China’s Choice: Responding to U.S.-Vietnam Cooperation

Abstract

With the U.S. increasingly playing the role of offshore balancer, Vietnam has the distinct opportunity to move out of China’s shadow and into the global community.

However, China’s historical and contemporary positioning isn’t the only thing driving Vietnamese-U.S. relations. The relationship appears to be more than a reaction to recent Chinese behavior — and it will continue to grow.

In this report, Wikistrat’s Steve Keller argues that China would be much better served if it accepted Vietnam’s drift towards the United States. Any gains that China might see from military or other open conflict with Vietnam would be more than offset by Hanoi going straight into Washington’s open arms.

Click here or on the cover image to download the report.


Strategic Takeaways

  • While confrontation with Vietnam would not be to China’s benefit, it has limited means — short of abandonment of its South China Sea policy — to prevent the country from falling into a loose U.S. orbit.
  • China’s best case is to accept its disadvantage, draw back and subtly encourage Vietnam to use the U.S.-China rivalry to its advantage in the fields of energy, arms, technology and foreign investment.
  • Both powers may be willing to ignore otherwise important issues (democratization, South China Sea disputes) if the perceived alternative is Hanoi going into the arms of the other.
  • If China waits too long before softening its stance, U.S.-Vietnam ties could outlive China’s present South China Sea policy, as the Vietnamese public’s affinity towards the U.S. (and comparative animosity for China) counts towards the establishment of a firmer bond than exists today.
  • The U.S. is indispensable for Vietnam since it is the only one that can push back against China; the alternative for Hanoi is a return to traditional Chinese subordination.
  • Washington therefore cannot expect to dictate terms or strategic interests to Vietnam; such overreach would present a vulnerability which China may exploit.
  • As long as Beijing treads lightly and wields economic incentives rather than military bluster, it should be able to keep a pro-U.S. Vietnam from being anti-China.

Author

Steve Keller

Steve Keller
Wikistrat Senior Editor


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