Southeast Asia

U.S. -Vietnam relations in 2022

The US Vietnam relations is going to take an upward trajectory following the visit of important leaders such as US defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam last year. During the visit of U.S. defence security Lloyd Austin in July 2021 there have been a number of basic agreements signed between the two countries which include adopting a proactive approach following the permanent normalization of trade relations (PNTR) in the year 2005. The two countries had normalised political relations in 1995.

Vietnam has been one of the shining stars in Southeast Asia following its better than average post pandemic growth. The visit of the two US presidents- Barack Obama in 2016 and president Trump in 2019 (even though president Trump visited Vietnam to have a meeting with North Korean dictator), emphasized increasing geopolitical clout of the country. The reconciliation between the two countries has been based on the fact that US is the technology giant in the global order and also has taken proactive steps in promoting science and technology skills in Vietnam and helping the country in terms of locating the Vietnamese soldiers who were missing in action during the Vietnam War.

The one aspect which was a nagging issue between the two countries was that of Agent Orange under which US used bio agents during the Vietnam War which led to long standing medical problems for the population which got infected with Agent Orange while coming in contact. US is very keen on developing good relations with Vietnam because of its change in approach in interacting with the communist regimes which includes Cuba, and Vietnam. The visit of the vice president Kamala Harris to Vietnam in August 2021 shows the importance which has been accorded to Vietnam in terms of strategic and political relations. The strategic ties between the two countries have not been upgraded to the level of strategic partnership but it is expected that with increased interactions at different levels including defence, political and diplomatic, educational and cultural relations between the two sides, it might be signed in near future. Vietnam has already started to establish comprehensive strategic partnership with China in 2008 and Russia in 2012, and with India in 2016 while Vietnam has entered strategic partnership with most of the US allies/partners including Australia, South Korea, Germany, Singapore and Japan but in terms of strategic partnership there is a lot which requires to be done between the two countries.

The defence relations between the two countries have also developed and in the last 5 years US has authorized defence exports of more than $ 32.3 million to Vietnamese military and this is part of  more than US $162 million active military sales with Vietnam since the last two decades.

In the year 2022, it is expected that Vietnam might be invited for military exercises with the US military and also likely to facilitate visit of US aircraft carriers to the Vietnamese ports as it has happened in the year 2018 and subsequently in 2019. US also wants to engage Vietnam with providing COVID-19 vaccines and help Vietnam in developing the nation’s health infrastructure and pandemic response. The licenseD production for mRNA vaccine to Vietnamese firms was one of the important aspects where US is considering to develop Vietnam is capabilities in producing low-cost vaccines. The Vietnamese students also regularly go to US universities for higher education and developing technical skills.

In fact, in the year 2022, it is expected that US will be engaging Vietnam through ministerial level talks and high-level delegation visits. In terms of trade and investment cooperation under the Indo Pacific economic framework, the 2 countries would also be engaging in developing better bilateral protection agreement in investment and trade and also working in key areas which includes digital economy, infrastructure support quality standards, energy efficiency, developing supply chain resilience.

Even in the new Indo-Pacific strategy which was released by the US in February 2022 there has been reference with regard to Vietnam as one of the priority partners in exploring economic and strategic complementarities in the region. The new US administration under President Biden is also going to explore the policy framework with regard to Indo- Pacific economic framework and look for alternate manufacturing hubs which can maintain resilient supply chains. US and Vietnam have been working on building is strong and prosperous partnership which should be based on the foundation of free and healthy, and open Indo-Pacific region.

In the year 2022 it is anticipated that US and Vietnam will be working on health security, human security, climate change, sector specific development assistance, and working on better market access between the two countries. Following the Vietnam -EU Free Tarde Agreement it is probable that US might also look for a similar arrangement with Vietnam.  There is a lot of potential for higher education in the US institutions for the Vietnamese students and in this context better visa regime and long-term visas for research will also be explored this year. As per the data available with Vietnam General Statistics Office, the US was Vietnamese largest export market which created thousands of jobs and also supported services industry. As per the Vietnam Ministry of Planning and Investment US foreign direct investment in Vietnam was that US $ $10.28 billion making it among the top 12 investors in the country. New possibilities are already there with regard to joint collaboration between the two countries in energy sector, warehousing, power transmission, aviation, and tourism industry. With the new leadership in Vietnam and sound economic fundamentals it is anticipated that US would approach Vietnam for developing economic, political and strategic convergences.

Prof. Pankaj Jha

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]

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