Vietnam and the U.S. on Sunday officially upgraded ties to comprehensive strategic partnership, marking a successful visit of U.S. President Joe Biden to Vietnam and serving as a driving force for development cooperation within the region, especially the ASEAN bloc.
Upgrading the relationship to comprehensive strategic partnership results from the development of multiple aspects of Vietnam-U.S. relations, after their establishing a comprehensive partnership 10 years ago.
This milestone also represents the two countries' commitments and common desire to find new avenues of cooperation as the global economy enters a period of considerable change.
President Biden's visit comes during a busy week for the administration with events in Indonesia and India.
Upgrading relations with Vietnam has been prioritized by the White House because Biden's schedule will be very busy at year-end, especially with the 2024 U.S. presidential election approaching.
Talking to Tuoi Tre News, most experts in the region said that this visit and the upgrade of relations show that Vietnam receives high appreciation from the U.S. side.
Dr. Sascha-Dominik Dov Bachmann from Canberra Law School in Australia said that this is a trip of great significance, highlighting the importance of Vietnam in the overall Indo-Pacific strategy of the U.S., especially in the current period, when the two countries share many common interests and concerns.
“Reflecting on the current height of tensions in the region, an upgraded strategic partnership with Vietnam is only logical and in the interest of both parties,” the regional policy researcher told Tuoi Tre News.
When discussing timing, Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow and coordinator of the Vietnam Studies Programme at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, argued that in addition to coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the comprehensive partnership, the earlier the upgrade happens, the less risk there is amid the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
“On the one hand, during the election year, the U.S. government will be very busy, making it difficult for the U.S. to pay full attention to diplomatic relations in general and Vietnam-U.S. ties in particular," he said.
“On the other hand, we cannot rule out a possible change in the U.S. administration after the election, followed by adjustments to U.S. foreign policy and priorities."
In addition, Dr. Hiep said that this is a period of world politics that still has many tension points, and it may become even more tense soon, thereby "causing a move to upgrade Vietnam-U.S. relations at this stage to become more sensitive than it is now."
Motivation and inspiration for the region
The economy is a pillar in Vietnam-U.S. relations and is also one of the main factors that form Vietnam's regional importance to U.S. strategy.
Since the normalization of relations in 1995, bilateral trade has increased more than 300 times, from the initial US$450 million to $123 billion, according to 2022 data.
Most observers are optimistic about the prospects for economic cooperation after Vietnam and the U.S. elevate their relationship.
According to Professor Julien Chaisse, an influential researcher on globalization from the City University of Hong Kong, "elevating the U.S.-Vietnam partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership is a key move that adeptly positions Vietnam as a linchpin in the U.S. strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, both economically and strategically."
For Vietnam, strengthening relations with the world's largest economy brings many opportunities for cooperation and growth. Currently, from both public arguments and statements from the U.S. side, one of the key areas of cooperation will be technology.
According to Prof. Chaisse, the prospect of Vietnam emerging as an 'Asian Tiger' is indeed a palpable reality.
"The nation has the potential to foster a high-tech economy through concerted efforts to nurture homegrown technological talent and foster innovation. The U.S., being a vanguard in the field of technology, will be indispensable in this endeavor," said Chaisse.
Besides, Vietnam-U.S. cooperation can also serve as a driving force for the region, especially with ASEAN.
“It is an enhancement, and this enhancement will galvanize economic dynamism within the ASEAN community, fostering a climate of robust competition and mutual growth,” Chaisse told Tuoi Tre News.
Value of a new relationship
The comprehensive strategic partnership demonstrates the trust and development commitments between Vietnam and the U.S., experts talked about the true value of this new relationship with Tuoi Tre News.
As a longtime researcher of Vietnam and Southeast Asian politics, Dr. Zach Abuza, a professor at the National War College, Washington D.C., said upgrading relations will "make things easier within the ministries and government departments to engage with their U.S. counterparts; there is now top-level political cover."
According to Abuza, the lifting "does not mean there is going to be a fundamental change in Vietnamese security for foreign policy," rather than just part of the country's "multilateral and independent foreign policy."
In terms of economics, experts also warn that upgrading relations does not automatically promote growth and investment, but only creates more opportunities and motivation for cooperation.
Stephen Olson, a senior research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation, assessed that the relation elevation was "largely symbolic since it is not accompanied by any concrete market access commitments or reductions in trade and investment restrictions."
"It is nonetheless important as an indication of the strategic value the Biden administration places on Vietnam, and the critical role it believes Vietnam could play as the U.S. continues to de-risk its economic relationship," said Olson.
The expert from the Hinrich Foundation also pointed out that few companies would base their business decisions on comments made by Secretary Yellen or even President Biden.
"They will evaluate the commercial and economic realities on the ground and base their decisions on those factors," Olson added.
"Having said that, I do think it is reasonable to expect Vietnam to play a more important role in U.S. supply chains and the friendshoring strategy, both as a result of a strong economic rationale in favor of Vietnam as well as a desire to diversify trade."