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China Faces Headaches from Warming Vietnam-U.S. Ties | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang after an arrival ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi, Vietnam May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The United States and Vietnam have complicated the strategic outlook for China over the disputed South China Sea.

For instance, Obama’s last trip to Asia was remarkably highlighted by the historic lifting of Washington’s arms embargo on Vietnam, with the latter repeatedly insisting it was not directed at Beijing.

However, regional military sources and security analysts say China is going to face in the coming period for a short and longer term, some strategic headaches because of the fully normalized relationship between old enemies in Hanoi and Washington.

Operations wise , China faces the short-term prospect of Vietnam obtaining U.S.-sourced radars and sensors, surveillance planes and drones to better monitor and target Chinese forces, said the analysts.

As for the longer term, this new change makes Hanoi a key player in Obama’s strategic pivot to East Asia. A competition will run between U.S. arms manufacturers and Russia for big-ticket weapons sales to Vietnam. Furthermore, the U.S. Navy may get a long-held wish to use Cam Ranh Bay, the best natural harbor in the South China Sea, military sources say.

On the other side, Vietnam understands the difficulty of a future conflict with their giant neighbor, which would be more challenging than the bloody land battles on their northern border that crashed through the 1980s.


Beijing is being very cautious, keeping an eye on Vietnam’s acquisition of modern weaponry and deployments in the South China Sea, said Ruan Zongze, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank linked to the Foreign Ministry. Noting that so far, no bare Chinese official reaction took place.

“It’s not impossible that this will then impact the territorial issue between China and Vietnam,” said Ruan, a former Chinese diplomat.

Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, expressed his belief that Vietnamese planners were aware they could never prevail against the modern Chinese military, and thus were obliged to rely on diplomacy to keep steady relations with Beijing.

“Vietnam is working the U.S. into an enhanced deterrence strategy,” he said. “To enhance its relations with China, they have to play the U.S. card,” he said.