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Vietnam advisable not to play with fire

13:59, August 17, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

The relations between China and the U.S. hit another rough patch, and any unwise decision made by Vietnam would only intensify the brewing tensions. Vietnam might give the plausible explanation that it can do as it pleases within the framework of the International Law. Or it is just presenting the guesswork to China, but its action has actually betrayed its intention. When China resolves to defend the bottom line of its national interest, Vietnam can no more play deaf or mute.

Perhaps, Vietnam should have realized that caught in between the two powers, it is playing a risky game, with its own situation as precarious as a pile of eggs and potential hazards lurking on its every side. If it continues to incite the two powers to fight at close quarters, it is nobody but Vietnam itself would come to grief first.

Since July 23, when Hillary Clinton claimed in Hanoi that "the United States has national interests in the South China Sea," and soon afterwards, the US carrier George Washington and a destroyer successively sailed in the port of its former foe, and a US-Vietnamese joint maritime exercise took shape, some Vietnamese officials, experts and scholars have frequently written articles introducing the strategic position and significance of some islands that it occupies at present. Certain officials have publicly named China.

International opinion now holds the view that Vietnam is making desperate efforts to internationalize and multi-lateralize Sino-Vietnamese disputes over South China Sea territory, and wants to enlist the help of the United States to counterbalance China in the South China Sea.

If Vietnam is currently carrying out what it really intends to do, and expects to see the Chinese deciphering to the effect, it will be another thing. But if Vietnam still frets about the fallout of what it is doing now, and cares about China's accumulating displeasure over its recent actions, it should take a different path to water down its undue hostility toward China, or at least, not to play to aggravate Sino-US confrontation, as this is likely to have a substantive effect on China's future Vietnam policy.

In Ho Chin Minh's day, China and Vietnam established the brotherly rapport. Even though it is unrealistic to come back to the good old days, Vietnam should, in the minimum, constructively respond to China's consistent good- neighbor policy on its periphery.

In actuality, China has respected Vietnam over the past few years and highly regarded the feelings of the Vietnamese public; Conversely, Vietnam should also respect China and the Chinese public. Vietnam must not play a dangerous game between China and the United States, which is something of playing with fire.

However, Vietnam's actions now are very selfish and only thinking about itself without any thought for the periphery. It might well overestimate the capacity of Uncle Sam's protective umbrella.

It is advisable for Vietnam to give up the illusion that it can do what it likes in the South China Sea under the protection of US Navy. Should China and Vietnam truly come into military clashes, no aircraft carrier of any country can ensure it to remain secure.

On the other hand, China does not need to overreact and pick a war of wards with Washington over a non-issue like this. "Dragon doesn't need to snarl over the nonsense", as writes a Chinese blogger.

The best response from China instead would be to turn on its charm to win its deserved influence and prestige in South-east Asia. For the past decade, China has achieved great success in leveraging its economic influence and diplomatic clout to reassure South-east Asian countries and improve its image in the region.

To wit, neighbors are dearer than distant relatives, as goes a popular Chinese saying, and if the rapprochement newly set into motion between the used-to-be foes like Vietnam and the U.S. is really that dear.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."