Vietnam and China: Balancing Geography and History

Neighbors China and Vietnam share a long, complicated history. China is the dominant partner and most recently pressured Vietnam to cancel an oil-drilling contract in the South China Sea with the Spanish oil firm Repsol. Soon afterward, Vietnam’s defense minister met with his counterpart in Washington and announced approval of a visit by a US aircraft carrier to a Vietnamese port. Capitulating to China on big issues close to home and connecting to the United States in economic and symbolic ways follow an old pattern. “Hanoi looks to Washington for assistance only when China threatens, but in its heart, the country values Beijing’s comradeship more,” explains Tuong Vu, author, professor of political science and director of Asian Studies at the University of Oregon. Vietnamese leaders were disappointed in the 1970s as China welcomed the United States and elements of capitalism. The Soviet Union’s end pushed Vietnam to normalize relations with the United State in 1995. By 2005, China was aggressive in enforcing claims over most of the South China Sea, “dashing Vietnamese leaders’ cherished hope that the comradely spirit between the two parties would soar above narrow national interests,” Vu explains. Despite many disappointments, ideology remains a priority in Vietnam’s foreign-policy calculations. – YaleGlobal