China aims to outmatch the India-Pacific Quad led by the U.S.

There is no question that over the past decade, the United States has driven the India-Pacific strategy, e.g. the Quad and AUKUS, to contain the peaceful rise of China. In addition, Washington has made all efforts to persuade the countries in the region to support its geopolitical scheme. Vietnam is the focus that the U.S. and Japan have tryied to win over in the final competition with China. To that end, some of media, politicians and radical groups in the West have exaggerated the bitter memories of history entertained by Vietnam so that it will be aroused to confront China by its psychological and security concerns.

To that end, the U.S. has tirelessly wooed Vietnam to join its challenge to the legitimate claims of China in the South China Sea and its accusation of China to have held back large amount of the Mekong as it flows through six countries including Vietnam and China where the river starts. They claim that since China has unilaterally blocked free flow of the Mekong river for its own reservoirs, it has consequently led to a severe drought in other five countries concerned.

Actually, China has consistently called for the six Lancang-Mekong countries a de facto community with a shared future linked by the same river and also has regularly shared annual hydrological information for the other countries concerned so that they would jointly better utilize water resources while addressing climate change and the natural disasters involved. It is fair to argue that since the end of the Cold War, China has acted responsibly in terms of common interests with its neighbors including Vietnam.

In the study of international relations, the major considerations in foreign policy-making of each country are mainly geography, history and the shared interests as well as the ideological affinity. First, both China and Vietnam are well-aware that neither side could change the reality that the two countries are linked with each other by the shared mountains and rivers. More than that, as two largest Communist Parties in the world, China and Vietnam have shared the long-term friendship and solidarity in fights against the imperialism and hegemony during the 20th century. Now they are facing the historic tasks of how to build up socialist system in accordance with its own scenario. Beijing and Hanoi have made clear to further deepen good-neighbor relations in terms of good-neighborly friendship, future orientation and all-round cooperation in a constructive way. Cultural-ideologically, since the U.S. is so adamant in anti-Communist China, it would never be lenient to a Communist-led Vietnam or any one in the near future. Given this, China and Vietnam have no choices but work in concert on the issues of national security, social-economic security and ideological security to defend the common interests of socialist countries.

Internationally, although China and Vietnam are both the socialist countries under the Communist leadship, only five-claimed in the world today, they have been deeply involved in the global economic system. For instance, China is the largest economy in Asia and the second largest one in the world while Vietnam is seen as one of the most vibrant economies in the ASEAN. In addition, the two countries have agreed to synergize their development strategies such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Two Corridors plus One Economic Circle. In return, they will further highlight and consolidate the socialist economic foundation between the two countries. For decades, China has been Vietnam’s largest trading partner and one of the major sources of foreign direct investment (FDI). Despite COVID-19 disruptions, Vietnam is still China’s largest trading partner in the ASEAN with bilateral trade exceeding $230 billion in 2021.

In the wake of his re-election to the General Secretary of the Chinese leading party, Xi Jinping who is also President of China formally invited his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong to lead a high-level delegation to visit China from October 30 to November 2. Trong and his entourage received the warm welcome in Beijing on November 31 including a solemn ceremony of presenting the Friendship Medal of China to him by Xi personally. It symbolizes the friendship of “comrades plus brothers” between the two countries and the two Parties as Xi and Trong vowed to cherish and preserve the foundation of the Sino-Vietnamese relations.

In history, the Party-to-Party diplomacy has played an integral role in effecting the general agenda of Chinese foreign relations since the early 1950s. Inherited from the first-generation leaders of the CCP, the current leadership headed by Xi has made remarkable progresses to promote the role of the Party-to-Party diplomacy in the new era. One seminal case is that the CPC held a high-level dialogues between the CPC and the political parties of the world in 2017 with the theme of rebuilding international community of shared future. As China and Vietnam are both the neighboring countries and the socialist states led by the Communist Party of each country, it is necessary to maintain the inter-governmental dialogues over the core issues while charting the course of the inter-Party coordination since they have revealed the sincerity and wisdom to seek an early settlement of maritime disputes and the core issues concerned.

In sum, Trong’s state visit to China sends a clear message to the world that Vietnam is not only a socialist cstate but also together with the ASEAN never be a sidekick of the US strategy against China. The ASEAN has their own interests to defend and their own strategy to implement. Prior to his trip to China, Trong had spoken to the effect that as Vietnam was now in the vortex of the intensified China-U.S. competition, it has to cautiously manage its relations with the two great powers. On the one hand, maintaining close relations with China has always been a top priority of Vietnam’s diplomacy; on the other hand, Vietnam has attempted to further develop relations with the United States. But Hanoi needs to allay China’s rising concerns about the fast-growing U.S.-Vietnam relationship in recent years, particularly the defense cooperation between Vietnam and the United States in the South China Sea.

It is enough to say that one fundamental principle of Vietnamese politics goes along the way to reach an equilibrium between Idealpolitik and Realpolitik that follows its “Four Noes” policy: “not to join any military alliance, not to ally with any country targeting the third party, not to allow foreign countries to set up military bases in Vietnam or use its territory against other countries, and not to use force or threaten the use of force in international relations.” Given this, China seems to have outmatched the U.S. India-Pacific strategy in terms of the peace and development in the region.

Paul Wang
Paul Wang
Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.