The Great Vietnamese Balancing Act

October 18th, 2011

 So there have been threats, and veiled threats. Then there have been warnings, covert warnings and, if may I add, overt warnings. There have also been confrontations, demands, posturing, assertions and increasing aggressiveness.
In fact, the waters of the South China Sea have seen more action in the last three months than any other littoral zone in the Asia Pacific.
Starting with the report of an Indian naval vessel, the INS Airavat, being “confronted” by an unidentified Chinese ship (thereafter conveniently branded as a Chinese warship) off the coast of Vietnam in August, sections of the Indian media have hee-hawed at every instance of Beijing making a statement about the disputed waters.
After years of near-complete neglect, the Indian press literally wiped the dust off its maps of the region and Vietnam suddenly returned to the news agenda. Almost overnight, there was a magical mass realisation of the country’s pivotal position in India’s Look East policy and the economic (and historical) ties that exist between the two nations.
And if Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Hanoi revived interest, Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang’s arrival in India stoked further curiosity.
It’s an almost forgotten matter that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee have made separate trips to the country in the last 12 months. Chief of the Army Staff General VK Singh, too, dropped by last year, the first by any Army chief in the last 15 years.
But in all the excitement over India’s purportedly rediscovered partnership with Vietnam, one crucial development has been virtually overlooked: the Great Vietnamese Balancing Act.      
Almost at the same time that President Sang made his pitch for closer cooperation with New Delhi, Hanoi despatched Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, essentially the country’s top leader, to Beijing.
And as President Sang reinforced his country’s interest to continue its economic relations with India, particularly oil and gas related exploration activities in the South China Sea, Secretary Trong settled on a six-point agreement for creating a mechanism to try straightening out the maritime dispute between Beijing and Hanoi.
Days later, all the diplomacy of the previous weeks is now seemingly forgotten. Xinhua, China’s official state news agency, reports that Beijing wants “other countries to respect its agreement with Vietnam on maritime issues” after the Philippines, also a party to the South China Sea dispute, demanded a multilateral resolution.
And the India media has not only jumped on a commentary in China’s Global Post newspaper that denounces India’s interest in energy assets in the waters off Vietnam, Indian correspondents from Beijing report that Chinese state-controlled media is making a case for Vietnam to backtrack on its recent oil and gas deal with India.
So there: we are back to the threats, and veiled threats. And Vietnam continues to walk a fine line. Great Vietnamese Balancing Act digg:The Great Vietnamese Balancing Act newsvine:The Great Vietnamese Balancing Act reddit:The Great Vietnamese Balancing Act Y!:The Great Vietnamese Balancing Act