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US seeks rapprochement with Vietnam to strengthen positions in Southeast Asia - experts

The United States' rapprochement with Vietnam aims to restrain China by redirecting Hanoi's foreign and defence policy towards Washington, to involve Vietnam in the project of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement and to hinder its closer ties with Moscow and joining the Eurasian Economic Union, say experts polled by TASS.

Earlier this week Nguyen Phu Trong became the first general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party to visit the United States. Following the visit, Washington and Hanoi announced plans to reach a new level of relations, including in the defence and security spheres.

Vietnam has already become a key US trade partner in Southeast Asia. Nguyen Phu Trong invited US President Barack Obama to visit Hanoi saying that the United States and Vietnam "have been able to rise above the past to overcome differences, to promote our shared interests, and look towards a future in order to build the comprehensive partnership."

Obama and Trong discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea involving Vietnam, China and a number of other countries.

"Both countries are concerned about recent developments in the South China Sea that have increased tensions, eroded trust, and threatened to undermine peace, security, and stability," the sides said in a joint statement.

Trong's visit to Washington was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States.

Major-General Pavel Zolotaryov, a deputy head of the Institute of the United States and Canada of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told TASS that Washington had long ago taken policy of strengthening its positions in Southeast Asia.

"The US is persistently striving for counterbalance to the Chinese and Russian influence in the region. Vietnam, in its turn, is advocating oriental wisdom to gain advantages in the security and trade spheres from relations with America and from cooperation with Russia in the trade and economic sphere," Zolotaryov said.

He recalled that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Vietnam in April when the two countries pledged to triple bilateral trade in five years and to establish a free trade zone between Vietnam and the Eurasian Economic Union. Vientnam is also seeking to become a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

"The old territorial dispute between Vietnam and China has been aggravated by Beijing's construction project of artificial islands in the South China Sea. The countries of the region have got engaged into a tense geopolitical rivalry for control over islands in the South China Sea," Zolotaryov said.

"The Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia also have territorial claims on a number of islands. All of them are afraid of the deployment of Chinese missiles on these islands. Therefore, Hanoi may attempt to seek the protection of its national interests with the help of Washington and at the same time pursue a multivector foreign policy," the expert concluded.

His colleague Viktor Kremenyuk, another deputy head of the Institute of the United States and Canada, told TASS that the historical visit to Washington by the first general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party symbolizes the US intention to persuade Hanoi that America is not a hostile country anymore and is becoming a friendly state.

"The US is trying to prevent China from making Vietnam dependent on Beijing. Some Vietnamese leaders are ready to follow Washington's line while others are still focused on China and Russia," Kremenyuk said.

"Washington's broader task is to form in Southeast Asia a coalition of countries not depending on China but having ties with it, namely Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan, which could help the United States interact with China with no confrontation," the expert said.

"However, Japan and South Korea remain the US key strategic allies against China's expansion in Southeast Asia. The US Navy's Seventh Fleet deployed for operations in the Western Pacific and eastern part of the Indian Ocean is also an important instrument. This is a striking force of the US Navy, the number one factor of influence in the region," he concluded.

[Source: By Tamara Zamyatina, Itar Tass, Moscow, 10Jul15]

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