Desperately Seeking Allies

The US appears to have made at least a modest amount of headway in signing up Vietnam for its Asian NATO after Biden’s recent visit:

Vietnam and the US have agreed to dramatically upgrade their bilateral relations and strengthen defense cooperation, while hailing several major deals worth billions of dollars. The announcement comes amid strained relations between both Hanoi and Washington with China.

In a statement released on Monday following a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Vietnamese leader Nguyen Phu Trong, the White House said that the two countries elevated their relations to ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ status, the highest tier in Hanoi’s hierarchy of bilateral ties, “for the purposes of peace, cooperation, and sustainable development.”

On security, the US and Vietnamese leaders welcomed “further cooperation in defense industry and defense trade in accordance with each side’s conditions,” according to the statement. In addition, the US said that it “is committed to continuing to assist Vietnam to develop its self-reliant defense capabilities.”

Vietnam is more than happy to acquire some outside assistance, and certainly, the Vietnamese diaspora in the USA makes the rapprochement easier in some ways. However, there is no way that the Vietnamese are going to sign themselves up as a Ukrainian-style proxy army in service to the West.

Also, it is the Vietnamese, and not the Chinese, that the other Asian nations have historically feared. As Lew Kwan Yew described it, they are regarded as “the Prussians of Asia” and fundamentally more warlike and aggressive than their neighbors. China, for all its power and population, is generally not feared because the Middle Kingdom has historically been uninterested in anything outside its borders. Even the limited Chinese invasion of Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia in the 1970s was instigated at the repeated request of the other Asian nations, led by Singapore.

The Chinese are not particularly concerned, but neither are they confused about Washington’s intentions.

“Let’s be honest, if there were no China-US tensions, Washington wouldn’t be so interested and have such strong intentions of upgrading its ties with Vietnam to this level,” Lü Xiang, a US studies research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.