President Joe Biden has denied that the US is attempting to stem China’s international influence, after signing a new historic deal with Vietnam.
More than 50 years since the last American soldier left Vietnam, Mr Biden travelled to Hanoi to sign the agreement that will bring the former foes closer than ever before.
The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam is a major relationship upgrade for the US. It is the culmination of a relentless push by Washington over the last two years to strengthen ties with Vietnam, which it sees as key to counter China’s influence in Asia.
It is also no small feat. The partnership with Washington is the highest level of diplomatic ties extended by Vietnam, one of China’s oldest and staunchest friends.
Mr Biden told reporters in Hanoi that American actions were not about containing or isolating China, but about maintaining stability in accordance with international rules.
“I think we think too much in terms of Cold War terms. It’s not about that. It’s about generating economic growth and stability, Mr Biden told reporters in Hanoi on Sunday, in response to a question from the BBC.
“I want to see China to succeed economically, but I want to see them succeed by the rules,” he said.
Signs of improved ties had already irked Beijing, which called them more evidence of America’s “cold-war mentality”.
But Hanoi has thought this through, says Le Hong Hiep from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, adding that the agreement with the US is “symbolic rather than [one of] substance”.
The Vietnamese dream
The title may be symbolic but closer ties could mean better business deals, and less reliance on China.
Vietnam has a young and highly educated workforce. It has also fostered a spirit of entrepreneurship which makes it highly attractive to US investors – especially those who are looking to move their manufacturing bases out of China.
Big names including Dell, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all shifted parts of their supply chains to Vietnam in recent years. The US also considers it a promising market for weapons and military equipment as Hanoi tries to wean off Moscow.
Washington is also keen to help Vietnam become an integral part of the world’s semiconductor supply chain and develop its electronics sector – areas which have become contentious as the US tries to restrict China’s access to advanced tech.
And yet Vietnam may not see its new partnership with the US as choosing one side or the other. As Beijing’s economy slows, Hanoi’s closer relationship with Washington is only pragmatic.
“I was in America for seven years and I knew about the American dream and I got that opportunity. But I thought, I have a bigger dream. The Vietnamese dream,” says Nguyen Huu Phuoc Nguyen , co-founder and CEO of Selex Motors.
He is standing in the company’s warehouse pointing at his e-scooter production line.
Mr Nguyen started the business five years ago. Now he has contracts with major delivery firms from Grab to Lazada.
He grew up in a tiny village in central Vietnam without electricity. In his lifetime, he has seen his country develop from one of the poorest in the world to one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.
“I wanted to contribute to build a prosperous and sustainable Vietnam, to fully utilise our opportunities and potential. We have missed a lot of opportunities. But I feel that it is the right time and we are the right generation to make it happen.”
While he talks, bosses of a Chinese delivery company are waiting in the wings to discuss a deal. Also watching are Foreign Office officials who accompanied the BBC throughout its rare visit to Vietnam.