Vietnam’s Place and Significance in the US-China Competition

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International relations have witnessed the competition of states since the first political organizations emerged. With the spread of competition between people and human emotions to state systems, international relations, fundamentally based on human connections, have begun to be examined as a reflection of human nature.

The 21st century stands out as the century in which increasing competition and strife, as human characteristics, are perhaps the most influential globally. China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2002 laid the foundations of economic competition between Beijing and Washington. The United States of America (USA), which could no longer bear its financial deficit against China, started a trade war against China in 2018.

The impact of trade wars did not only manifest itself in the economy but also became influential in foreign policy and military in the following period. Thus, the US and China dispute has turned into an all-out competition.

In the current condition of international relations, states such as Vietnam, which uses the balance policy as the cornerstone of their foreign policy, are trying to increase their room for maneuver within the international system by pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy between opposing parties instead of choosing a side of a state and paying attention entirely to its relations with that state. In this context, Vietnam follows a multi-vector foreign policy with its national diplomacy approach, ‘Bamboo Diplomacy.’

The fact that Vietnam’s foreign policy has a balanced structure allows the country to move more easily between the US and China. As a matter of fact, Vietnam has solid commercial relations with the USA and generally positive economic and political ties with China. For instance, exports from Vietnam to the USA during the 11 months of 2022 increased by 18% compared to the previous year, reaching 101.5 billion dollars [1] Vietnam’s imports from the USA remained at 11.3 billion dollars[2] During the same period, imports from China reached 177.89 billion dollars [3], while exports to China reached 146.96 billion dollars [4] As can be seen, Vietnam’s commercial relations with both the USA and China are at a considerable level.

While this is the case in economic relations, Vietnam also follows a policy based on the balance in its political ties. One of the most prominent examples of this situation is the visit of the US Aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan to Vietnam on June 25, 2023 The Aircraft carrier in question visited Vietnam for the first time since 2018. [5] Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh arrived in Beijing for an official visit upon the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Qang.[6] This situation is crucial in terms of reflecting Vietnam’s foreign policy. According to media reports, US President Joe Biden plans to visit Vietnam on September 10, 2023. [7] Judging by Washington’s statements, this visit aims to develop diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the USA. However, we should think the visit was for more than just this purpose. Vietnam has recently been experiencing various problems with China due to maritime jurisdictions and border issues.

From this point of view, Vietnam will likely use the USA as a balancing element within the scope of the current problems with China, thanks to the visit in question.

Beyond the USA and China competition, the Hanoi Government values regional cooperation and contributes to economic development. As a matter of fact, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam held tripartite meetings on the sidelines of the 43rd ASEAN Summit and agreed to increase cooperation in economic relations. Considering that all three countries are participating in the Belt and Road Project, Vietnam arguably sees this favorable environment as a productive area regarding economic development and trade.

After all, competition as a human characteristic has spread to states and, from there, to the international relations system. Developing states that want to protect their national interests without being harmed by this situation continue with their foreign policies based on balance policy. As a Korean proverb says, ‘When whales fight, shrimps get crushed!’ In this context, Vietnam wants to maintain its existence and maximize its national interests with a multi-vector foreign policy approach rather than being crushed among fighting whales. The Hanoi Government, which holds regional cooperation and global competition in high regard, will likely diversify regional and international cooperation in the future, thanks to ‘Bamboo Diplomacy.’

[1] Trường Lăng, “Export-Import of Vietnam Set a New Record İn 2022, Unlocking Tremendous Potentials İn İnternational Trade.”, Viettonkin,, (Erişim Tarihi: 02.06.2023):

[2] “US–Vietnam Trade Ties: Challenge Ahead”, Journal of Indo Pacific Affairs,, (Erişim Tarihi: 02.06.2023).

[3] Khanh Vu,Vietnam Posts Record 2022 Trade Surplus with U.S. As China Deficit Rises”, Zawya,, (Erişim Tarihi: 10.01.2023).

[4] “China Exports to Vietnam”, Trading Economics,, (Erişim Tarihi: 02.06.2023).

[5] “US’s Ronald Reagan Aircraft Carrier Arrives İn Vietnam’s Danang”, Aljazeera,, (Erişim Tarihi: 25.06.2023).

[6] “Li Qiang Holds Talks with Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh”, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in United Arab Emirates,, (Erişim Tarihi: 26.06.2023).

[7] “Biden To Visit Vietnam Next Month as Washington Seeks Closer Ties”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 29.08.2023).

Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.