Secretary of State Clinton with Vietnam Foreign
Minister Pham Binh
Minh, right, and Thailand Foreign Minister Surapong
at ASEAN-U.S. Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July
The largely warm welcome for the 'U.S. return to Asia' is proving
rather disturbing to the Beijing authorities.
America Return to Asia, Vietnam will ‘Feel China's Pain’ (Huanqiu, People’s Republic
Is Washington turning
Vietnam against China by fanning the flames of their territorial dispute in the South China Sea? This strongly-worded editorial from China’s state-run Huanqiu
warns Hanoi that it will suffer unless it reverses course, and that, ‘the only
viable path for Vietnam is to coordinate with China to limit America’s
strategic return to Asia.’
Defense Secretary Panetta with Vietnam Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh in Hanoi, June 4: What is Panetta doing meeting military leaders around the Asia Pacific? China thinks it knows - and is not pleased.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Hanoi on Tuesday
that the United States supports Vietnam's efforts to resolve the South China
Sea issue, but also said that Vietnam needs to do more to protect human rights.
She criticized Vietnam’s “continued detention of activists, lawyers, and
bloggers, for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas." A day
earlier in Mongolia, she said, “We want people in Asian countries during the 21st
century to be not only richer, but freer.”
Clinton's criticism and cajoling of the Vietnam authorities make
the outlines of Vietnam’s developing strategic partnership with the United
States quite clear. Bilateral relations between Hanoi and Washington are more
like a marriage of convenience than a real partnership, and Vietnam will have
to give up its current path of development if it wants to be able to count on U.S.
support, turning ASEAN
into another Philippines.
Politically, Vietnam is like China in miniature, taking a
gradual path to reform in order to achieve the highest possible rate of growth.
Vietnam’s domestic political opposition is less active than China’s and has
formed fewer ties to Western political elites.
However, the penetration of Western values is accelerating
and will profoundly affect Vietnam’s emerging political landscape. Up to now, Vietnam
has had little in the way of anti-government protests. The few that have
occurred have most often been directed at China’s government rather than
Vietnam’s. But that does not mean that the target of such demonstrations will
not suddenly change.
The mainstream of Vietnam society generally favors China's model
of development, and most people feel powerless in the face of the territorial
disputes between the two countries. On the one hand, nationalist sentiment
unifies Vietnamese society. On the other, it poisons political ties with China.
Thanks to the growing nationalist mood, Vietnam is being pushed into the
arms of America, which, while depicting itself as “protector” of Vietnam, also
likes to politically reprimand Vietnam.
Vietnam is not a small country, with a population of 90
million. Subsequently, it seeks to maintain the strategic autonomy of a great
nation. Since its independence from French colonialism, Vietnam has always
required the support of big powers, lacking the capacity to deal with major
crisis on its own.
Hanoi would like to be vindicated in its choice of following
China’s political model, but wants to use U.S. power as a counterweight to Chinese
influence. For such a strategy to succeed, a balance must be struck between
China, the U.S., and domestic political forces in Vietnam. Such a strategy cannot
be sustained for long.
The only viable path for Vietnam is to coordinate with China
to limit America’s strategic return to Asia. The territorial disputes between
our two countries should not lead to outright hostility. Rather than being part
of America’s strategy to contain China, Vietnam should become an Asian bulwark
against U.S. interference in Asia.
Over the past two years, Hanoi, “kidnapped” by the
territorial issue, has been a key party in facilitating America’s return to
Asia. Hanoi must understand in no uncertain terms that the pressure Washington puts
on China will fall on the head of Vietnam. If East Asia is overwhelmed by
political turmoil, Vietnam will very likely be among its first victims
China’s peaceful rise is the cornerstone of stability in
Asia. During her speech in Mongolia on Monday, Clinton, without naming names, made
a wonton attack on China's political system. This shows again that America’s “return
to Asia” in not just military and economic, it entails a subtext of values as
Both China and Vietnam are already moving toward making their
people not only richer, but more liberal as well. Hillary and her colleagues
should save their slogans and instead prove to the world that they are able to
lift the United States and the West out of the financial chaos created on Wall
As America attempts to show its halo to the peoples of Asia,
it certainly hopes that the Hanoi authorities have become its captives. Will
Hanoi jump through the hoops designated by the United States?