Obama’s visit to Vietnam has brought a couple of eye-catching changes to the ties between the two nations.
First is US$11.3 billion worth of orders from VietJet Air — Vietnam’s first private carrier, known for its bikini-clad attendants — for 100 Boeing 737 airliners.
The ruling Communist Party must have given its go-ahead or even pushed for the deal.
What Obama offered in return is lifting the arms embargo that had been in place since 1984.
Arms sales to the Southeast Asian country will now be considered and approved on a case-by-case basis, with Hanoi’s human rights record being a key factor.
Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives passed a bill for a strategic partnership with New Delhi.
Should the US Senate also give the green light, one immediate result of the closer alliance will be the boom in arms sales to India, which amounted to US$14 billion in 2014, a big surge from the paltry US$3 billion a decade ago.
Among those that may find these developments disheartening is Russia, who long used to be a key weapons supplier to India and Vietnam.
There may still be orders for Russian defense contractors, but New Delhi and Hanoi will have a new bargaining chip in negotiating deals.
Some observers say New Delhi and Hanoi have now become Washington’s de facto NATO allies in Asia.
Obviously, the new alignment aims to confront Beijing’s excesses in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
With New Delhi and Hanoi on board, Washington has effectively put up another cordon on top of the first island chain that can secure key seaways with cooperation from Tokyo, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Singapore.
The United States will also seek ways to include Taiwan in the new coalition, now the backbone of its “pivot to Asia”.
That will help Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen diminish, to a great extent, the menace from the other side of the strait.
Just a few months ago, China’s President Xi Jinping sent a flinty warning that the mainland will make the island “tremble” if Tsai refuses to play within the bounds of the “1992 consensus” that Beijing claims is a mutual acknowledgement that there is only one China.
But with the island’s pervasive antipathy toward China, particularly among its youth, and Washington’s concerted moves with its allies in the region, that hardline posture will hardly yield any good for Beijing – Taiwan will only be pushed further away.
Beijing may have to retreat to propaganda platitudes like “with goodwill, we lay our sincere hopes on the people of Taiwan” for ultimate reunification.
The irony is that rarely have Beijing and Tsai seen “eye to eye” on matters like this so far.
The pro-independence bloc is also pinning high hopes on the people of the island, who, it appears, will only become increasingly supportive of the idea of an independent nation of their own.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 26.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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