Saturday, March 6, 2021

Vietnam choosing new leaders to leverage US-China tensions

The new Hanoi leadership will have to contend with increased scrutiny from the US and a largely unknown new leadership in the White House.

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Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party gathers in Hanoi next week for a congress that will help shape the country’s global role for the next five years.

The congress will select new leaders and set policy as tensions grow with Beijing and a new US administration gets up and running.

The Communist Party’s 13th Congress will be looking for leaders to leverage Vietnam’s economic success by balancing relations with China and the US.

Vietnam has become an important strategic partner to both in a world economy that’s being deprived of previous longstanding certainties.

Buoyed by the redirection of global trade in its favour because of a US-China row, Vietnam is steadily growing into one of the world’s most important tech manufacturing hubs, as well as a garment-making centre.

Its economy is on track to recover faster than most after the pandemic, which the country has been successful in containing so far with airtight quarantine measures resulting in just over 1,500 infections and 35 deaths in total.

Vietnam – one of the last five Communist-ruled countries in the world besides China, Cuba, Laos and North Korea – has seen its economy outstrip much of Asia over the past year.

Most analysts expect continuity in Vietnam’s economic, domestic and foreign policy-making after the congress, reports Reuters.

The shift in global supply chains caused by Trump’s trade war with Beijing has benefited Vietnamese exporters, but the new Hanoi leadership will have to contend with increased scrutiny from the US and a largely unknown new leadership in the White House.

The US Trade Representative said earlier this month Vietnam’s actions to push down the value of its currency were “unreasonable” and restricted American commerce, but did not take action to impose punitive tariffs, leaving that decision to the Biden administration.

The other principal external challenge, observers say, will be finding ways to deal with China’s increasing aggressiveness in claiming vast, potentially energy-rich, swathes of the South China Sea which overlap with Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.

Though Vietnam and China have for years been embroiled in a dispute over the South China Sea, China remains the largest source of materials and equipment for Vietnam’s thriving manufacturing industry.

Strengthening Vietnam’s national defences is also on the agenda, as is tackling issues surrounding the development of the Mekong river, which Beijing largely dictates.

And of course keeping the country’s guard up against Covid-19 by vaccinating the population.

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