In the heart of the Far East, Vietnam emerges as a friend-shoring superstar, boasting a unique blend of economic allure and Communist social discipline. With wages lower than China and academic prowess reflected in impressive Pisa scores on math and science, Vietnam has become a beacon for foreign capital seeking an enticing combination of cost-effectiveness and intellectual capability. Even the chaotic ballet of scooters on Vietnamese streets seems to adhere to a strangely beautiful order, epitomizing the country's disciplined social fabric.
Vietnam's strategic positioning as a safe commercial location amid the Sino-American cold war is drawing attention, with the president of the US Semiconductor Industry Association and tech giants like Intel, Synopsys, Qualcomm, Ampere, and Marvell singing praises during recent visits. Jensen Huang, the head of Nvidia, goes so far as to extol Vietnam as his "second homeland," a sentiment reflecting the country's growing appeal to global tech leaders.
However, recent diplomatic events raised eyebrows as China's Xi Jinping and Vietnam's Communist leader Nguyen Phu Trong engaged in a display of unity and allegiance. Despite Vietnam's reputation as a friend to the West, the terms of the agreement between the two Communist leaders underscore a commitment to the socialist road and mutual support against perceived external threats, notably emphasizing unity on issues like Taiwan independence.
Termed as "bamboo diplomacy," reflecting the sturdy yet flexible nature of its diplomatic efforts, Vietnam seeks to maintain a delicate balance in a complex geopolitical neighborhood. Analysts caution against wishful thinking regarding Vietnam's alignment with the West, emphasizing the paramount importance of the Communist Party's grip on power. Bill Hayton, a Chatham House fellow, dismisses notions of Vietnam breaking ties with Beijing, attributing the diplomatic dance to the Communist Party's quest for social control expertise from its Chinese counterpart.
The Xi-Trong agreement outlines Vietnam's commitment to prioritizing relations with China and opposing any form of "Taiwan independence." It underscores the symbiotic support between the ruling Communist parties of China and Vietnam, with a shared commitment to the "red flag of socialism.
In the intricate dance of international relations, Vietnam's diplomatic moves reflect a nuanced strategy—a commitment to economic partnerships while navigating the delicate intricacies of Communist alliances and ensuring the Communist Party's enduring authority.
The resurgence of solidarity within the Vietnamese Communist Party unfolds against the backdrop of a significant purge, marking a decisive move to cleanse the party of corruption. In the past year, a president and two politburo members, all associated with the "pro-Western" or pragmatic faction, have faced dismissal on corruption charges. The allegations, reaching toxic levels reminiscent of China's pre-Xi purge era, include the extortion of millions from citizens returning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While corruption serves as a legitimate cause for the purge, there are suspicions that it is being selectively employed as a cover for ideological cleansing led by pro-China hardliners. M. K. Bhadrakumar, a seasoned Indian diplomat, suggests that the East Asian balance is tilting in favor of China and Russia, posing challenges for the West. This ideological shift comes at a precarious moment, with Joe Biden persisting in his policy of deepening ties with Vietnam. The recent Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, signed just three months ago, underscores the commitment to tapping into Vietnam's rare earth mineral reserves, which account for a significant portion of the world's known deposits.
The geopolitical chessboard sees Biden positioning Vietnam as a premier offshore hub for American manufacturing, fostering a bilateral trade relationship reaching $140 billion. This partnership becomes crucial as the U.S. faces challenges in securing rare earth minerals, essential for advanced semiconductors, ultra-fast radar, and precision weapons. With China already controlling a significant share of the rare earth supply, Biden's move aims to prevent further tightening of China's global lockhold.
The historical context of the Vietnam War and its enduring impact on the political outlook of Biden's generation adds layers to this diplomatic dance. Perhaps, in sponsoring Vietnam as a key ally, there is an element of expiation for the scars of the past. As the global stage witnesses these strategic maneuvers, the ideological currents within Vietnam's political landscape reverberate, influencing not only regional dynamics but also shaping the delicate balance of power on a global scale.
Vietnam's ruling party, once the formidable adversary that withstood half a million U.S. troops during the tumultuous Vietnam War, now finds itself entangled in a delicate geopolitical dance with its historical foe, China. The scars of war, fought under the guise of a discredited "domino theory" or a quest to save face, linger in the collective memory. Even Margaret Thatcher once portrayed the conflict as a necessary sacrifice, earning nods of approval from those who saw it as buying time for Southeast Asia.
Amid Beijing's assertive policies in the South China Sea, known to Vietnam as the East Sea or Biển Đông, the two erstwhile enemies tentatively gravitate towards a military understanding. Vietnam's strategic realignment began with a pivot towards Washington after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a move accelerated by Russia's cessation of subsidies and closure of its naval base at Cam Ranh Bay. Xi Jinping's aggressive approach has catalyzed a swift rapprochement, almost bordering on a military alliance.
However, caution prevails. While encounters between the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander and Vietnamese counterparts suggest military coordination, historical intricacies challenge the notion of a true alliance. Vietnam's complex relationship with China spans millennia, deeply embedded in the Confucian sphere. Despite incessant quarrels, Vietnam has historically returned to the Chinese fold, revealing a deeper connection that transcends contemporary geopolitical tensions.
Bill Hayton warns against overinterpreting the apparent rift, attributing it to the "narcissism of small differences." The ebb and flow in relations, reminiscent of historical British-French dynamics, underscore the nuanced nature of Vietnam and China's geopolitical entanglement. As Xi Jinping recalibrates his approach, moving from coercive diplomacy to a charm offensive, a subtler and more insidious threat to the U.S. strategic system in the Far East emerges.
The specter of waking up to a diversified technology supply chain that unwittingly feeds into a Chinese economic empire looms large. The intricate tapestry of Vietnam's history, shaped by conflict and reconciliation, continues to weave a complex narrative in the geopolitics of the Far East, challenging assumptions and defying easy categorization.
In the intricate dance of geopolitics, Vietnam emerges as a central figure, entangled in a historical narrative with China that transcends contemporary tensions. The scars of the Vietnam War, once a battleground of ideologies, now manifest in a delicate geopolitical ballet where former adversaries navigate a complex relationship.
As Vietnam repositions itself amidst Beijing's assertiveness in the South China Sea, the prospect of a military understanding looms. Yet, caution prevails, rooted in the deep historical ties that bind Vietnam to China's Confucian sphere. The ebb and flow of their relationship, marked by quarrels and reconciliations, defies simplistic interpretations and underscores the nuanced nature of their entanglement.
Bill Hayton's caution against overinterpretation echoes the subtleties of the geopolitical landscape, likening it to the "narcissism of small differences." The delicate balance, akin to historical British-French dynamics, challenges conventional wisdom and prompts a closer examination of the nuances at play.
As Xi Jinping pivots from iron-fist methods to a charm offensive, a more insidious threat to the U.S. strategic system in the Far East emerges. The possibility of waking up to a diversified technology supply chain feeding into a de facto tributary province of the Chinese economic empire poses a complex and multifaceted challenge.
In the conclusion of this geopolitical tapestry, Vietnam stands as a testament to the enduring complexity of history and the intricate interplay of forces that shape the geopolitical landscape. The future unfolds against the backdrop of a historical legacy, where Vietnam's role in the Far East continues to evolve, challenging preconceptions and defying easy categorization.