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Intel Brief on Vietnam - U.S. Diplomatic Ties



Date: 19/09/2023


Who’s involved:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden, Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.





What happened?

  • On 10/09/2023, the U.S. and Vietnam officially upgraded diplomatic ties to the level of ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’. This is the highest level of diplomatic engagement for Vietnam, and matches the relationship it shares with China, Russia, South Korea, and India. The CSP with the U.S. is a profoundly important development, as Hanoi had previously been cautious to upgrade bilateral ties fearing a backlash from China.


  • The US-Vietnam agreement also presents economic opportunities for Vietnam. For R&D development upgrades economic ties with Vietnam in semiconductor manufacturing, where Intel and other U.S. firms have a significant presence. The agreement also helps with the transition of green technology and help develop Vietnam’s domestic R&D sector. The Biden administration said maintaining stronger ties with Vietnam was not an attempt to start a ‘cold war’ with China.


  • On 06/09/2023, a high-ranking official from the Chinese Communist Party and Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong met five days before the U.S.-Vietnam meeting. They discussed developing further bilateral ties in cooperation and development and reinforced their relationship.


  • On 29/08/2023, Vietnam media released rare footage of a Vietnamese fishing boat being harassed and attacked by a Chinese Coast Guard patrol in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.


  • On 10/08/2023, the President of the Philippines, a close security ally of the U.S., met with Vietnam Ambassador Hoang Huy Chung to discuss maritime cooperation against China’s aggressive actions in their respective exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea.


Analysis:

  • China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea have pushed Vietnam to upgrade ties with the U.S.. China’s push for the illegal nine-dash line, which asserts Chinese sovereignty over 80% of the South China Sea, threatens Vietnam’s sovereignty. China regularly harasses fishermen, illegally develops oil rigs in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone, and has built military bases on constructed islands in the South China Sea. The dependence of Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam’s sphere of influence, on China’s economy has made Vietnam worried for its immediate interests.


  • The agreement will likely reduce Vietnam’s dependence on trade with China. The U.S. market provides trade diversification for Vietnam and the country can leverage further technology ties with Intel and other U.S.-based companies to improve digital skills. The country can also leverage the U.S. intelligence capabilities and security ties to build defense capabilities and counterbalance China’s aggressive actions in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.


  • For U.S. strategy, China’s actions toward the Philippines and Vietnam has led to an alignment of interests. However, the aim of the diplomatic upgrade to ‘strategic comprehensive partnership’ with the U.S. is to prevent Vietnam from becoming a battleground between great powers. Vietnam shares the same diplomatic relationship with South Korea, Russia, China, and India. The diversification of relationships reflects how other countries in Southeast Asia are attempting to balance security reassurance from the U.S. without attracting aggression from their dependence on Beijing with a leadership bent on achieving regional dominance.



Conclusion


The upgrade of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam marks a profound shift in the maritime security of the South China Sea. For Vietnam, it presents an opportunity to improve its economy, build defensive capabilities to counter China’s assertiveness, and become a more prominent player in the region. For the U.S, Vietnam could become more of a partner in the South China Sea against China’s push for influence in Southeast Asia. 48 years after the end of the war between the two countries, these are major steps toward reconciliation and strategic realignment in Southeast Asia.


 

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