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Vietnam Joins Forces With India to Balance China


A seemingly innocuous and overlooked trip by the head of the Communist Party of Vietnam to New Delhi gives observers a peek behind the curtain at the geopolitical landscape in east and south Asia. Bloomberg Businessweek has the story:

Yesterday … the two countries announced … a plan for India’s Tata Power to build a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in Vietnam and Indian energy company ONGC Videsh to explore for oil and gas off the Vietnamese coast.

The energy deal is particularly significant. It’s Vietnam’s latest offer to India to explore off its coast and once again puts India in the midst of a territorial dispute. China and Vietnam have conflicting claims on islands in the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the East Sea), and the two countries have a history of awarding oil-and-gas exploration concessions that overlap.

No doubt with the China threat in mind, the Indian and Vietnamese leaders emphasized yesterday the importance of maritime security. As reported by Vietnam’s news agency, “they agreed that freedom of navigation in the East Sea should not be impeded and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid threat or use of force and resolve disputes through peaceful means in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

There are a number of things at work here. First, Vietnam and China, though they share cultural and political similarities, have had a fraught relationship for centuries, to say the least. The territorial dispute in the South China Sea is only the most recent disagreement between the two estranged neighbors. It’s only natural that Vietnam would seek to balance Chinese influence in its front yard. The US military, though Vietnamese leaders don’t like to say this publicly, provides strategic balance. But concern over the depth of the US commitment to President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia is leading Vietnamese leaders to reach out to India, with which Vietnam also shares extensive historical links. (Vietnam also recently reached out to another rival of China’s—Russia—with an announcement that it was favorably inclined to joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union.) Expect Vietnam-India relations to grow stronger as rising China continues its aggressive policies toward the neighbors.

Asia’s Game of Thrones, as VM calls it, is a geopolitical competition between a number of powers. Middleweights like Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and others need strategic and economic depth. The US is helpful in this regard, but China has many larger regional rivals—Japan, Russia, India. We’re likely to see Vietnam and other smaller countries band together to ensure that no one country can become strong enough to dominate the others.

[General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong (L) shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on November 20, 2013. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    If Obama wasn’t so incompetent, America would have all ready convened a meeting of all the Asian nations being threatened by the Belligerent and Territorially Ambitious China, and formed a Military and Economic Alliance that would put China’s Illegitimate Communist Leadership in its place.

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