HANOI – US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visits Vietnam this week hoping for progress towards upgrading relations with a key trade partner that shares US worries about China’s growing might.
For Hanoi, it will be a delicate test: how to show openness to the United States without angering China, a giant neighbor that supplies key inputs for Vietnam’s vital export trade, or Russia, another traditional partner.
It is a balancing act Vietnam has excelled at but one that is turning more complex in a world appearing to divide into opposing blocs, with the US and its allies on one side and China and Russia on the other.
Blinken arrives in Hanoi on Friday and will meet Vietnamese leaders on Saturday before heading to Tokyo for a meeting of the Group of Seven rich nations.
It will be the first Hanoi visit by the secretary of state of the Biden administration, which took office in 2021, although Vice President Kamala Harris visited in August of that year.
Washington will be hoping for progress towards boosting relations to a “strategic” partnership from one that for the past decade has been called “comprehensive.”
Officials have not said what this closer relationship might entail. But Southeast Asia expert Murray Hiebert, who visited Vietnam in February and spoke with senior government officials, said it could include increased military cooperation and U.S. weapons supplies.
He noted, however, there were limits given Vietnam’s policy of not allowing foreign bases, foreign troops or alliances against other countries. Hanoi has also been put off by the relatively high price of US arms and concerns that supplies could be blocked by U.S. lawmakers on human rights grounds.
Blinken will also formally break ground on a new U.S. embassy compound in Hanoi, in what the top US diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, called “a stunning new symbol” of the US commitment to an “enduring partnership and friendship.”
With the Vietnam War era an increasingly distant memory,…
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