US Vice President Kamala Harris Set to Visit Vietnam

Talks are expected to focus on COVID control and the South China Sea, where China has encroached on the territorial waters and maritime resources of other countries in the region.
2021-08-04
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US Vice President Kamala Harris Set to Visit Vietnam US Vice President Kamala Harris is shown in a July 27, 2021 photo.
AFP

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is set to visit Vietnam later this month, following up on a visit to Hanoi at the end of July by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the first high-ranking U.S. official to visit Vietnam since President Joe Biden took office in January.

Harris is scheduled to arrive in Vietnam on Aug. 24 following an Aug. 22 visit to Singapore and departing Vietnam on Aug. 26, with talks expected to focus on regional security in the South China Sea, where China has encroached on territorial waters and maritime resources claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries in the region.

Talks will also cover U.S. assistance to Vietnam in containing the spread of COVID-19 amid a new surge of infections in the country.

The U.S. has already shipped 5 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, now in widespread lockdown to contain the spread of the disease, with 3 million doses sent to Vietnam at the end of July.

Raising tensions in the region in recent years, Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Vietnamese territorial waters in the South China Sea, called the East Sea by Vietnam, obstructing Vietnamese oil exploration efforts and building airstrips and other facilities on disputed island groups.

Beijing at the same time has voiced concern over U.S. diplomatic overtures to Vietnam and other Southeast Asian states, saying the United States seeks to form and strengthen alliances in the region aimed only at countering “China’s rise.”

“China is always like that. China does not want Vietnam to escape their influence,” said Hoang Viet—a Vietnam-based lawyer and expert on South China Sea issues—speaking to RFA.

“Western experts often say that China wants Vietnam to become ‘Finlandized,’ meaning that Vietnam would have to consult China when it comes to external affairs, and that it can’t go beyond whatever China wants Vietnam to do,” he said.

Vietnam can help to support security in the South China Sea region without aligning itself with either China or the United States, though, said Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor at Australia’s University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

“Vietnam does not have to be warned about the dangers of shifting over to the U.S.,” Thayer said. “It knows you gain nothing by making China a permanent enemy. And the Chinese know it. [China is] just trying to say the U.S. is going to fail.”

“Vietnam has a utility, an importance, because it’s maintaining its independence. It can be counted on to independently contribute to regional security,” Thayer said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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