Hanoi will endorse America’s Indo-Pacific push, but ‘in a low-key manner’, predicts Singapore-based researcher

AUGUST 16, 2018 - 3:20 PM

Vietnam is likely to support the United States’ Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy, but “in a low-key manner”, according to an academic at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at the state think-tank, has called the American strategy “largely compatible with Vietnam’s national interests”.

But Hanoi’s response to the policy has been “rather muted”, Dr Hiep said in a report on Vietnam’s perspective of the FOIP strategy.

“As the policy is still in its formative stage and is seen by many observers as a tool for the US to ‘contain’ China, it is not in Hanoi’s interest to make a public statement on it,” he wrote.

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“Moreover, Vietnamese mainstream strategists and foreign policymakers may not have arrived at a common understanding of the policy yet. Anecdotal evidence suggests that internal debates on the policy may be underway, and there seems to be different views on how Vietnam should respond to it.”

But Dr Hiep also noted that economic aspects of the FOIP strategy - such as its goals of open logistics, open investment, and free, fair, and reciprocal trade - “also sit well with Vietnam’s overall foreign policy”, given Vietnam’s status as a developing market “that heavily relies on foreign trade and investment and seeks to upgrade its infrastructure systems”.

“Like most regional countries, Vietnam is adopting a ‘wait and see’ attitude and its future reactions to the strategy will depend on its own strategic calculations as well as the actual evolution of the strategy, which remains unclear at the moment,” he said.

He concluded that “Vietnam should be expected to endorse the FOIP policy, albeit not necessarily publicly”.

“Diplomatically, Vietnam may work with like-minded partners to insert references to key elements of the strategy into bilateral joint statements or joint communiqués of international meetings.

“Operationally, Vietnam is likely to continue deepening its strategic cooperation with the major powers, especially members of the Quad, to enhance collaborative security in the region and strengthen its bargaining position vis-à-vis China,” Dr Hiep added, referring to a group of four countries: the US, Japan, Australia and India.

He also remarked that the success of the FOIP policy “will mainly be determined by the US itself”.

Besides a coherent strategic vision and clarity on expectations for interested regional countries’ roles in the strategy, “any attempt by Washington to impose its will on regional countries, even in the name of an open and free rules-based regional order, will most likely be counter-productive”, Dr Hiep warned