Tan Sang, to visit Washington later in the month. Two days prior, Vietnamannounced it was postponing the trial of American-connected high-profile dissidentLe Quoc Quan.Why has the U.S. seemingly changed its position on human rights and invited
Vietnam’s president to the United States? The answer appears to lie in the U.S.
policy of rebalancing and the recent uptick in Sino-Vietnamese relations following
President Sang’s visit to Beijing. Vietnam seeks to balance its relations with China
and the United States. Hanoi has been lobbying for at least a year for a visit byPresident Obama (to reciprocate President Nguyen Minh Triet
s visit to the U.S. in2007). In June 2013, Senior Lt. Gen. Do
Ba Ty, Vietnam’s Chief of the General Staff,
visited Washington with a high-powered delegation. This was the first time thatVietnam
s Chief of the General Staff had visited the United States.Have the two sides reached a quid pro quo? Vietnam may be seeking to step up itsdefence cooperation with the United States. The United States is seeking greateraccess to Vietnam. Some Vietnamese leaders may have concluded that unless thegridlock with the U.S. is broken, Vietnam will have less leverage in dealing withChina.Vietnam wants to have the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation)restrictions removed. At present Vietnam is permitted to purchase non-lethal itemson a case by case basis. This restriction is likely to remain in place. However, ITAR hasbeen amended recently to permit the sale of dual use (military-civilian) equipmentand technology. While it is speculative to conclude that such a trade-off is likely, it ismore certain that the U.S. will assist Vietnam in its first commitment topeacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations. Vietnam
s Prime MinisterNguyen Tan Dung publicly
announced Vietnam’s decision to participate in UN
peacekeeping missions at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this year.
President Sang’s visit to the United States will seek to advance Hanoi’s quest for a
strategic partnership agreement with Washington. President Obama will seek tosecure further Vietnamese commitments on enhancing economic relations throughthe TPP.
President Sang’s visit holds the promise of moving Vietnam’s relations with the
United States to the next level prior to the East Asia Summit in Brunei in October this
year. Perhaps Vietnam’s game plan is to advance the relationship in the coming
months so President Obama can make a side trip to Vietnam where the two sideswill formally sign a strategic partnership agreement. Vietnam will benefit becausethe agreement will be on its soil, the U.S. will benefit because President Obama willbe in Southeast Asia advancing his rebalancing strategy.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam Preview: President Truong Sang’s
Visit to Washington
Thayer Consultancy Background Brief
, July 11, 2013. Allbackground briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.