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Antony Blinken Vietnam visit put China in tension, meeting of both foreign ministers in Hanoi

Antony Blinken Vietnam visit put China in tension, meeting of both foreign ministers in Hanoi

Diplomat Times (Hanoi) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken broke ground at a new U.S. Embassy site during his first visit to Vietnam as America’s top diplomat, with Washington seeking to establish closer relations with a country that has historic ties with both China and Russia.

In Communist-led Vietnam, Mr. Blinken didn’t make direct comments about Beijing, with whom Washington’s relations have worsened. Instead, as with much of Southeast Asia—where governments are wary about picking sides—U.S. officials say they are eager to build practical cooperation based on trade and adhering to agreed upon international rules of the road.

“On South China Sea, I think it’s very clear that countries throughout the region, to include Vietnam, feel strongly about the importance of respecting the rule of law, particularly under the Law of the Sea Convention, when it comes to issues of freedom of navigation, when it comes to maritime disputes, when it comes to illegal fishing, et cetera,” Mr. Blinken told reporters hours after picking up a shovel for the ceremonial groundbreaking of an expected six years of embassy construction.

READ MORE : Blinken meets China’s Wang Yi, warns China against helping Russia, first meeting after balloon controversy too

Blinken’s first visit to Vietnam as secretary of state comes as Washington tries to contain China’s growing influence in Asia and beyond amid intensifying rivalry between the world’s two biggest economies.

“I believe … that this is an auspicious time in relations between Vietnam and the U.S. — ten years of the Comprehensive Partnership, stronger relations in just about every area, and we believe the opportunity to build on that strong foundation,” Blinken told Trong before their meeting, referring to a framework for advancing bilateral ties they launched in 2013.

The visit follows a phone call between President Joe Biden and Trong in late March, in which the White House said they discussed the importance of strengthening bilateral relations.

Trong told Blinken that the phone call had received “very positive” feedback. “I am confident that your visit will help consolidate the partnership between Vietnam and the U.S.”

Separately, Blinken met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. “We highly appreciate the role and responsibility of the U.S. towards the Asia-Pacific, or, in a larger scheme, the Indo-Pacific,” Chinh told Blinken.

Blinken said, the work that we’re doing on climate, on energy, on digital transformation, science and technology, education, so many other areas, offer tremendous promise for both of our people. And our shared commitment to a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific and around the world is of ever greater significance when that rules-based order is being challenged, but we both stand forthrightly together for it.

We’ve had a wonderful opportunity just a short while ago together to break ground on the new embassy. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be able to take part in that. It really is two things. It’s symbolic of the importance that we attach to the relationship.

It’s also going to be a very practical manifestation of the work we’re doing together because we are working together across so many different areas. Having an even more robust embassy here will facilitate that work, and we look forward to that.

But in the meantime, thank you for today. Thank you for the incredible warmth of your hospitality and that of your colleagues. We look forward to getting down to work.

Political analysts say Hanoi is wary of alienating Beijing, but that it is also concerned about its giant neighbor’s growing military might. Vietnam faces pressure from China in the South China Sea, where the countries have overlapping territorial and maritime claims.

“Vietnam is trying to do many things at the same time,” to balance against threats posed by China, said Bich Tran, a post-doctoral fellow at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. That includes modernizing its military and deepening defense cooperation with the U.S., Japan and India, she said.

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