Hanoi's concern over China's growing strength in Southeast Asia led to a strategic shift in US-Vietnamese relations in 2003, American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt said yesterday.
One example of Beijing's growing strength was the Chinese demand that Cambodia close Taiwan's representative office in Phnom Phen, said Burghardt, who previously served as US ambassador to Vietnam.
He made the statements in a lecture on the history of US-Vietnam relations given at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington.
AEI is a conservative think tank.
Burghardt said that when George W. Bush first became US president, he treated China as a strategic competitor, but that this approach changed after the Sept. 11 attacks, when he began stressing cooperation between the two nations, an approach that became even clearer in 2003.
According to Burghardt, these developments caused complaints among China's neighbors that the US was focusing on its war on terror and ignoring Asia.
He said that a high Vietnamese official even told him that, "China is eating your lunch and you don't even notice!"
This attitude was shared by Singapore, Japan and Indonesia, Burghardt said.
This situation caused Vietnam to undertake a new strategic assessment in the hope of bringing in the US as a balancing power with the result that US-Vietnam relations took on new significance after 2003 and military exchanges became closer.
Burghardt also said that Vietnam is particularly worried about growing Chinese influence in Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. He said Hanoi has noticed how Beijing's growing influence in Cambodia has resulted in extremely hostile actions against Taiwan, as seen in Beijing's demand that Taiwan close its office in Cambodia although it maintains a big office in Vietnam.
Burghardt said that China has become Vietnam's greatest strategic concern and that it is beginning to display a very strong wish to discuss China with the US.
Currently, however, Vietnam is playing a smaller role in the US' hedging strategies aimed at China because it does not want to anger Beijing by becoming a link in the US' containment of China.
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