Vietnam a Bad Model for Japan in Dealing with China

The Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil platform on its way to the South China Sea, June 12, 2012. (Photo/CFP)

An article in Japan’s Weekly Toyo Keizai suggesting that Japan can learn from the way Vietnam has dealt with its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea overlooks the negative effects of the dispute on Vietnam’s economy, according to Duowei News, a media outlet run by overseas Chinese.

The Toyo Keizai article stated that despite an easing of tensions between Japan and China in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which will be marked by a parade in Beijing on Sept. 3, there are still many obstacles to further improvement in the relationship between the two countries. The article stated that Sino-Vietnamese relations offer a useful model for Japan to negotiate the balancing rope of maintaining good relations with China while still asserting its national interests.

China’s relationship with Vietnam is more complicated than its relationship with Japan, however, given the many past conflicts between them and northern Vietnam’s historic role as a vassal state, according to Duowei.

The Toyo Keizai article pointed to the way Vietnam has used its role in the ASEAN community, with which China is eager to work in its Belt and Road initiatives, and appeals to the sympathy of the international community to allow it the room to maintain its hard line on the South China Sea dispute with China, forcing China to back down by removing its Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil platform from waters around the Paracels that Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone in August 2014.

The piece said Vietnam’s success lies in the way it negotiates with larger countries, pushing them to the brink of their breaking point before suddenly presenting a compromise.

Another point the magazine raised was Vietnam’s use of the intelligence of other countries against them. The magazine suggested that Japan shouldn’t be afraid to get its hands dirty in the diplomatic back-and-forth and move away from the country’s traditional values of chivalry and dogmatism. The magazine said that this would allow Japan to adapt more quickly to new developments in its diplomacy with other nations.

The article stated that, as Vietnam has done with ASEAN and the international community, Japan should introduce more parties into its dispute with China, to avoid dealing bilaterally with Beijing.

Duowei stated, however, that despite the anti-China sentiment that Vietnam was able to inspire in ASEAN and in the wider international community, Vietnam’s refusal to compromise does not equate to China being forced to compromise.

The Tokyo-based Yomiuri Shimbun stated that Vietnam has suffered financially due to its dispute with China. Although the country is currently attempting to redress its economic overreliance on China, the widespread protests in Vietnam against the oil platform’s deployment and China’s subsequent withdrawal of companies, staff and factories from the country had a massive impact on the country. Even though the platform was eventually withdrawn and relations between the two countries normalized, the affair is said to have caused US$1.5 billion in losses for Vietnam, making up almost 0.7% of the country’s GDP.

Almost 30% of Vietnam’s imports come from China. Much of the raw material for Vietnam’s main industries, clothing and shoemaking, also comes from China. Vietnam had a trade deficit of US$23 billion with China in 2013, according to Duowei. A fourth of tourists visiting Vietnam are also from China. This suggests that although Vietnam may have emerged the “winner” in terms of the oil platform dispute, China is still very much in control of the terms of the relationship between the two countries.

In response, Vietnam has been attempting to diversify its diplomatic and trade relations, hence the July 7 meeting between the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Nguyen Phu Trong with President Barack Obama of the US. This was the first time a general secretary of the CPV had visited the US and marked the 20th anniversary of the restoration of US-Vietnam relations. One of the reasons behind the visit was likely that Vietnam hopes to profit from the proposed US-led initiative the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

 

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