But, from Vietnams perspective, what Beijing has hailed as progress in these negotiations is not actually beneficial to Southeast Asian claimants.
For example, many famous stories in Vietnam involve historical figures with mythical proportions that struggled against Chinese imperialismsuch as the Trung sisters who waged a revolt against the Chinese in AD 40 or Ngo Quyen who ended Chinese control of Vietnam in AD 939.
Yet Vietnam and America also have a difficult history to reconcile.
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, What the Chinese Army Is Learning From Russias Ukraine War, Autocracy Versus Democracy After the Ukraine Invasion: Mapping a Middle Way, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center. Hanois preference is to continue to pursue a solution to the South China Sea disputes through diplomatic and legal means for as long as possible.
This shared view coincides with the latest dimension of the great power competition between Washington and Beijing in the wake of Trumps May 2019 ban on Huawei equipment in U.S. telecommunications networks, subsequent steps to tighten these restrictions, and a related pressure campaign to dissuade other countries from using Huawei components.
Many observers see this development as a part of a troubling trend of Xis increasing determination to wield Chinas power unapologetically.
The challenges facing Vietnam have become even more complex in light of how the coronavirus pandemic has visibly weakened the international community and provoked a startling absence of international leadership. In outlining these risks, the white paper does not explicitly identify the country driving these changes.
Washington will remain focused on its own November 2020 presidential election. By 1964, following the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the subsequent Gulf of Tonkin Resolution granting President Lyndon Johnson the ability to take all necessary measures to prosecute a war in Vietnam, the United States became fully involved in the country. China has taken territory in the South China Sea and Bhutan, used its economic leverage to bully countries that criticize it on the world stage, and deployed aggressive rhetoric filled with hyperbole, insults, and conspiracy theories known as Wolf Warrior Diplomacy.. Vietnam had not yet become a part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), nor had it yet normalized ties with the United States, so the country was still suffering from severe diplomatic isolation, very limited aid, and a trade embargo that cut it off from many advanced postindustrial economies.
Beijing predictably extended a friendly hand to smooth things over after the oil rig incident, as the Chinese government has often done after sharp downturns in diplomatic relations.
Across seven decades of formal diplomacy between the current regimes built on the preceding millennia of historical interactions, the neighborly image the two sides seek to project has experienced no shortage of challenges.
After Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power, China became even more assertive in this maritime domain, pursuing expansive reclamation activities, militarizing nearby maritime features that it controls, and sharpening its coercive activities around the sea and the surrounding waters. These are important areas for observing if and how big Chinese tech companies like Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu make inroads in Vietnam on other technology fronts.
The congress will also be decisive in shaping the countrys new national socioeconomic plan for 20212030, as well as other priorities including on foreign policy.
Even as the Vietnamese government has kept diplomatic channels with Beijing open, it has also sought to assert and advocate for its own sovereignty and rights by diversifying its diplomatic partnerships and strengthening its own capabilities.
. While Vietnam itself was not the claimant in the case, the proceedings involving China and the Philippines (and especially the Chinese governments response) still cast a shadow over Beijings ongoing disputes with Hanoi. Normalization, however, did not put all of Beijing and Hanois differences fully to rest.
Vietnams coastline bordering the South China Sea is over 3,000 kilometers long.
How they navigate these choices will be a key barometer for gauging how Chinas neighbors are responding to Beijings growing clout. Hanois reconciliation with Washington and improving relations with other powers are important steps toward containing the threat China poses.
Vietnams leaders face consequential decisions in the coming few years.
Moreover, many other countries view Hanois positioning as important for countering Chinese maritime expansionism.
Domestic changes may be afoot as well. Official state media on both sides reaffirmed that this year would mark an important milestone for the two countries that would deepen their already strong and friendly party-to-party, state-to-state, and nation-to-nation bonds.
You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers. From here, the economic relationship developed rapidly: In 2002 they signed a Bilateral Trade Agreement, and in 2007 the United States assisted Vietnam in joining the WTO and signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
This is especially true of the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has softened his countrys stance on the disputes while courting Chinese investment and other diplomatic gains. Vietnam and China normalized relations at a time when Hanoi was far more exposed diplomatically than it is today.
Accordingly, China and Vietnam have overlapping claims of key shipping lanes, the Parcel and Spratly islands, and the natural resources within these territories.
Beyond the security concerns it has cited, Vietnams domestic 5G network is an important aspect of the nations strategy to harness cutting-edge technologies and expand high-tech domestic manufacturing, two areas of emphasis for Prime Minister Nguyn Xun Phc.
Notably, such a policy goes against Chinas recommendations for ASEANs code of conduct for the South China Sea, which aims to limit regional countries military ties with external powers.
But none of this has deterred China. Hanoi is concerned that the result could be an empty shell of an agreement rather than a meaningful mechanism for dispute resolution, if this so-called diplomatic progress does not coincide with an actual scaling down of provocations.
China has aggressively defended and asserted its claim over its territory, while it has not been shy to publicly tell Vietnam that its claims are illegal.
With its dubious nine-dash line, China has declared ownership over the vast majority of the South China Sea. Several other countries around the world seem to be questioning whether the current path China is taking reflects a continued interest in peaceful coexistence or a penchant for asserting its perceived rights and place of prominence in the international system. As one Nikkei Asia writer put it, Most Vietnamese consider resistance against China to be the continuation of a thousand-year conflict. Put another way, modern-day Vietnamese nationalism defines itself in contrast to China, resulting in much of Vietnamese folklore concentrating on Vietnamese nationals who resisted Chinese rule. Beijings recent aggressive and provocative actions in the South China Sea call into question from Hanois standpoint how committed the Chinese government is to the ostensibly shared goal of solving these disputes peacefully and fairly. In 2012, then Chinese president Hu Jintao voiced his desire to make China a powerful maritime nation.
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Yet these nations are not palatable for China either; They also have contentious relations with Beijing and share the United States support for the rules-based international order and concerns with Chinese ambitions.
As a result, Vietnam has since sought to diversify its network of diplomatic partners and take other precautionary steps to protect its interests. Beijings attitudes and behaviors have shifted many other countries views of Chinamost of all, the United States. And with this visit, weve put our relationship on a firmer footing for decades to come. Following Obamas opening up to the country, which continued under Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, Vietnam has invited the United States to annually anchor multiple aircraft carriers at Vietnamese ports (despite officially only allowing one ship per foreign navy per-year to visit), participated in joint military exercises, invited high-level officials to the country (including a visit by a U.S. secretary of defense every year since 2018), and bought millions of dollars worth of military equipment (including UAV systems and coast guard cutters).
In spite of these differences, Hanoi remains invested in encouraging Washington to stay attentive to issues in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.
The strategic document updated Vietnams Three Nos policy and included a fourth No, denouncing the use of force or threatened use of force to settle disputes.
Despite this legacy, it wasnt long after the war ended that the United States and Vietnam normalized relations, which they did in 2001.
It underscored that Chinas size and power would condition its international conduct more so than any vestiges of ideological solidarity. As a 1998 defense white paper states, Vietnam established guiding principles for its defense policy in the Three Nos: no military alliance, no foreign military bases on its soil, and no aligning with one country over another.
Beijing created the Xisha zone on the Paracel Islands and the Nansha zone on the Spratlys, both of which will be administered by the government of Sansha, a small city built on Woody Island and Fiery Cross Reef that is administratively considered part of Chinas Hainan Province.
Yet Beijings actions continue to demonstrate that China is increasingly less of a cooperative partner and is instead opting to double down on the assertive ways it has handled the disputes with Vietnam to date. The United States is distracted, offering contradictory signals of abandonment and heightened competition with China over the region.
Hanois competition with Beijing over the South China Sea and its threat perceptions over Chinese aggression are central motivations shaping its diplomatic posture. Late that spring, the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) sent the oil rig deep into Vietnams claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
For its part, the Chinese government and state media have labeled Vietnam a troublemaker and made disingenuous claims that Hanoi is acting in bad faith in ways that undermine dispute resolution and signs of supposed progress made in negotiations over a proposed China-ASEAN code of conduct in the South China Sea.
But more recently, we have seen the strategic and military relationship develop furtherwhich can be traced back to May 2016 when President Barrack Obama visited Vietnam.
The South China Sea, while important, will have to compete with many more pressing priorities. This presents an opportunity for Washington to deepen its strategic and military relationship with Hanoian opportunity China does not want to see America capitalize on. Notably, Vietnamese do not view Chinese belligerence in a vacuumit is amplified by the two neighbors long history of profound cultural distrust.
This historical perspective explains why we have seen multiple examples of visceral reactions in Vietnam to Chinese action.
In many ways, Hanoi has been left to bear the brunt of these tensions.
Vietnams relationship with China is complex and often troubled. But with the current intensifying U.S. competition with China, this is also changing.
Hanoi immediately protested this move as a diplomatic provocation and a violation of Vietnams sovereign rights.
These include internationalizing the dispute, handling the matter in a multilateral framework (primarily ASEAN), deterring China militarily insofar as possible, and keeping diplomatic channels with Beijing itself open. The country has high digital potential, given its young and dynamic demographics. These include questions of the South China Sea, on which Hanoi has long refrained from taking formal legal action for the sake of good neighborliness.
And in responding to a hypothetical scenario of being forced to choose sides between the United States and China, Vietnam was the country in the region most likely to choose the United States (85.5 percent), while the median score for the region as a whole was 53.6 percent. There are few signs that Beijing will change its tune dramatically under Xi. The last No would preclude a significant alignment with the United States over China. In developing its own 5G network, Hanoi does not solely aim to keep Huawei out. Nonetheless, U.S. support for democracy and human rights, the Vietnam Wars legacy (namely Agent Orange residue), Vietnams close military relationship with Russia, and Vietnams overall desire to not become dependent on America have been holding the relationship back.
As the Chinese government has grown more assertive and pushed the envelope in its dealings with Vietnam, Hanoi has performed a delicate balancing act with very little margin for error.
This has been a very important development for Vietnam, which had been politically and economically suffering from the effects of Chinas coercion with respect to these maritime resources. As Obama remarked, With our new Comprehensive Partnership, our governments are working more closely together than ever before.
The conflict left behind hundreds of thousands of dead, smoldering villages, and war crimes that created a level of distrust and hatred rivaled by few nation-to-nation relationships. He is currently a feature writer at the Borgen Magazine and an Editorial Intern for the National Interest.
Shortly after Frances expulsion from Vietnam in 1954, the United States began to shift its involvement from passively supporting the French in the First Indochina War to establishing its own military presence there.
Given its history, Vietnam has always been distrustful of being too dependent on larger powers and is, therefore, seeking to balance between the United States and China.
Despite the original terms of the Three Nos, Hanoi appears to be carving out targeted exceptions to expand its freedom of action. If the project succeeds, other countries might consider Vietnams model to be worth imitating, given Viettels investments in telecoms in Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Moreover, Beijing, despite the 2016 tribunals ruling, still adheres to its sovereignty claims based on the nine-dash line and still accuses Vietnam of encroaching on its waters. But any sense of vindication has been short-lived, as China rejected the ruling out of hand and has continued to assert its previous claims undeterred. As a result, Vietnam has deepened its ties with other states, especially South Korea, India, Australia, and Japan.
In this way, Hanoi is communicating its red line. He called Vietnam the single worst [trade] abuser of everybody and once warned it would be targeted next with tariffs after China. Viettel and another Vietnamese network provider, Mobifone, developed and built out the countrys 4G network in partnership with Nokia and Ericsson, though Chinese telecoms including ZTE did help develop the countrys domestic 3G networks.
Vietnam and China have a deeply rooted though sometimes uneasy diplomatic history. Diplomatic breakthroughs on the maritime territorial disputes over the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea have proven far more elusive.
These stories are reinforced by naming streets and buildings after the same historical figures and focusing the grade school history curriculum on Vietnamese struggle against China. [host] foreign military bases on Vietnamese soil. In part, this policy was designed to persuade Beijing that Hanoi would not seek to pose any threat to Chinas periphery. During that tumultuous decade, the two neighbors fought on the land border (in 1979) and on the high seas when China seized what Vietnam calls Gc Ma Reef (also known as Johnson South Reef or Chigua Reef) in 1988, resulting in Vietnamese casualties. The sheer size of the imbalance between the two countries is, of course, apparent, but Hanoi has adopted a mix of soft and hard balancing to manage the power disparity as much as it can.
At the same time, the international community as a whole, even if interested in upholding the principle of peaceful dispute resolution, is significantly distracted too and has been weakened by the pandemic-related economic downturn and its political repercussions.
In this spirit, Xi visited Hanoi in 2015.
During this visit, Obama announced the end of the U.S. arms embargo against Vietnam. Although the incident was eventually resolved and the CNOOC withdrew the oil rig ahead of its scheduled departure, Chinas aggressive posture in the South China Sea has nonetheless motivated Hanoi to seek other ways of alleviating the power imbalance between the two.
In a 2019 poll conducted by the Singapore-based Yusof-Ishak Institute, overall 68 percent of surveyed respondents from ten ASEAN countries thought U.S. engagement in the region under Trump had decreased. Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees. The State Departments July statement has significantly updated the countrys position by explicitly rejecting Chinas claims and supporting Southeast Asian claimants rights to exploit offshore resources. Despite Chinas diplomatic efforts to keep alive a semblance of neighborly cordiality, the relationship has since deteriorated further as Beijings provocative actions have continued and intensified. Vietnams only ally at the timethe Soviet Unionhad just collapsed, and Hanoi was still very much isolated from the rest of the international community.
After that, Chinas control of Vietnam wavered off and on until the French established a French protectorate in Vietnam in 1883.
But, from Vietnams perspective, what Beijing has hailed as progress in these negotiations is not actually beneficial to Southeast Asian claimants.