US President Joe Biden departed from the G20 Summit in India on Sunday to reach Vietnam to deepen cooperation with the Southeast Asian country amid China’s growing ambitions in the contested South China Sea – considered a key passageway for global trade.
Biden’s discussions with the leader of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, will encompass a “comprehensive strategic partnership“, Hanoi’s highest level of diplomatic relations. Keep an eye out on Asian Affairs for further updates.
The underlying objective of the short visit will likely be to shore up support against China’s increasing influence. For Vietnam, expanding ties with the US is significant. Currently, it only has top-level ties with India, South Korea, Russia and China.
Although Hanoi will be careful to be seen as not picking sides between Washington and Beijing, the country also shares American concerns over its neighbour’s increasingly controversial activities in the disputed waterway.
Human Rights Situation In Vietnam Could Grab Limelight
Just ahead of the US president’s key trip, The New York Times reported on Vietnam allegedly arranging to purchase arms from Russia, opposing US sanctions. On Sunday, Jon Finer said Washington acknowledged Hanoi’s years-long military relationship with Moscow.
But Washington and allies could help Vietnam “diversify away from those partnerships”, said the US deputy national security advisor. The two countries also share increasingly close trade ties and the US sees Vietnam as a key partner as it looks to source less from China.
Biden’s trip to Southeast Asia could see him juggling strategic interests with the defence of human rights. While the president has often raised concerns over China’s human rights record, he has largely stayed mum on Vietnam.
Prior to the trip, the US National Security Advisor said Biden would discuss pressing issues concerning freedom of religion, freedom of expression and other basic human rights. A US government commission on religious freedom recently criticised Vietnam for violations.