Analysis: Vietnam, A Key Piece of America’s IndoPacific Strategy
The strategic relationship between the United States and Vietnam has seen a significant transformation since the Cold War era. The recent meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, elevates the U.S.Vietnam relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, marking a paradigm shift in bilateral engagements.
The Complexity of Past Relations
The relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam has a complex past due to the Vietnam War. Vietnam has been cautious in forming strategic partnerships given its tumultuous history with the U.S. and its relations with China and Russia.
Example: The Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Vietnam and the Soviet Union in 1978 signaled Vietnam's alignment with communist states, contrasting sharply with U.S. interests.
The Changing Tide
Vietnam is currently one of the U.S.'s leading regional partners in the IndoPacific. The value of trade in goods and services between the two nations exceeded $138 billion in 2022.
Example: The IndoPacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) was launched by the U.S. in May 2022, with Vietnam as a founding member, thereby reviving Washington's economic engagement in the AsiaPacific region.
Current Policy Focus
Bolstering Bilateral Ties
The U.S.Vietnam relationship is rapidly expanding with a focus on various sectors including political trust, science, technology, health, and climate change.
Example: Visits by highranking U.S. officials like Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris in 2021 highlighted the importance the U.S. places on its relationship with Vietnam.
Addressing China's Assertiveness
China's growing influence and assertive actions in the South China Sea have been a cause of concern, nudging Vietnam to strengthen its defence and security relations with the U.S.
Example: China’s placement of oil rigs in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone in 2014 compelled Vietnam to reconsider its foreign policy stance, providing an opportunity for the U.S. to deepen its strategic engagement.
The Economic Front
Friendshoring Supply Chains
A significant aspect of the U.S.Vietnam strategic partnership involves friendshoring supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry.
Example: The U.S. seeks to enhance Vietnam's chip manufacturing capabilities, aiming to diversify its supply chain.
Future Economic Collaborations
Both countries are looking to broaden their economic partnership by focusing on investments in critical technologies and Artificial Intelligence.
Example: India's initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) with the U.S., along with the Quad's Principles, could provide a framework for standardizing technology across the IndoPacific, involving Vietnam.
The U.S.Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership is a milestone in international relations, reflecting a significant geopolitical shift. The partnership holds the potential to redefine the IndoPacific strategy, especially in light of the complex dynamics involving China. The collaboration is expected to grow across multiple dimensions, including economics, defense, and technology, strengthening the U.S.'s strategic foothold in the region.