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Vietnam shows a need to balance relationships between superpowers

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Despite conflicts with neighboring countries prior to the 19th century, Vietnam has been victimized by conflicts of interests between superpowers. Hard historical experience has guided the country's leadership into a kind of “check-and-balance relationship” in its foreign policy. Vietnam's recent diplomatic efforts toward the United States of America, India, and China signal its need to balance the relationships between superpowers.

Vietnam's president's trip to New Delhi in October 2011 deepened strategic and defense ties with the second-largest country in the region. It also expressed its concern about national security, especially as China keeps claiming sovereignty and control over the Eastern Sea of Vietnam. It helps to strengthen the friendship between the two countries and to reinforce, deepen, and add greater substance to bilateral strategic partnerships. With India’s support and defense ties with the U.S.A., Vietnam may have reasons to take on a better role in policy with China, since Chinese ships kept entering Vietnam’s waters and harassing Vietnamese fishermen and the state-run oil exploration projects.

 

 However, Vietnam cannot really take sides with any superpower. Because it is still under Communist rule, the regime has very limited choices.

By ideology, Communist Vietnam would stay close to China for protection, as Communist China is the only country that supports Vietnam with its one-party government system. Moreover, China is too close for comfort but also too close to be in conflict with it.

Communist Vietnam could try to squeeze America for support since it really understands the needs of the United States of America. Vietnamese knows that the U.S.A.’s government will not let Vietnam completely tied to China. It needs Vietnam to be a part of its containment strategy for China. Therefore, the best balanced relationship with the two superpowers for Vietnam is to shake hands with America while keeping a reasonable friendship with China.

Building a friendship with India when both countries are having their own difficulties with China is an important key in Vietnam’s foreign policy at the moment. Vietnam needs a third superpower to develop a better stance in dealing with all of them. Addressing multi-party interests in the region would help Vietnam temporarily resolve its conflicts with the Chinese over territorial issues, at least keeping the Chinese from engaging in further aggressive moves against Vietnam in the Eastern Sea.

When he stated that “China is a country with a growing role and influence in the region and the world. We hope that China's development will contribute positively to peace, stability and development in the region and the world,” Vietnam's president sent a clear signal to China showing its intention to exercise its sovereignty and interests in the region through a constructive and friendly policy.

However, Mr. Truong's desire to “deepen the multi-sided cooperation with Vietnam and work together to satisfactorily settle disputes through peaceful negotiations based on respect for international laws” with China might not be satisfied as he wishes. The Chinese are not willing to change their aggressive policy to control the sea in the far south when they can exploit Vietnam's weakness in defense policy. The great weakness is depending on China for supports to save the regime from democracy movements.

Communist Vietnam's leadership has made efforts to cool down the tension in the Eastern Sea (or the so-called South China Sea). Is it a move to cool down their own citizens, as several protests have been held in Hanoi and Saigon?

Strengthening international ties is necessary for Vietnam, but strengthening the trust of its own people is also a must.

by Nguyen CongBang

Vietnam Populist Party