October 24, 2008, Nam Duong Nguyen

Vietnam Between China and the United States: The Dialectic of Power and Identity

(Click to enlarge) Nam Duong Nguyen discusses relations between the United States, China and Vietnam at the East-West Center in Washington on October 24, 2008.

(Washington DC) October 24 – Vietnam is not holding itself hostage to the fluctuations in Sino-American regional interest but actively seeking to define its position in Southeast Asia as well as its interactions with world powers. In a seminar at the East-West Center in Washington, Nam Duong Nguyen described the triangular relationship between Vietnam, the United States, and China, and painted a picture of the strategies used by Vietnam to engage with the two countries.


Mr. Nguyen explored Vietnam’s strategy toward China and the United States through the political theories of realism and constructivism. He concluded that Vietnam’s strategy could be understood by integrating relevant assumptions and concepts from both theories and that the country utilizes a combination of self-reliance, appeasement toward China, constricted engagement with the United States, and the development of Southeast Asian regionalism to shape its part in the triangular relationship. Essentially, Vietnam continues to engage China and the United States bilaterally while also encouraging both countries to become more active players in multilateral Southeast Asia.


Frederick Z. Brown pointed out that Vietnam has done a remarkable job of reorienting its foreign policies since the end of the Cold War to include deepening relationships with one-time enemies such as the United States. Mr. Nguyen added that Vietnam has also taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to engage in multilateral dialogue and that it sees this organization as a means to socialize both China and the United States into a security community of the Asia Pacific. Vietnam’s foreign policies are thus multifaceted, taking advantage of many regional and international opportunities. This strategy has allowed Vietnam to continue to engage with China and the United States while also asserting its role as an independent regional actor.


Nam Duong Nguyen is a Visiting Research Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. Mr. Nguyen is a Ph.D. candidate in politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. His research interests include political and security issues in Southeast Asia, with a special focus on mainland Southeast Asia.


Frederick Z. Brown is Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Brown founded the Southeast Asia Studies Program at SAIS in 1992 and was associate director until 2005. From 1958 to 1984, he was a Department of State Foreign Service office with postings in France, Thailand, the Soviet Union, Vietnam (twice), Cyprus, and Washington.