KATIE TRINH WRITES – The aftermath of the South China Sea disputes led Vietnam to look for new partnerships with the U.S., and now – worried – China wants in on the action.
This past Tuesday on September 13, Chinese Premier Li Kequiang and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc came to an agreement to handle maritime matters in “bilateral substantial cooperation.” Prime Minister Phuc thereupon embarked on a six-day tour around China to talk about establishing cooperation and trust between the two Communist states.
However, according to Forbes Magazine, the Vietnamese Prime Minister is just doing his “due diligence to preserve ties with a huge business partner, especially as a U.S.–led trade pact including Vietnam shows signs of falling through.” In regards to the U.S.–Vietnam Trade Agreement, the 15-year trade relationship has grown from “$220 million in 1994 to $45.1 billion in 2015,” which makes Vietnam the no less than the 13th largest country of origin for U.S. imports. If these suspicions about the U.S.–Vietnam Trade Agreements ring true, then Vietnam better start looking for alternative sources of income, and what better pocket to dig through than China’s? After all, China has been Vietnam’s largest trading partner for the past 12 years.
While Vietnam attempts to play nice with China, Vietnam will not compromise its sovereignty in the South China Sea. In a recent court case regarding territorial disputes between China and the Philippines, the court in The Hague ruled against China. Since then, China has been in conversation with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia in hopes of figuring out a partnership to enhance “trade, investment or infrastructure”. Because of the court ruling, Chinese executives careered around all of Southeast Asia in a diplomatic charm offensive.
The Vietnamese Prime Minister’s tour around China presented an opportunity for both Vietnam and China to rebuild their trust. Since the close of the court case against the Philippines, China has realized that the growing lack of trust was roiling the nation’s relationships with bordering countries. But “Hanoi’s Confidence in Beijing has not yet fully restored. This is due to China’s continued behaviors and actions in the disputed sea,” said a top Vietnamese official.
Vietnam and China may never fully trust each other again, even though both rely so heavily on the other economically; as in any relationship, once the trust is gone, things are never really the same. But, as another saying goes: keep your friends close, your enemies closer.