Sep 02, 2018 / 16:27

Vietnam - an essential piece in the US's Indo-Pacific strategy: experts

The Hanoitimes - ASEAN countries, including Vietnam have a vital role in the roadmap of the US`s Indo-Pacific strategy, experts told Hanoitimes.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Getty Images
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Getty Images
A shift in US foreign policy
As part of the strategy, US Secretary of State Pompeo in July announced a US$113 million in new initiatives that will among other things support growth and development sectors foundational to the Indo-Pacific’s economic future, the digital economy, infrastructure and energy.
The initiatives obviously reflect that there’s been a complete shift in US foreign policy with regards to China, whose behaviors have finally driven America to react, John Hemmings, director of Asia Studies Center told Hanoitimes.
“I would argue that while Trump has used a lot of rhetoric about “America First” in trade matters, he has actually pushed for more US involvement overseas, doubling the US troop commitment to NATO and Europe,” noted Hemmings.
However, the US policy establishment will see serious engagement with the new US strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.
"I don’t think it’s supposed to be an alternative – after all, the entire rules-based system is the alternative to China’s Belt and Road form of neo-imperial grand strategy – however, it’s supposed to be a strong sign that wherever states are in trouble because of China’s debt-diplomacy, the US will be there to help", said the expert.
Role of Vietnam
In November 2017, President Trump used his attendance at the APEC CEO Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam to highlight the importance of the Indo-Pacific Region.
Hemmings believes Vietnam and ASEAN are integral to this strategy as the US cannot impose its strategy on the region. Due to distances and domestic debates, they will only come if the region wants them there. “I think Vietnam has an excellent leadership opportunity to make its own version of an Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Professor Carl Thayer from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy, also stresses Vietnam’s role in the strategy via some high-ranking visit and exchanges between Vietnam and the US recently.
“Vietnam is very important to the US Indo-Pacific strategy. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first head of government to be received in the White House by President Donald Trump,” Thayer specified. “President Trump not only attended the APEC summit in Da Nang but made an official visit to Hanoi immediately after,” he added.
Vietnam is singled out in the US National Security Strategy (December 2017) as a growing security and economic partner of the US along with Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, according to the Australian expert.
All of the ASEAN Nations, including Vietnam are central to the strategy, said Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh during a press teleconference this week.
“We have such a large amount of trade and investment, significant foreign direct investment going into the region from the US including to Vietnam. So we think of Vietnam as a partner that will be central to this initiative in addition to the other Southeast Asian nations,”Singh noted.
Vietnam and the US have had numerous bilateral exchanges this year. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Hanoi in January 2018 and described Vietnam as a “like-minded partner.” In March, the USS Carl Vinson made the first visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier to Vietnam since the Vietnam War. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his first visit to Hanoi in July after an important trip to North Korea.