A new reality for Vietnam-China relations
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A new reality for Vietnam-China relations

So much for the ‘peaceful rise’, writes Asia Sentinel’s Huong Le Thu

The deployment of China’s HD 981 oil drilling rig is undoubtedly the most serious incident in Sino-Vietnamese relations since the normalization of ties in 1991.

What was considered a  positive relationship based on 16 “golden words” in Chinese translated into long-term, stable, future-oriented, comprehensive cooperation relations and four “goods” – good  neighbors, good friends, good comrades and good partners – is being seriously challenged.

Until May and the arrival of the drillship, Vietnam boasted of its diplomatic accomplishments.  Successful multilateral diplomacy had resulted in a strong reputation as an active member of regional and trans-regional forums. The expanded network of bilateral ties, including partnership systems (comprehensive, strategic and strategic cooperative) with 15 countries around the world gave Hanoi the false assurance of international support.

Given that the constraints on Vietnam’s defense strategy follow the principle of three non-alignments – no military alliances, no foreign bases on Vietnamese soil and no intervention from a third country – preventive diplomacy has taken the role of building a security net.

But as the oil rig crisis has proved, the cooperative strategic partnership, supposedly based on a long-term stable relationship with China and Russia, is merely a guarantee of peaceful existence. Not only it did not prevent China from an aggressive move towards Vietnam, but it failed to pressure Russia for support. Instead, in the wake of the Vietnam-China crisis, Moscow signed a lucrative gas contract with Beijing.

Such disregard for Vietnamese sovereignty means that Beijing attaches little value to the contest

Friends in need?
Not all of Vietnam’s diplomatic efforts have been in vain. Consistency in promoting non-confrontation, respect for international law and commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes has given Hanoi a credible image as a responsible member of the international community. Such an attitude is supported by regional actors.

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