2019 Asian Studies Visiting Fellow: Thi Bich "Bella" Tran


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Bich "Bella" T. Tran

Residency: Late-April through Mid-July

BiographyBella Tran

Bich T. TRAN (Bella) is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Before joining the East-West Center in Washington, she was a Vising Research Fellow at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan. Her research interests include Vietnam’s foreign policy, Southeast Asian states’ relations with major powers, and political leadership. She is the co-author of “Vietnam’s Post-Cold War Hedging Strategy: A Changing Mix of Realist and Liberal Ingredients” (Asian Politics & Policy, 2018, with Yoichiro SATO) and the author of “Presidential Turnover and Discontinuity in the Philippines' China Policy” (Asian Perspective, coming in fall 2019).

Research Topic: From Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific: The Prospect of a U.S.-Vietnam Strategic Partnership

During the Obama administration and its Rebalance to Asia Strategy, the U.S.-Vietnam relationship drastically improved. With a comprehensive partnership signed in 2013, the two sides aimed at concluding a strategic partnership. However, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its announcement of the Indo-Pacific Strategy pose challenges to the future of U.S.-Vietnam relations. This project will explore the prospect of a U.S.-Vietnam strategic partnership in the changing strategic environment. In doing so, it will examine (1) the meaning of the current comprehensive partnership for Hanoi and Washington, (2) the nature of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and Vietnam’s role within that framework, (3) Vietnam’s interest and constraints in forming a strategic partnership with the United States, and (4) what needs to be done to upgrade the bilateral relationship. Given Vietnam's complicated relationship with China and its ambivalence toward the United States, the prospect of a U.S.-Vietnam strategic partnership will most likely depend on Beijing's actions in the South China Sea and Washington’s approaches towards strengthening ties with Hanoi.