partnerships with Russia, Japan, India, China, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom,and Germany.Vietnam seeks to be the pivot in relations with China and the United States. In otherwords, Vietnam seeks to develop comprehensive ties with each and make eachbilateral relationship important in its own right. As pivot, Vietnam wants China andthe United States to accept Vietnam as a reliable partner. Vietnam wants to shape itsrelations so it does not have to ally with one side against the other.
In 2003, Vietnam’s Communist Party adopted the terms “to cooperate” and “tostruggle” to guide its relations with C
hina and the United States. This formulationovercame an apparent contradiction in Vietnamese ideological thinking: how toexplain friction and conflict with socialist China and how to explain areas of common
interests with the “imperialist” United States.
Vietnam decided to cooperate with
both but to struggle when Vietnam’s core interests were challenged.
The United States has announced a policy of rebalancing its military presence in theAsia-Pacific. Some Chinese and regional analysts concluded that the United Stateswas attempting to contain China. As part of its rebalancing policy the U.S. has soughtto upgrade its defense relations with Vietnam. Vietnam has been receptive but onlyup to a point. For example, for the past three years Vietnam and the United Stateshave conducted joint naval activities. These are not military exercises involving theexchange of combat skills.The best way to view U.S.-Vietnam defense relations is to compare them with
China’s defense relations with Vietnam. Vietnam exchang
es high-level visits withboth countries. Vietnam conducts strategic dialogues with both countries andrecently raised the level to that of deputy defence minister with both countries.Vietnam permits all countries to make naval port visits, but restricts this to one visita year, including the United States. In 2010, for example, the USS
John S. McCain
destroyer visited the port of Da Nang, several months later one of China’s most
modern guided missile frigates also called in.The United States would like greater access to Vietnam. Defense Secretary LeonPanetta made that clear during his recent visit to Cam Ranh Bay. But it highly unlikelythat U.S. warships will visit that port soon. Vietnam has opened the commercialrepair facilities at Cam Ranh to all navies. The U.S. was the first to take up this offerby sending three Military Sealift Command ships for minor repairs. These ships arelogistic vessels, not warships, and are crewed by civilians.
During Secretary Panetta’s talks in Hanoi Vietnam’s Defense
Minister and PrimeMinister, requested that the U.S. remove restrictions on the sale of militaryequipment contained in the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations. It shouldbe noted that China lists as one of it three obstacles to developing militarycooperation with the U.S. restrictions in the U.S. National Defense Authorization Actof FY 2000.
Vietnam’s 2009 Defense White Paper outlines its policy of maintainingindependence. I have dubbed this policy “the three no’s”: no foreign bases on
Vietnamese territory, no military alliances, and no use of a third country to oppose