Converging Interests: Hanoi and Manila Confront Leviathan


“They were really unprepared for that and were really embarrassed by it,” one of Vietnam’s top experts on Chinese diplomacy told me during my recent visit to Hanoi, referring to the Philippines’ bringing its case against China’s aggressive illegal actions in the West Philippine Sea to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal.

This confirmed my assessment that the Aquino government’s action was a master move.  It put China on the defensive, said another Vietnamese analyst, and was one of the factors that prompted Beijing last year to agree to begin discussions with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on a Code of Conduct for the “East Sea,” the Vietnamese designation for the West Philippine Sea.

Together on Beijing’s Hate List

The downside of this for the Philippines was that its legal move made it the “number one target” of Beijing, replacing Vietnam.  “They’re now isolating you, while relations between Vietnam and China are getting back to normal.”  Despite the leaders of both countries exchanging visits, however, “we still feel the chill,” said a top China expert at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.  “In terms of China’s least favored countries in Asean, we’re number nine for the moment and you’re number 10.  In the long run, however, Vietnam is Beijing’s main strategic problem.”

Invited to Hanoi to give a series of lectures on foreign policy and economic issues by Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, the legendary head of the Provisional Revolutionary  Government’s (PRG) of South Vietnam’s delegation to the Paris talks that ended the Vietnam War,  I took advantage of the opportunity to elicit Vietnamese views on the territorial disputes in the Philippine Sea.