The conventional wisdom assumes that East Asian countries have been adopting “hedging” or “accommodating” strategy toward China since the end of the Cold War. By putting forward an “independent, diversified and multidirectional foreign policy,” Vietnam has attempted to strengthen relations with a number of major powers, including China. As a result, Hanoi is regarded as a typical “hedger” towards Beijing. This paper, on the contrary, argues that the relating analyses on Vietnam’s China policy are somewhat one- sided, i.e. primarily focusing on the Vietnam-China relations themselves, but neglecting the initiative role of the United States. Consequently, they cannot demonstrate some recent dynamic changes in Vietnam’s China policy. This paper contends that Vietnam’s China policy gradually shifted from hedging to soft balancing from 2014 to 2019 given considerations for its security and national interests. This change is largely prompted by both “punitive factor” and “incentive factor”. The former is defined as the obvious pressure and threats posed by China since 2014, which includes China’s unyielding stance in the South China Sea, Vietnam’s excessive dependence on China’s economy, etc. Vietnam is, thus, forced to choose either balancing or bandwagoning in the continuum instead of its ambivalent hedging strategy. On the other hand, the incentive factor refers to the United States’ inducing Vietnam into its quasi coalition targeting at containing China’s rise due to Vietnam’s growing role in its strategic layout. At the same time, Vietnam has become more willing to embrace the America’s inducements given the increasingly converging strategic interests between the two countries. Moving closer to Washington gives Hanoi more bargaining chips to handle with Beijing. Yet, such balancing act of Vietnam is still in low profile, which can be addressed as “soft balancing”.
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