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In deft diplomatic move China blunts Kamala Harris’s bid to woo Vietnam

Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh with Chinese Ambassador Xiong Bo

In a deft diplomatic move China’s ambassador in Hanoi met Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh just ahead of  the scheduled meeting with US Vice-President Kamala Harris on Wednesday and presented the neighbouring country with an additional 2 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

In the meeting on Tuesday with Xiong Bo, the Chinese envoy to Hanoi, the Vietnam Prime Minister said that his country will not enter into any alliance to confront Beijing.

The statement comes at a time when Harris has embarked on a tour to strengthen a US alliance in the region to counter the influence of an increasingly belligerent China. 

Her visit is also taking place in the backdrop of US credibility in the region being questioned following the abrupt collapse of the Afghanistan government just days after American troops were pulled out. The withdrawal of American troops has raised concerns over how committed Washington is to its commitments in the Indo-Pacific region.

Pham said Vietnam had always maintained an independent foreign policy that prioritised self-reliance, multilateralism and diversification of ties, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

He said Vietnam would not ally with one country to fight another, and wished to enhance political trust with China, promote exchange and uphold cooperation.

He also said the two nations should join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in stepping up the slow-moving negotiations for a code of conduct on the disputed South China Sea.

“The two sides need to strive to maintain peace and stability, satisfactorily settle disagreements at sea in the spirit of high-level common perceptions,” Pham was quoted as saying.

Xiong said during the meeting that the two communist nations had the same political system and beliefs.

He told Pham that China was willing to work with Vietnam and stick to the two countries’ high-level strategic directive to further develop ties, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

Xiong also sought Vietnam’s support against the WHO move for a second more detailed investigation into the origin of Covid-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan where the coronavirus first surfaced in December 2019. 

During her stop in Singapore on Tuesday, Harris accused Beijing of intimidation over the South China Sea, but said Washington’s engagement in Southeast Asia was not designed to make “anyone choose between countries”.

Also read: In visit to ASEAN, can Kamala Harris restore confidence in the alliance after Afghan debacle?