US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told Vietnamese leaders that they must curb illegal rerouting of Chinese exports and purchase more US goods, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and military equipment, to avoid punitive US tariffs.
The US Department of Commerce this month imposed preliminary anti-subsidy duties on Vietnamese car and truck tires, citing the nation’s “undervalued currency” among the reasons.
In an interview with Bloomberg News this weekend during a stop in Hanoi, the aide to US President Donald Trump said he told the country’s leaders that cracking down on Chinese trans-shipments and easing the US’ trade deficit with Vietnam “could be the basis for a reversal” of the tariffs.
The duties have become a sticking point between the US and Vietnam even as the former adversaries strengthen ties to counter Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
O’Brien, who met with officials including Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh, said they were “very concerned” about Chinese actions to prevent Vietnam from tapping into offshore resources such as fish and natural gas.
O’Brien said that Vietnam is interested in more military-to-military information sharing as well as obtaining additional US Coast Guard equipment to better protect maritime areas.
He told them that the US might be able to provide financing to help with purchases of US helicopters to reduce Vietnam’s bilateral trade surplus, which is on pace to break last year’s record US$56 billion.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Phuc last month reiterated that Vietnam does not use its currency for a competitive trade advantage during a meeting with US International Development Finance Corp chief executive Adam Boehler.
Vietnam’s government previously has signaled it plans to buy “large volumes” of LNG from the US, while also saying that it has intensified efforts to crack down on Chinese exporters trying to route products through the Southeast Asian nation to bypass higher US tariffs.
O’Brien said Vietnam is typically cautious with public statements related to China and wants to maintain good relations with their much larger neighbor country.
He also said he believes Vietnam is interested in getting US companies involved in offshore oil and gas projects, because they think China would be less likely to interfere in that case.
Vietnam’s strategy for standing up to Beijing is to work with other regional countries through ASEAN, O’Brien said.
However, he added that China has some leverage in the organization through its ally Cambodia.
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