Behind the Historic Visit of Vietnam’s Leader to Washington

06 July 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Vietnam-US bilateral ties have rapidly developed in the past five years after the US introduced its rebalancing strategy towards Asia in 2009. The reemergence of regional security tensions in the South China Sea in 2010s further strengthened their relationship.
Both countries do not share common values. Vietnam is a socialist country and US is a democratic country. But they share common strategic interests.  Vietnam is striving to diversify its strategic partners. It wants to reach strategic partnership agreements with all the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, UK, and US.
Simmering Tensions
Tensions between Vietnam and China over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, particularly last year’s oil rig crisis, have pushed Vietnam to strengthen ties with the US.
The US’s rebalancing strategy towards Asia focuses on strengthening military alliances, deepening Trans-Pacific economic cooperation, supporting Asean regional institutions, and promoting democracy and human rights.
The US is shifting its Navy forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific to maintain peace and security in Asia and, more importantly, to check the rising power of China. Sixty percent of US Navy forces will be based in the Asia Pacific by 2020.
Strategic Convergence
The South China Sea dispute is a strategic window of opportunity for the US to intervene and claim its regional hegemonic role.
Chinese actions in the South China Sea have alarmed the US and its regional allies. The US is concerned that the movement of its fleets in the region will be restricted.
“The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea,” then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated in 2010 at the Asian Regional Forum in Vietnam.
Last June, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter protested against China’s land reclamation in the disputed Spratly islands.
“There should be an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by all claimants,” Mr. Carter said. “We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features.”
However, China defended that its land reclamation was “legitimate, justified, and reasonable.”
Both the US and Vietnam share common security concerns about China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea, which they regard as a threat to regional peace and stability.
Vietnam-US Strategic Partnership 
In July 2013, Hanoi and Washington signed a comprehensive partnership agreement covering political, economic, science and technology, and defense cooperation. Yet human rights and democracy remain key stumbling blocks in their relationship.
In the last three years, there were high level visits between the two countries. Bilateral strategic trust has been enhanced. Concrete action plans were developed to implement the partnership agreement.
Vietnam joined the US-led negotiation on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in order to reduce its economic dependence on China.
The US has become Vietnam’s important trading partner and source of foreign direct investment. Bilateral trade volume reached $35 billion last year. By the end of last year, the US had invested nearly $11 billion in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Party Chief Visits the US 
From Monday through Thursday, Vietnam’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is taking part in a historically significant state visit to Washington.
This is the first time a General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam has visited the US
The visit is a significant turning point in Vietnamese Communist Party’s foreign policy towards US, and is widely believed to be a counterbalance measure against China.

Deepening Partnership
The visit deepens the comprehensive partnership between the two countries and prepares ground for reaching a strategic partnership.
Secretary General Trong is scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama, exchange views with the representatives from the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, and talk to the House of Representatives and Senate. He will also meet local business leaders and members of the Vietnamese community in the US.

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