Vietnam’s Old New Course: Between China and the United States

Vietnam wants to establish closer economic relations with the United States. However, its economic dependence on China is too strong.

The Communist Party of Vietnam convenes for its congress every five years. This year, the only party in the country was to elect its secretary general and recommend individuals to fill senior positions in the country’s leadership. Senior Researcher at the Center for the Russian-Chinese Relations Studies and Forecasting Vladimir Petrovsky told the Valdai Club about whether or not the outcome of the congress would affect Vietnam’s trade and economic policy, relations between Vietnam and the United States, and the role of the “Chinese factor” in Vietnamese politics.

According to Petrovsky, the 12th Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam has demonstrated the continuity of its policy. “Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong and his entire team were re-elected. Since there were no major personnel reshuffles, there is no evidence that the economic and political course for reforms adopted following the 6th Communist Party Congress in 1986 may change,” the expert said.

Today, many are talking about a rapprochement between Vietnam and the United States, referring to the fact that Vietnam has joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, Petrovsky believes Vietnamese politics and economics are based on multiple vectors, so there may not be a one-sided approach.

“I would not argue that Vietnam wants to establish closer economic relations with the United States. It continues to pursue a balanced policy of maneuvering between China and the United States,” Petrovsky said. Vietnam has achieved great economic success and wants its economy to be export-oriented. “There are no grounds to believe things will change after the congress,” he said.

According to Petrovsky, in its foreign economic policy, Vietnam seeks to create free trade areas and cooperate with various countries and associations. For example, in May 2015, Vietnam signed an agreement on establishing a free trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC), and then said it was willing to participate in the TPP.

At the same time, Vietnam is cognizant of the fact that China dominates the economy of the Asia-Pacific Region and the United States is the other global player there. Vietnam is trying to find its role as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, its economic dependence on China is too strong. “Vietnam is trying to do its best to establish stronger, more productive trade and economic relations not only with China, but also with the United States. When Vietnam joined the TPP, it made a certain move closer to the United States to strike a balance,” Petrovsky said.

With regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the expert believes that both sides are trying to be pragmatic. “Vietnam is seeking to arrange things in such a way that this conflict, which has deep historical roots, has no effect on other areas of Vietnam-China relations. In turn, China values its relations with ASEAN countries, and is also trying to pursue a moderate policy,” Petrovsky said.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.