As officials in the Communist Party of Vietnam jockey for position during a twice-a-decade meeting to refresh the leadership ranks, they largely agree on one thing: Closer ties with the US are set to become even more important to grow the economy and counter a rising China.
The new leaders, set to be announced on Tuesday next week, are to be tasked with meeting a goal to turn Vietnam into an industrialized economy by 2030, with an annual economic growth of about 7 percent and a per capita GDP of US$7,500, or about double what it is today.
A good relationship with the US is key to both meeting that goal and keeping China’s increasing territorial assertiveness in check.
Photo: Vietnam News Agency / AFP
“The US is by far the largest export market for Vietnam [and] the only great power capable of acting as a counterweight to China,” said Alexander Vuving, a Southeast Asia expert at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. “Vietnam, with its decades-long sovereignty disputes with China, badly needs the presence and involvement of a great power that can balance the rise of Chinese power.”
For leaders in Hanoi, US President Joe Biden is a welcome change in the White House after four years of engaging with the unpredictable former US president Donald Trump.
They spent the fall last year staving off threats of new US tariffs, even while they benefited from US-China trade tensions, as suppliers for global giants such as Apple Inc moved some Chinese operations to Vietnam.
At the secretive nine-day National Party Congress that began on Monday, about 1,600 delegates from across the country are to formally sign off on leadership changes.
They are to elect a party general secretary and submit nominations to fill the top three government positions — prime minister, president and the Vietnamese National Assembly chair.
“Our country has developed rapidly and sustainably,” Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who observers believe could be in line for a third term, told delegates during yesterday’s opening ceremony. “Growth quality has improved, macroeconomic stability is affirmed. Inflation has been kept under control and at a low level.”
Top priorities for the next administration include gaining greater access to US consumers, possibly through a regional trade agreement, while avoiding punitive tariffs tied to allegations of currency manipulation.
“The country has signed trade agreements with all the world’s major trading partners and the only missing piece is the United States,” said Vu Tu Thanh, senior Vietnam representative of the US-ASEAN Business Council.
While it depends on China for critical materials and equipment at its factories, Vietnam is also seeking closer ties with the US, Japan and India to become less dependent on its powerful neighbor.
Under Biden, Hanoi can expect greater criticism from his administration and Congressional Democrats for jailing Vietnamese citizens who are critical of the one-party system, but the US also views Vietnam as key to its Asian strategy, Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Huong Le Thu said.
“The recognition of Vietnam’s strategic importance will remain among the top decisionmakers in the Biden Cabinet,” she said.
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