China and Vietnam are strengthening their partnership to resist Western interference in their internal and regional affairs. Although the two Asian countries have major issues between them and centuries worth of historical animosity, Hanoi will never allow the US to use Vietnam to fight or pressure China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) Central Committee General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in Beijing on October 31. Xi Jinping emphazised in their meeting that the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of Vietnam should not allow anyone to interfere in the sustainable progress of their respective countries.

For his part, Phu Trong clarified that China has the right to count on Vietnamese support in sensitive issues of regional security. Specifically, the Vietnamese leader assured that his country would maintain peace and stability at the land and sea border and not let issues over territorial waters hinder overall bilateral relations. He assured that Hanoi would not develop any official relations with Taiwan, and significantly, that no foreign country will be allowed to set up military bases on Vietnamese territory.

Reaffirming Vietnam’s position on issues that are sensitive and critical to regional security was one of the important outcomes of the high-level talks in Beijing. As Vietnam is the biggest country in Southeast Asia which borders China, in terms of economic power, the US hoped to use Vietnam as a tool of pressure against China. For Washington, it would be ideal if Vietnam and China clashed in the South China Sea so Hanoi could pivot towards AUKUS and/or QUAD.

To Washington’s disappointment though, Hanoi made it clear that is shares Beijing’s position on no foreign military bases and military alliances. At the same time, Vietnam maintains its position against Beijing on the South China Sea issue. Although this could be an issue for the US to exploit, Hanoi has stated that it will not use military force to solve it. Effectively, Vietnam signalled to the US that it will not be a tool to confront China.

At the meeting in Beijing, Xi Jinping noted that development between China and Vietnam faces serious risks and challenges. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has further highlighted the geopolitical issue between great powers, which has contributed to the multitude of challenges that developing countries are facing. Specifically, the energy and food crises are issues that deeply concern Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam.

According to the World Bank, Vietnam is projected to become the fastest growing economy in Asia this year despite a regional downturn caused by China’s sharp economic deceleration. In its most recent economic outlook report for East Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank forecast these regions to grow by 3.2% in 2022, down from 7.2% in 2021, before accelerating to 4.6% in 2023. The projected growth rate for this year marked a significant reduction on the 5% that the World Bank forecast for the year in its last outlook report in April.

Vietnam appears to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this growth, with the World Bank estimating the country’s economy to grow by 7.2% in 2022, up from its projection of 5.3% in April. The World Bank then projects it to grow by a further 6.7% in 2023. Impressively, Vietnam was one of the few countries whose economy grew during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. This comes as there is also a continuing trend to move high-tech production from China to Vietnam.

Given Vietnam’s growing importance in the region, the US hoped to exploit the historical animosity the Southeast Asian country has with Beijing and differences over the South China Sea. However, this has failed.

In fact, the two countries, along with several ASEAN countries, are working on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, something that Washington opposes. The Americans want to tighten pressure on China, but the successful visit of Phu Trong to Beijing has ended any thoughts of the US using Vietnam to pressure China. In this way, the US is finding it extremely difficult to find Southeast Asian allies to oppose China.

By Ahmed Adel Via