Issues & Insights Vol. 21 SR 3, pp. 43-51
Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.-Vietnam Next-Generation Leaders Initiative. With backgrounds in academia, public policy, military and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. Between October 2020 and April 2021, cohort members engaged with senior experts and practitioners as they developed research papers addressing various aspects of the bilateral relationship.
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Forty-five years after the end of the Vietnam War, U.S.-Vietnam relations have been transformed into a growing and sustained partnership. United by shared concerns over China’s rise and its implications for regional order, Vietnam and the United States have accelerated cooperation in multiple fields, from addressing lingering war legacy issues and trade tensions to boosting defense partnerships. The relationship is likely to continue on an upward trajectory as China doubles down on its assertive foreign policy.
Nonetheless, the road towards a robust partnership will be bumpy, lined with several major obstacles. Aside from recent trade frictions, U.S.-Vietnam relations will have to confront institutional constraints. The shadow of China, Vietnam’s most critical economic and political partner, looms over Vietnam’s foreign policy. Divergences in political ideology and system serve as another barrier to a robust partnership based on shared values. Finally, U.S. commitment to the region, often sporadic and inconsistent, raises concerns about the credibility of its engagement, which became more pronounced during the Trump administration. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the regional security environment provides unique opportunities to further advance U.S.-Vietnam partnership by recalibrating cooperation towards strengthening ASEAN and the strategic autonomy of Southeast Asian states.
This new direction towards a multilateral framework serves to anchor the U.S.’ presence in the region in a direction that all ASEAN states, including Vietnam, prefer, by giving them an alternative to China’s rising influence in the region but doesn’t force them to take sides in a great competition for power.
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Hanh Nguyen received her M.A. in International Relations at International Christian University, Tokyo. Her research interests include Vietnam’s foreign policy, Southeast Asia security and US-China relations. She was a fellow under the Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarship (JDS). She has written for the Pacific Forum, The Diplomat, 9DashLine, Geopolitical Monitor, East Asia Security Centre and Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Photo: The United States delivers two million Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam on July 10, 2021. Source: U.S. government photo/ Public Domain