a strategic partnership.

Recently, the visit of the US Secretary of Defense, representing the Biden administration as we know it, also mentioned this and came here, during Vice President Harris’ visit to Vietnam, as far as I know. will question this subject.

As former Prime Minister of Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc has made it very clear that for the US, Vietnam’s relations with the US can only get better, there is nothing to deteriorate. With the expectation that Vietnam- US relations from now to the future and through the visit of the Vice President of the United States will continue to be evidence of this trend.” (Translated)


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