US President Barack Obama called on Tuesday for territorial disputes in the South China Sea to be “resolved peacefully” as Vietnam baulks at Chinese actions in the bitterly contested waters.
“Big nations should not bully smaller ones, disputes should be resolved peacefully,” he told an audience in Hanoi, referring to the disputed maritime region.
His remarks won loud applause from more than 2,000 delegates including top Vietnamese leaders.
Washington and Hanoi have been drawn closer together through their mutual concern at Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the sea.
In the meantime, Chinese analysts say the U.S. intends to check China by taking advantage of Hanoi’s maritime disputes with Beijing.
Washington is attempting to draw Vietnam into its circle of influence in politics, security and economic affairs through Obama’s first visit to the country, they said.
Fan Jishe, a researcher of US strategies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the situation demonstrates Washington’s firmness in advancing its Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy.
“An important element of this strategy is developing diplomatic and economic relations with countries in the region,” Fan said, adding that Vietnam is now the priority.
Su Hao, a professor of Asia-Pacific studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said it is obvious that the US aims to contain China by taking advantage of Hanoi’s territorial disputes with Beijing.
“Vietnam is also seeking support from countries outside the region to exert pressure on China over the disputes,” Su said.
But the analysts said Vietnam will not side with the US without reservations, given its interdependency with China in terms of trade and economic affairs.