The Latest on Southeast Asia: April 13, 2023

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Hanoi from April 14 to 16 on his way to Japan to attend the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. This will mark Blinken’s first official visit to Vietnam as secretary of state. He will hold talks with senior Vietnamese officials, break ground on the U.S. Embassy’s new compound, and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership. In a press briefing previewing Blinken’s trip, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Daniel Kritenbrink highlighted the growth of the bilateral relationship over the past decade, during which Vietnam has become the United States’ eighth-largest trading partner.

Bilateral engagements have been robust since the beginning of the year. In mid-March, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council led the largest ever American business mission to Vietnam, which included Netflix, Boeing, and SpaceX. On March 29, President Joe Biden held a rare phone call with Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in which the leaders discussed the “importance of strengthening and expanding the bilateral relationship.” On March 30, Washington hosted the 12th U.S.-Vietnam Political, Security, and Defense Dialogue, which was attended by Ha Kim Ngoc, Vietnam’s deputy minister of foreign affairs and former ambassador to the United States, and Jessica Lewis, U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs. A bicameral congressional delegation also visited Vietnam from April 7 to 11. Democratic senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who led the delegation, affirmed during a meeting with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh that Congress considers Vietnam one of the United States’ most important partners in the region. They discussed addressing legacies of the Vietnam War, combating climate change, and promoting cooperation in investment and trade.

Analysts have speculated that the United States and Vietnam might elevate their formal diplomatic relationship to a strategic partnership this year, a status that Vietnam has bestowed upon the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. Vietnam established a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, the highest level of diplomatic relations, with China in 2008. Hanoi has been reluctant to formally upgrade the relationship for fear of possible retaliation from China. But given the United States and Vietnam’s strategic alignment on important regional issues, officials from both countries agree that the partnership is already strategic in nature. A formal upgrade seems increasingly overdue, and with General Secretary Trong having accepted President Biden’s invitation to visit the United States, it may happen this year. Secretary Blinken’s visit will be closely watched for signs of progress toward that goal.

Karen Lee is a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Gregory B. Poling is a senior fellow and director for the Southeast Asia Program and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS.

For more political, economic, and security analysis on the region, check out our blog series, The Latest on Southeast Asia. To hear the latest news on the region and hear from Southeast Asia experts, listen and subscribe to the Southeast Asia Radio podcast on any streaming platform.

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Karen Lee

Karen Lee

Former Research Associate, Southeast Asia Program
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Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow and Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative