Biden Visits Vietnam as US Aims to Build Ties, Counter China

President Joe Biden is heading to Vietnam as the US seeks to make deeper inroads in the region, aiming to offer nations an alternative superpower to China.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden is heading to Vietnam as the US seeks to make deeper inroads in the region, aiming to offer nations an alternative superpower to China.

Biden is scheduled to meet with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the leader of the country’s ruling Communist Party. Relations between the two countries have grown warmer in recent years, but the US has remain categorized as one of their least-prioritized relationships. 

That is expected to change after Sunday’s meeting, as the Vietnamese signals a desire to upgrade its relationship with the US. Trong and Biden vowed to deepen the relationship between their two nations in March. The partnership is not without complications though. Vietnam has relied heavily on Russia for military equipment, even as the US has sought to isolate Moscow over President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Vietnam is a critical relationship for the US,” Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told reporters on Air Force One en route to Vietnam Sunday, noting that the upgraded status of ties is an important signal for the bureaucracy there.

Security will be part of the relationship, he said, noting that the US believes Vietnam is “increasingly uncomfortable” with its ties to Russia. 

Semiconductors and rare-earth minerals will be on the agenda during Biden’s visit, he added, as the US seeks to find alternative sources to China. The US president will meet with local and US business executives while in Vietnam.

Vietnam was the eighth-largest trade partner for the US in 2022, according to the American Embassy in Vietnam, with $139 billion in turnover. US investment has boomed in Vietnam’s open-market economy over the last three decades.

In July, Biden told campaign donors he received a call from the head of Vietnam, seeking a meeting at the G-20 summit. “He wants to elevate us to a major partner along with Russia and China. What do you think that’s about?” Biden said.

“The point is the world is changing in a big way and we want to promote democracies,” he added. Biden didn’t explain how Vietnam’s one-party system fits that category, however.

The US delegation heads to Vietnam fresh off of the G-20 summit in India where Biden sought to take advantage of the absence of Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to showcase US ties with the Global South. On Saturday, he announced a major transport deal with India, the European Union and Middle Eastern nations, linking partners where China has sought to make inroads.

Read More: How China Aims to Counter US Efforts at ‘Containment’: QuickTake

The Biden administration has sought to prioritize relationship in the Indo-Pacific region, notably many of the countries with closest proximity to China. Washington and Beijing have had a series of tense moments over the last year, with Biden referring to President Xi as a “dictator” and the US shooting down an alleged Chinese spy balloon.

–With assistance from Derek Wallbank.

(Updates with US comment from fourth paragraph)

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