06/11/2019, 15.32
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Hanoi is increasingly at the center of the US strategy for the Indo-Pacific

by Paul Nguyen Hung

On January 1, 2020, Vietnam will take on the rotating presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The US Department of Defense defines the role of allies and partners in Washington's plan for a "free and open" region.


Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Vietnam's growing geopolitical weight gives Hanoi an increasingly crucial role in US strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. For years, the country has been participating in the most important international organizations in the region; on January 1, 2020, it will take on the rotating presidency of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Last June 1, the US Department of Defense (DOD) published the first "Indo-Pacific Strategy Report". The document highlights the role of allies and partners in Washington's plan for a "free and open" Indo-Pacific. Patrick M. Shanahan, US Defense Secretary illustrated some key passages of the document during the 18th edition of the Shangri-La Dialogue, held in Singapore between May 31 and June 2. Organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the event is the main regional conference on Defense and Security.

High US officials reiterated the importance of Hanoi in their regional vision on June 6 in Washington, on the occasion of the "Meridian Diplomacy Forum: Countries of the Mekong", a conference created on the initiative of the Meridian International Center. The theme of the seminar was the relations between the United States and the five countries crossed by the Mekong, the longest and most important Indochina river: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

These nations participate in the Lower Mekong Initiative (Lmi), a multinational partnership launched by Washington in 2009 to create "integrated sub-regional cooperation" between the five Lower Mekong countries and the United States. At the same time, the five countries of Southeast Asia together form the Greater Mekong Subregion (Gms), founded in 1992 with the launch of a development program for the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

At the Meridian International Center forum, among others, were Mark D. Clark, deputy secretary for South East Asia - internal division at the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Office - in the US State Department; Randall G. Schriver, Deputy Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs; Piper Campbell, a retired diplomat who led the US mission to ASEAN. Clark highlighted the importance of the Mekong delta in the Indo-peaceful strategy. He also stressed the principles of this strategy, defined as "commitment to sovereignty and transparency in governance"; the central role of ASEAN and the regional order, based on the rule of law and respect for international laws.

Schriver said: We want Southeast Asian Countries to contribute for protecting common interests and ensuring that international waters still international ones. He also said that, “The US supports the central role of ASEAN. We will have naval exercises between ASEAN countries with the US. This is the first exercise session at the end of 2019 [...] Some of the principles of the Indo-Pacific Strategy coincide with ASEAN’s vision of protecting sovereignty and international law. If you say that protecting sovereignty is important then we can work together on this content. We agree with your fundamental principle that you do not want to choose ‘our side or China’s side’. But in the first phase of the implementation of new strategy, the United States is able to do firstly that is to build capacity for partner countries ".

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