Power, money, and “banana” diplomacy

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan in Hanoi on August 25, 2021.

Outsiders believe that Vietnam’s diplomacy is low-key through the reception of US Vice President Kamala Harris in late August. In fact, Vietnam knows what the Biden administration needs at the moment, but because it is in a position of not being able to “resist China,” it has to “evade” the essential requirement during Ms. Harris’s visit. Although the two sides have reached many agreements, if Vietnam continues its current swinging policy, will the upcoming opportunities become challenges in the new era?

China threatens Vietnam

All press at home were ordered to reprint the official statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to which, “in an atmosphere of openness and mutual understanding,” Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh received the Chinese Ambassador to Vietnam in the Government office in Hanoi on the afternoon of August 24, 2021. But the content placed at the end of the announcement is the tip of the iceberg. Ambassador Xiong Bo declared “China is ready to coordinate and soon complete a number of key cooperation projects, including the Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway.” At the end of the session, Xiong Bo also “compensated” with another promise: “We will work with Vietnam to well control disagreements and properly handle the problems…” [1]. The Chinese ambassador has carried out his mission to “smear” Vietnam in the eyes of the international community by forcing the Vietnamese government leader to receive him and issuing a statement that reduces the significance of the visit of the US Vice President.

Observers must immediately ask the question, the Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway line has a length of 13.5 km, started in October 2011, what is the hurry that Xiong Bo has to knock on Pham Minh Chinh’s door at the time he was preparing to welcome the national guest? This is the route No. 2A invested and built with China’s ODA loan. The Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway was approved in 2008 with a total investment of more than VND18 trillion ($868.04 million) in which, the Chinese loan is more than VND13.8 trillion. After 8 times of adjustment, broken progress, doubled expenditures, so far the project has not been put into operation. According to experts, it is ironic that the Chinese Ambassador to Vietnam thinks that it is a symbol of the friendship between Vietnam and China. In fact, this is a golden weapon for China to control, creating economic problems not only for the leaders of Hanoi, but also for the entire Vietnamese people, who have to pay taxes to pay for that friendship [2]

What Vietnam’s leaders fear most in the Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway case is that China may publicize huge bribes that lead to the project progress failure, as well as the real reason behind why it has not been completed until now. According to PhD senior economist Le Dang Doanh, China is a “master of bribery” with real money so that their business can win bids in many projects. According to experts, winning bids in other projects of Chinese enterprises is the same. An anonymous insider source said that China is willing to give commission at least 30% in “fresh money” [3]. To put it simply, the lowest, 30% of the above $700 million would involve how many “source leaders” over all that time. It is too dangerous, if not to keep the seats for the comrades whose “side” has not been revealed yet “lays in many straws!”

Do not think too far about the Chengdu agreements or the high-level oaths of “similar culture and political doctrine, interrelated destiny…” between the two regimes in Hanoi and Beijing! Both are much more practical than people think. If Vietnam does not “adequately handle” China’s specific requests on the occasion of the US Vice President’s reception in particular and the entire policy of “closer to America and away from China” in general, the consequences will be incalculable for the current leadership in Hanoi which has just sworn. The story of Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway is just one of the ultimatums drawn from many chess positions, “shaking the tree to scare the monkey” which is already designed so that when needed, they would sacrify both senior leaders and lower-ranking officials. The so-called “relative destiny” is sometimes not a lofty ideology, much less for the sake of the nation, it’s just an individual’s position, power and money of the group through the “huge” bribery cases that China used to bully Vietnamese leaders.

However, if they are willing to let Beijing threaten one-way, the Vietnamese leaders themselves will fall into a situation of “double fear.” They would be under pressure from China to accuse them of taking money for bribes, on the other hand, they are afraid of both the reaction of the people and the factions that are opposing them. In fact, according to observers, Beijing has long been “covering up” hidden business deals as well as conflicts in the East Sea and wants to use many cards to bargain, forcing Hanoi to compromise. But the more humbly Hanoi is, the more China will gain, so much so that both the leadership of Beijing and Hanoi are also afraid that if the “junior” is pressed too hard, the Vietnamese leader may lose legitimacy. That’s not to say, they may be beaten by the factions themselves within the party, just for the sake of power and money, overthrow in the form of royal revolutions. [4].

Why is Hanoi “paralysed“…

Not only Pham Minh Chinh, all Vietnamese leaders are like a frog meeting a snake, when face with China’s policy of “sticking the wheel” with respect to

Vietnam – America relations as well as other major policies related to internal politics or diplomacy. Nguyen Phu Trong himself, since December 2015, when he was preparing for the congress, once comforted his subordinates: “If we had had a clash (with China), how unstable is the situation now? Can we sit here and discuss the party congress?” For Nguyen Phu Trong, organizing the party congress must of course have a higher priority than national independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity! But after being condemned by the public, during a meeting with voters on the morning of March 24, 2021, General Secretary cum State President Nguyen Phu Tring was forced to confess, “There were incidents in the East Sea, the relations between the West , the southwest handles very delicately, very wisely…” But can “tactiness” and “skill” be able to hide forever from the people?

During her visit to Vietnam and Singapore (August 22-26), Vice President Harris twice condemned Beijing’s “coercion” and “intimidation” actions towards neighboring countries. Ms. Harris made a call to Vietnam to join the US in fighting those “bullying” acts of China. The Vice President also did not hesitate to unilaterally propose to upgrade the US-Vietnam comprehensive partnership to a strategic partnership.

Unfortunately, Ms. Harris’s strong call is like “stones thrown into the pond.” The Vietnamese leadership has been neutralized by China, has lost the ability to react in the fragile balance between the current fierce Sino-American competition.

In fact, China has paralyzed the Vietnamese leadership in two ways. First, Beijing always pretends that the security rift between the two countries China-Vietnam is insignificant, in order to reduce the convergence of interests between the US and Vietnam on issues in the sea and islands as well as in the region. China always forces Vietnam to adhere to the “four nos” policy, which is actually the birthplace of “boiled frog syndrome” which is gradually heated to the point of boiling, it is too late. Second, China always emphasizes ideological values, the “vine leaves” of the community with a common destiny between the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of Vietnam, regularly warns Hanoi about a “color revolution” backed by the United States, in efforts to keep Vietnam away from US diplomatic upgrading campaigns. An examination of what the Chinese media and academics have heard in recent years reveals the purposeful nature of this disruptive strategy.

Vietnamese leaders are well aware of how important Harris’s arrival in Hanoi was to the United States. In other words, because of the “riot” in Afghanistan, naturally, Vietnam was pushed up “a few prices.” If his hand is high, on the one hand, Pham Minh Chinh will continue to receive Xiong Bo in case he issues an ultimatum, on the other hand, as a self-governing country, Ba Dinh’s leadership can completely organize a meeting for the American Vice President deservedly. At least roughly the same level as the island nation of Singapore shows (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong invited, held talks and held a joint press conference with Ms. Harris). Unfortunately, before the flight left Hanoi, Ms. Harris was forced to hold a press conference by herself at the US Embassy. There, the Vice President still gave the Vietnamese people warm feelings and promised to meet again. She left Vietnam without even a joint statement. However, she still brought back to the US the never-ending hope of ordinary people in Saigon and Hanoi that she had not had the opportunity to meet due to the Covid pandemic, about a bright future for US relations. – Vietnam.

The US does not put Vietnam in a difficult position

Outsiders said that the Politburo of Vietnam had recently “lost the Chinese mind” in the reception of Vice President Kamala Harris. Recalling July 2015, for the first and only time, the US President received the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam in the Oval Office according to the ceremony for the head of state (Even though Nguyen Phu Trong was not yet in the Presidential chair). Mr. Biden, Vice President, organized the state dinner. At the end of August 2021, when the Vice President of the United States went to Vietnam, the General Secretary disappeared, Mrs. Harris left Hanoi without a trumpet or a drum. Public opinion considers it “banana” diplomacy, crude and bizarre. However, insiders understand that cowardice and ugliness are just the tip of the iceberg. Vietnam knew what the Biden government needed, but if it had “resisted China” on August 24, the Ba Dinh leader would easily lose both his lead and his fishing net.

The above tricks of Vietnam under pressure from Beijing did not bother the Americans. Forcing Hanoi to treat the US Vice President badly, but the Ba Dinh wing still volunteered to “obey“, but the Americans did not bother. The American superpower is broad-minded and very strategic. Knowing the leadership of Vietnam for many reasons, always having to be wary of a rough and wolf-like China, the US did not put Vietnam in a difficult position. The US has prepared the “Action plan to strengthen the US-Vietnam comprehensive partnership” in almost all fields, bilaterally and multilaterally, long before Ms. Harris arrived in Hanoi. Not coincidentally, right on the morning of August 25, while Ms. Harris held talks with Nguyen Xuan Phuc, then in the US it was only the morning of August 24, the White House “unveiled” “Action Plan” mentioned above. This document reveals the announcements and exchange contents of Ms. Kamala Harris in Vietnam, and at the same time demonstrates the strategic vision of the US on relations with Vietnam.

This “action plan” from the very beginning affirmed that the Vice President’s visit demonstrates the deep commitment of the United States not only to the region, but first of all to the US-Vietnam relationship. In bilateral meetings with Vietnamese leaders, Vice President Harris reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to help a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam, as well as free and open Indo-Pacific region, strong and self-sufficient. The long-term American vision in this plan is obviously in the national interest. “We know that maintaining and strengthening these partnerships has profound implications for the American people. And that’s why, in the years to come, we’ll come back, time and time again, as we move on and chart this next chapter in our partnership, together. beneficial,” said Ms. Harris at the press conference.

The strategic synergies between the US and Vietnam could linger. “I believe this trip signals the beginning of the next chapter in the relationship between the United States and Vietnam,” Ms. Harris told reporters. But lasting doesn’t mean forever. Once the US-China relationship requires compromise as it has historically done, the US-Vietnam strategic resonance will also change. Vietnamese strategic planners must have foreseen that danger. Therefore, the time to implement the above “Action Plan” is limited, they will have to take full advantage of the unique opportunity. It must become a mid-range power for Vietnam to be able to survive and develop in the Indo-Pacific space to be able to meet current and future challenges, together with the United States and its allies in the region. inter-regional.

Vietnam has repeatedly let favorable opportunities slip out of hand. If the policy of “three nos” and “four nos” is continued, will opportunities become challenges in the new era? Will Vietnam at that time still have the current geopolitical position to “optimize” its advantages?

Thoibao.de (Translated)

Source: https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/news/blog/power-money-and-blunt-diplomacy-09032021142256.html

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