US-Vietnam Aircraft Carrier Visit Talk Spotlights Hanoi's Complex Security Landscape
Plus a new trilateral first; Thailand's Myanmar diplomacy; and much more.
Welcome back to ASEAN Wonk BulletBrief! For this edition of this weekly product, we’re looking at:
The geostrategic context behind the U.S.-Vietnam aircraft carrier visit talk, including the state of Vietnam’s security environment and ties with Washington in global perspective;
Mapping of key regional developments including a new first in the U.S.-Japan-Philippines trilateral and outcomes from the India-Vietnam defense ministers’ meeting (ICMYI, read our separate take on that here);
Evolving trends on human and climate security, including perceptions of refugees and policy approaches towards managing natural disasters;
Tracking and data-driven analysis of industry developments such as Malaysia’s evolving approach to social media platforms, cross-border payment mechanisms in mainland Southeast Asia and Myanmar-Russia economic links;
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New First in US-Japan-Philippines Trilateral; India-Vietnam Defense Ties; Thai Diplomacy on Myanmar & More
US-Vietnam Aircraft Carrier Visit Talk Spotlights Hanoi’s Complex Security Landscape
What’s Behind It
Vietnam’s foreign ministry has said that the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan will visit Da Nang from June 25 to 30. The acknowledgment came after days of speculation about the potential interaction.
The visit talk has intensified following an active few weeks that reveal the complexities of Vietnam’s security landscape. On the one hand, internal and external challenges have been clearly visible, with the deadly June 11 attacks on commune offices in Dak Lak province exposing more systemic issues in the country’s Central Highlands, and harassment by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea for nearly a month between May and June clear for all to see. On the other hand, there have also been a string of recent interactions that reveal the breadth of Vietnam’s alignments, including India’s gifting of a warship following a defense ministers’ meeting and a port call by Japanese destroyers at Cam Ranh International Port (see table below).
Why It Matters
This would constitute just the third U.S. aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War and the first since 2020, marking another iteration of a newer aspect of defense cooperation between the two sides. An earlier visit had been planned in July 2022, which would have further solidified a cadence of a carrier visit every two years after ones in 2018 and 2020. But that 2022 carrier visit was subsequently canceled.
The interaction will also be viewed from the prism of the state of the overall U.S.-Vietnam relationship, particularly amid continued suggestions of an upgrade in ties to the level of a strategic partnership as the two countries mark the tenth anniversary of their comprehensive partnership this year. As noted before in these pages, the United States is currently in the lowest tier of Vietnam’s partners at the level of a “comprehensive partnership,” even though U.S. officials say that in reality, recent gains in the relationship over the past few years already attest to its “strategic” nature in all but name. This comes in the context of other concluded or potential upgrades involving U.S. allies, be it South Korea’s elevation to the highest tier of a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2022 or ongoing work on the part of Australia to upgrade its ties to that tier (see table below, drawn from our previous deep dive on Vietnam’s alignments).
Where It’s Headed
All eyes will be on how the optics of the visit plays out, particularly given the previous cancelation and the state of Vietnam’s ties with both China and the United States. Ahead of the interaction, Vietnam has predictably sought to downplay the significance of the visit, with its foreign ministry spokesperson noting that it is “a normal friendly exchange” and part of Hanoi receiving “visits from naval vessels from different countries.” Upcoming interactions, such as the one with China, will also likely be utilized to project a balancing of ties to maximize maneuverability, minimize fallout and obscure the sense that any recalibration is afoot.
Though aircraft carrier visits often spark media attention because of their highly visible nature, the broader question is how this will play into the development of ties, including Washington’s quest to upgrade relations. An overly narrow focus on carrier visits can distract from the broader trend of the more comprehensive development of U.S.-Vietnam defense ties and relations more generally. Defense ties now span not just visits but everything from civil space collaboration to health security to coast guard engagement, as publicly emphasized recently by U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan during her trip there. In just the first half of 2023 alone, we have seen visits from high-level officials including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, USAID Administrator Samantha Power and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
“Support for sending asylum applicants to another country is strongest in Turkey and Malaysia,” notes a new Ipsos survey on global attitudes towards refugees released alongside World Refugee Day that was observed on June 20. Malaysia leads on other similar questions on this score as well, including the willingness to close borders to refugees entirely, and Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand also factor into some of the rankings (see image above) (link).
“For Southeast Asia, development is security — an ideology that has prevailed since the postcolonial period until today,” notes a piece over at East Asia Forum. The article elaborates on the concept of comprehensive and cooperative security within the ASEAN context (link).
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