President Joe Biden has denied that the US is attempting to stem China’s international influence, after signing a new historic deal with Vietnam.
More than 50 years since the last American soldier left Vietnam, Mr Biden travelled to Hanoi to sign the agreement that will bring the former foes closer than ever before.
The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam is a major relationship upgrade for the US. It is the culmination of a relentless push by Washington over the last two years to strengthen ties with Vietnam, which it sees as key to counter China’s influence in Asia. It is also no small feat. The partnership with Washington is the highest level of diplomatic ties extended by Vietnam.
Mr Biden told reporters in Hanoi that American actions were not about containing or isolating China, but about maintaining stability in accordance with international rules.
Signs of improved ties had already irked Beijing, which called them more evidence of America’s “cold-war mentality”.
But Hanoi has thought this through, says Le Hong Hiep from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, adding that the agreement with the US is “symbolic rather than [one of] substance”.
Vietnam has a young and highly educated workforce. It has also fostered a spirit of entrepreneurship which makes it highly attractive to US investors – especially those who are looking to move their manufacturing bases out of China.
Big names including Dell, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all shifted parts of their supply chains to Vietnam in recent years. The US also considers it a promising market for weapons and military equipment as Hanoi tries to wean off Moscow.
Washington is also keen to help Vietnam become an integral part of the world’s semiconductor supply chain and develop its electronics sector – areas which have become contentious as the US tries to restrict China’s access to advanced tech.
And yet Vietnam may not see its new partnership with the US as choosing one side or the other. As Beijing’s economy slows, Hanoi’s closer relationship with Washington is only pragmatic.