After two US officials visited the same region, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s trip to Asia this month will intensify the tug of war between the superpowers. Analysts say that small countries can get a lot of aid from China and the United States as long as they avoid offending Beijing.
Asian countries are preparing to obtain military equipment and training from Washington and at the same time obtain economic assistance from Beijing. Beijing has already built core infrastructure in most of the Eurasian continent. Both countries are distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Scholars believe that smaller and sometimes impoverished countries will be rewarded by both sides, unless they have too good relations with Washington.
“This kind of soft power competition between the United States and China has some advantages for smaller countries. They can become objects of soft power competition, but at the same time their room for maneuver is getting narrower,” Alexander said. Professor Vuving, Daniel K. Inoue Asia-Pacific Security Research Center, Hawaii Research Institute, U.S. Department of Defense.
Wang arrived in Vietnam on Friday, the first of his four stops to discuss trade, economic relations and political trust. Vietnam stated that it will “make relations with China a top priority of its foreign policy”. This may lead to tensions with the United States, which has been pushing for a stronger partnership with Hanoi since 2017.
The visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister coincided with the signing of an agreement between Vietnam and Japan that allowed the export of Japanese defense equipment and technology. Vietnam’s acquisition of these commodities appears to be in response to China’s growing aggressiveness and influence in the region.
The United States is pinning its hopes on Asia to find allies to contain China’s expansion, but analysts say the United States is not known for punishing small countries that are bad for Beijing.
After the US government provided 1 million doses of the new vaccine in August, Mr. Wang promised to provide 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. The United States also agreed to establish a regional office of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Hanoi. Sun Yun, co-director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said the case of Vietnam shows the “flavor of competition” among superpowers.
According to a report by VOA Khmer Channel, Wang brought another 3 million doses to Cambodia on the weekend, and Cambodia also accepted a US$270 million grant from China. Vuving said that Cambodia has become more inclined to China than the United States, and Wang hopes to lock in this preference.
In Singapore on Monday, Wang stated on his ministry website that China hopes to “deepen pragmatic cooperation”. Sun said that both China and the United States see Singapore as a neutral force in Asia, and sometimes an analytical force. China is especially happy when the city-state calls for calmness.
Vuving said that Vietnam and Singapore have achieved “balance behavior” between the superpowers. An analyst told VOA that China had deepened its ties with the Philippines through pledges of aid after Southeast Asian countries agreed to resume their visit to the US government earlier this month.
Manila competes with Beijing for the right to use the controversial South China Sea, and this year heats up against China’s Cold War opponent, the United States
The US military helps train Philippine counterparts for any potential operations in the South China Sea. Manila and Beijing have disputes over parts of the South China Sea.
Consequences of U.S. relations
Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor of politics and international studies at Tokyo International Christian University, said the South Korea that Wang visited on Tuesday and Wednesday showed what China can do when a country is too close to the United States.
In March 2017, Seoul and Washington agreed to install a missile detection system that may see China and its main competitor North Korea. Beijing banned chartered vehicles to South Korea, resulting in a double-digit drop in the number of Chinese tourists.
Najib added that once the friendly relationship becomes tense, China will also “implement economic coercion” on Australia and Taiwan.
This month, South Korea became one of the few countries in the world capable of launching ballistic missiles from “extremely quiet” submarines. Steven Kim, a visiting researcher at the Jeju Peace Research Institute in South Korea, said that given Seoul’s long-term alliance with Washington, this is part of a “strategic arsenal” that will cause China’s concerns.
Nagy predicts that Wang may discuss health and economic cooperation with his Korean counterparts, “sternly and implicitly comment” that it should attach importance to economic relations with China.
“I think the characteristic of overall diplomacy is to try to generate constructive contacts, but of course, telling countries that Wang Yi will visit the United States that they need to carefully advance the kind of relationship they are building,” he said.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe visited his colleagues in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines last week.He suggested that Asian leaders resolve maritime disputes
Wang Yi’s visit follows the visit of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines in July and the visit of US Vice President Kamala Harris to Vietnam and Singapore last month.
Vietnam has become a target of global criticism for restricting freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and suppressing what it considers to be political dissidents
U.S. and Chinese officials have conducted back-to-back diplomacy in the past, including a cyclone tour in Asia after the Chinese Secretary of Defense made anti-China remarks by the then U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo a year ago.
Sun said that the recent series of visits show that the “competition” between China and the United States is increasing. She said that for smaller countries, “it will be difficult to maximize benefits and minimize risks, because considering the competition between major powers, neither Beijing nor Washington will spare no effort to push their agendas.”