Balancing relations between China and the US

General Phung says Vietnam needs to preserve its independence. Photo courtesy VN Express.

General Thanh says Vietnam needs to preserve its independence. Photo courtesy VN Express.

Vietnam’s defence minister has stressed the need for friendly relations with both China and the United States and said Vietnam would not side with one against the other.

Vietnamese press reports quoted General Phung Quang Thanh as saying that Vietnam must balance its relations between the two superpowers and maintain its own independence and self reliance.

Vietnam is currently preparing to host expected visits by both President Obama and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

The visits will put under sharp focus Vietnam’s recent attempts to improve relations with Washington and to signal its anger at Beijing over perceived Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

General Thanh told members of the National Assembly that Vietnam wanted a peaceful solution to the tension in the South China Sea.

Senior Vietnamese leaders have recently condemned China’s moves to build artificial islands on disputed reefs in the Spratly Islands.

They said China’s actions violated international maritime law and threatened stability in the region.

General Thanh said the Vietnamese military has been developing its offshore military capabilities, equipping its vessels with larger guns and missiles.

Hanoi’s relations with the United States have warmed rapidly in recent months. In July, the General-Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, was received by President Obama in the White House.

Earlier this month, Vietnam was one twelve countries to reach agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

If ratified, the TPP is expected to boost trade and investment between the US and Vietnam and will be seen as a counter balance to Chinese power and influence.

Conservatives in the Vietnamese leadership, however, see dangers in too close an embrace from Washington and are anxious not to signal too open a breach with China.

US efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Vietnam are seen as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

China, on the other hand, provides moral and logistical support for Vietnam’s authoritarian system and has long established ties with key figures in the party and military establishment.