This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A day after the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan began a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam’s prime minister, Pham Minh Chinh, met Monday with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
In juggling two competing superpowers, Hanoi is demonstrating its flexible “bamboo foreign policy” of bending with the wind but never breaking, said Truong Nhan Tuan, a France-based observer of Vietnamese political affairs.
Vietnam has been involved in military conflicts with both China and the United States. And while Hanoi remains close to Beijing, it has also opened up to dealing with Washington since reestablishing relations in 1995.
One power is ascending and the other is in decline, he said.
“China is a power on its way to restoring the old Chinese empire’s power and station, while the U.S. is a great superpower whose position was established after World War II and is declining,” said Tuan.
Meeting with his counterpart Li Qiang, Prime Minister Chinh was on his first official visit to China since taking office in 2021. He was attending the 14th Annual Meeting of the New Champions of the World Economic Forum, a four-day event that started Sunday, according to Vietnam’s foreign ministry.
The USS Ronald Reagan was accompanied by two escort ships, the missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Robert Smalls.
Tuan said the timing of the two events was not a random coincidence and was more akin to “seeing off one person at the front door while welcoming another at the rear.”
“Vietnam has no choice but to do this to let Chinese leaders see to whom it attaches more importance,” said Tuan. “If Vietnam were an independent and sovereign state, the visit by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier would be Vietnam’s internal affairs, and its prime minister wouldn’t have to report to China.”