The US Secretary of Defense is on a trip to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. This is the first visit to Southeast Asia by a top official in the Biden administration.
In Singapore, Mr. Lloyd Austin spoke at an event organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). The visit of the Pentagon leader demonstrates that the Biden-Harris administration considers Southeast Asia an important part of the Indo-Pacific region.
The US Secretary of Defense's two-day visit to Vietnam has just concluded.
America’s commitment to the region
|Vietnamese Defense Minister Phan Van Giang welcomed his American counterpart Lloyd Austin on the morning of July 29. Photo: Pham Hai|
This visit underscores the United States’ enduring commitment to the region and its interest in upholding the rules-based international order in the region and promoting ASEAN's central role.
As US Defense Secretary, Mr. Austin has visited Europe twice to mend relations with allies. He also visited Japan, Korea and India. Mr. Austin was due to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, but the event was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), noted that Mr. Austin was visiting three of America’s most important political and security partners in Southeast Asia. Singapore is the most important security partner; Vietnam is increasingly becoming a close partner with the US, and the Philippines is America’s oldest Asian ally.
According to Poling, Singapore is currently a closer regional security partner than Manila, when in 2020, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he would cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US.
Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said that the most important thing is that Duterte needs to win the support of the Philippine military if he wants to run for the position of Vice President in 2022.
Some analysts say the Philippines will be a difficult test for the US defense secretary during this trip, but he was still able to make progress on security issues with Manila.
For the US, improving relations with Manila will be key to the US' "pivot to Southeast Asia" strategy. The Biden administration aims to complete this fall a report with a focus on the importance of establishing a stronger presence in the region.
Practical cooperation between Vietnam and the US
Vietnam – US relations are developing strongly. As one of only two Southeast Asian countries specifically mentioned in the Biden administration’s interim national security strategy guidelines, Vietnam is increasingly becoming an important part of US defense strategy in the region.
Bilateral trade turnover has increased more than 200 times since the normalization of relations in 1995. The relationship between the two peoples has also been strengthened as Vietnam’s tourism industry develops. Vietnam has entered the list of countries most interested in by US investors. US foreign direct investment in Vietnam grew from less than $1 billion in 2011 to more than $2.6 billion in 2019.
On July 19, 2021 the US Department of Finance and the State Bank of Vietnam reached an agreement to resolve Washington’s concerns about the Vietnamese currency issue.
While Vietnam is trying to increase and diversify vaccine supply, the US has been actively providing vaccines for Vietnam, which helps to strengthen trust between the two countries.
Professor Carl Thayer said that Vietnam is a close comprehensive partner and is on the list of priority countries to receive vaccines from the US. In Southeast Asia, in addition to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the US also donated vaccines to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The fight against Covid-19 must be done globally so that there are no “hot spots” and the US has provided the vaccine in good faith.
Mr. Thayer also added that the two sides are cooperating practically. It benefits the US when Vietnam becomes a powerful economic player, and also contributes to the stability of the region. America can trust Vietnam to act independently and constructively.
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