In Vietnam’s ‘game of thrones’, is China the only constant?

Lam, 66, replaced Vo Van Thuong, who resigned in March after being accused of violating party rules, just over a year after taking office.
US President Joe Biden meets with former Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong at the presidential palace in Hanoi in September 2023. Photo: Reuters
Despite recently improving ties with the USA, Japan and Australia, Vietnam has largely kept its relations with China in balance. During a state visit in December by the chinese president Xi JinpingThe two countries committed to “open a new stage” in bilateral relations and intensify cooperation.

Huynh Tam Sang, a professor of international relations at the Vietnam University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said it was not in Hanoi’s best interest to alter its foreign policy trajectory.

“The country’s current approach is likely to remain unchanged,” he said, adding that Hanoi’s foreign policy was decided on the basis of consultations among members of the ruling government. communist partyThe Politburo “rather than relying on leading figures (individually).”
“Vietnam will continue to protect itself among the great powers,” Huynh said, referring to Hanoi’s foreign policy approach that Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong first called “bamboo diplomacy”in 2021.

The term, which evokes the strong roots, sturdy trunk and flexible branches of the bamboo plant, describes Vietnam’s nuanced strategy for navigating geopolitics: preserving its independence and benefiting from multiple international partnerships without becoming beholden to any power.

Lam (second from left), Vietnam’s then Minister of Public Security, pays his respects in 2018 at the funeral of late President Tran Dai Quang in Hanoi. Photo: Vietnam News Agency/Handout via EPA-EFE

Security advice

Vietnam’s newly elected president visited China in September last year, during which his Ministry of Public Security learned “many tactics” – especially anti-terror and anti-riot measures – from its Chinese counterpart, according to Huynh. Monitoring dissent and surveillance of activists are two of the ministry’s main functions.

Huynh said Lam had also sought “both theoretical and practical advice” from China’s security chiefs on how to keep the Communist Party of Vietnam “in full control over authority and leadership” in January.

“Chinese officials know they can trust Lam because of her symbiotic camaraderie with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who has sought to maintain close ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping.” he said.

Vietnam’s leaders “have always seen the world through a lens similar to China’s,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor of security strategy at the National War College in Washington.

We are definitely seeing the Communist Party of Vietnam adopt many Chinese instruments to maintain the survival of the regime.

Zachary Abuza, National War College Washington

“They fear ‘color revolutions,’ their political priority is always the survival of the regime, they equate regime security with national security,” he said, referring to a series of pro-democracy uprisings that swept through several former Soviet states in the early of the 2000s.

Abuza, who is also an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University, said the prevalence of public security officials in Vietnam’s 12-member Politburo – at least five, including Lam – and a wide-ranging directive that supposedly issued last year warning of “hostile and reactionary forces” signaled growing insecurity among the ruling elite.

Directive 24, a copy of which was obtained by regional human rights activists, reportedly contains dire warnings about the threat posed to national security by Vietnam’s growing international ties.

“We are definitely seeing the Communist Party of Vietnam adopt many Chinese instruments to maintain the survival of the regime,” Abuza said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi in December. Photo: Xinhua

“Hanoi learns from Beijing, whether it be cybersecurity laws, the use of tax laws to target opponents of the regime or extrajudicial renditions.”

But he said Vietnam would continue to balance ties with the United States and China as it needed both financially while struggling with problems such as insufficient power supply and weak infrastructure.

“Vietnam relies heavily on its integration into the global economy and has been a major beneficiary of corporate strategies to reduce risks,” Abuza said.

However, the unprecedented political instability of recent months, coupled with a massive financial fraud case that resulted in the death of a former real estate magnate. sentenced to death in AprilIt is said to have scared off investors.


Vietnamese real estate tycoon sentenced to death for $12.5 billion fraud

Vietnamese real estate tycoon sentenced to death for $12.5 billion fraud

Alexander Vuving, a Hanoi-born professor at the Center for Asia-Pacific Security Studies in Hawaii, said he expects Vietnam’s political turbulence to continue until at least early 2026, when the Communist Party is scheduled to hold its next congress. national and choose a new party. boss.

Despite recently tightening its control over civil society, Vuving said Hanoi has not moved closer to China. Instead, Vietnam has stuck to its balanced “bamboo diplomacy” approach, which has also allowed it to preserve good relations with both countries. Russia and the United States, and avoid taking sides amid their hostility.
Vietnam and the United States raised their partnership to a “comprehensive strategic” level last year. Meanwhile, Russia remains an important military and energy partner for the Southeast Asian nation, with historical ties dating back to the Soviet era. Hanoi has been reluctant to condemn The Russian invasion of Ukrainedue in part to this long-standing relationship in which Moscow provided significant support in the years following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

“Vietnam’s game of thrones will continue,” Vuving said, adding that a reorientation of its foreign policy would probably only be brought about by a transformation of the strategic environment.

Vietnam’s game of thrones will continue

Alexander Vuving, Center for Asia-Pacific Security Studies

“Such a transformation may be China crossing Vietnam’s red lines in the South China Sea or a rapid deterioration of Cambodia-Vietnam relations,” he said. “In both cases, Vietnam is likely to lean outward, not toward China.”

In March, Hanoi opposed China. redefining your baseline – the low tide coast used to determine territorial waters – in the Gulf of Tonkin, such as the south china sea The waterway between the Chinese island of Hainan and Vietnam is internationally known.

Beijing said its move in what it calls the Beibu Gulf “strictly complies with national laws, international laws and bilateral agreements” and “will not affect the interests of Vietnam or any other nation,” according to a ministry statement. of Foreign Affairs cited by China’s Global Times. tabloid.

Hanoi’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement in late March saying it “resolutely opposes and rejects” claims that are contrary to international law and violate Vietnam’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its territorial waters.

Cambodia plans to link the capital, Phnom Penh, with the sea. Photo: Brochure
Vietnam’s ties with neighboring Cambodia have also been strained in recent months by the Funan Canal Roof. Hanoi has expressed concern about the possible environmental impact of the 180-kilometer project, which aims to connect the Mekong River to the coast. However, some analysts believe Vietnam’s anxieties also stem from fears of its declining influence in Cambodia as China’s role in the Mekong region grows.
In recent years, Cambodia has significantly strengthened its political, economic, military and security relations with China. But given their geographical proximity and shared history, Vietnam has traditionally considered both Cambodia and Laos as part of their sphere of influence.

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