| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

Pentagon Chief to nudge ties with Vietnam as human rights concerns linger

On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will try to push security ties with Vietnam forward, which have been gradually deepening as both countries monitor China’s activities in the South China Sea with increasing concern.

Despite strengthening military ties, President Joe Biden’s administration has stated that the connection will be limited until Hanoi makes progress on human rights, more than four decades after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Vietnam has emerged as the most outspoken opponent of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, receiving military gear from the United States, including coastguard cutters.

“(Vietnam) wants to know that the United States would remain militarily engaged and that it will maintain its presence in the South China Sea,” said Greg Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The two sides will address the coronavirus and steps to “improve marine law enforcement capability,” said Lieutenant General Vu Chien Thang, director of the Defense Ministry’s Foreign Relations Department, on Tuesday.

On the condition of anonymity, a senior US defense official said they would also sign a “memorandum of understanding” with Harvard and Texas Tech University to build a database that would aid Vietnamese in their hunt for those who had gone missing during the conflict.

On Sunday, the United States shipped 3 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, raising the amount given by the United States, via the global COVAX vaccine scheme, to 5 million doses.

Austin will meet his counterpart along with Vietnam’s president and prime minister.

Experts say there are lingering concerns in Vietnam about Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.

“That really left a lot of countries standing at the altar for lack of a better way to put it, and especially Vietnam,” Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, said.

There are also limits to how far the United States is willing to deepen relations.

As important as Vietnam is in countering China, the United States has said it needs to improve its human rights record.

Vietnam has undergone sweeping economic reforms and social change in recent decades, but the ruling Communist Party retains a tight grip over media and tolerates little dissent.

In Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said the United States would always lead with its values.

“We will discuss those values with our friends and allies everywhere we go and we don’t make any bones about that,” Austin said.

This month, Marc Knapper, Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam vowed to boost security ties but said they could only reach their full potential if Hanoi made significant progress on human rights.

  • Reuters