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Vietnam, in a Bind, Tries to Chart a Path Between U.S. and China


HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam’s full-on war with the United States lasted a decade. Its tensions with its northern neighbor, China, have persisted for thousands of years — from a millennium of direct Chinese rule and a bloody border war in 1979 to more recent confrontations in the South China Sea.


If geography is destiny, then the fate of Vietnam is to be an expert in bargaining with Beijing and balancing between superpowers.


So with the rest of the world struggling to reckon with China’s assertive moves in the Pacific, the Vietnamese, hosts of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, are offering guidance.

因此,虽然世界其他国家难以对中国在太平洋地区的强势行动做出预计,今年亚太经济合作论坛(Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation,简称APEC)的东道主越南却提供了指导意见


Ye Aung Thu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


“I would like to give advice to the whole world, and especially to the United States, that you must be careful with China,” said Maj. Gen. Le Van Cuong, the retired director of the Institute of Strategic Studies at the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security.

“我想建议全世界,尤其是美国,一定要提防中国,”越南公共安全部(Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security)战略研究所(Institute of Strategic Studies)的退休所长黎文岗(Le Van Cuong)少将说。

Like any good Communist soldier, General Cuong pays attention to the details of leaders’ abstruse speeches, and he noted that President Xi Jinping of China had referred to his homeland’s status as a “great” or “strong power” 26 times in a lengthy address last month.


“Xi Jinping’s ambitions are dangerous for the whole world,” General Cuong said. “China uses its money to buy off many leaders, but none of the countries that are its close allies, like North Korea, Pakistan or Cambodia, have done well. Countries that are close to America have done much better. We must ask: Why is this?”


As with other Southeast Asian nations acutely aware that they are positioned in China’s backyard, Vietnam is worried about American inattention.


In the name of halting Communism, the United States once sent troops to Indochina and propped up dictators elsewhere in Asia. But the American-devised security landscape also created a stable environment in which regional economies expanded.


Now, Mr. Trump’s decision to take the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which would have given 11 other economies an alternative to a Chinese-led economic order, has left the Vietnamese feeling vulnerable.

现在,特朗普决定让美国退出“跨太平洋伙伴关系协定”(Trans-Pacific Partnership,简称TPP),这令该协议的其他11个经济体有可能加入由中国主导的经济秩序,也令越南觉得没有安全感。

“As Vietnamese, we are always trying to find a way to balance China’s power,” said Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a professor at the Foreign Trade University in Hanoi. “For us, TPP isn’t just an economic issue. It’s also about geopolitics and social issues.”

“我们越南人一直在努力寻找平衡中国力量的办法,”河内外贸大学(Foreign Trade University)的教授阮玉英(Nguyen Ngoc Anh)说。“对我们来说,TPP不仅是一项经济协定。它也同地缘政治和社会问题有关。”

Ms. Anh noted that local liberals had cheered the trade pact because it would have forced Vietnam to adhere to international labor and government accountability standards that Hanoi might otherwise not meet.


With the 11 other members of the pact agreeing to proceed without the United States, Washington’s withdrawal — not to mention Mr. Trump’s “America First” speech at the APEC meeting on Friday — leaves some nations wondering if their best option may be Chinese-backed trade pacts and financing deals that have fewer guarantees for workers and less official transparency.

该协议的其他11个成员国同意在美国退出的情况下继续推进,但华盛顿的退出——更别提特朗普周五在亚太经合组织(APEC)的会议上关于“美国优先”(America First)的演讲——导致有些国家开始考虑,对自己来说,最好的选择可能是加入中国支持的贸易协定和融资交易,它们对工人保障和官员透明度的要求较低。

“We are both Communist countries, but people like me in Vietnam don’t want to develop the same way that China has,” said Ms. Anh, who studied economics in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia. “We want to follow the Western-oriented way.”


While the United States is the largest market for Vietnamese exports, Vietnam’s biggest trading partner is China. Yet Vietnam runs a significant trade deficit with its populous neighbor, and Vietnamese economists worry that China doesn’t play fairly.


“China is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t observe international law in many areas,” said Le Dang Doanh, an influential economist who has advised members of the Vietnamese Politburo on trade.

“中国是世界上少数几个在很多领域不遵守国际法的国家之一,”颇具影响力的经济学家黎登营(Le Dang Doanh)表示。他曾就贸易问题给越南政治局的成员提供建议。

The Vietnamese watched in alarm last year when Beijing reacted to an international tribunal’s dismissal of China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea by ignoring — and even mocking — the judgment. Vietnam and four other governments have claims of their own on the resource-rich waterway that conflict with China’s.


It is hard to overstate the level of Vietnamese antipathy toward China. In a country where public protest is rare and risky, some of the few large-scale demonstrations in Vietnam in recent years have been against the Chinese.


But this national aversion puts Vietnam’s leadership in a bind. It cannot ignore China’s growing economic magnetism. For many members of APEC, China now ranks as their No. 1 trading partner.


In return for investment and project financing — roads, railways, dams, airports and colossal government buildings — leaders of regional economies are increasingly doing Beijing’s bidding.


Cambodia and Laos have given crucial support for Beijing’s South China Sea claims. Thailand has complied with Beijing’s demand that it return Chinese dissidents who once counted on it as a haven.


Even the Philippines has appeared to yield, despite the fact it lodged the successful South China Sea suit at The Hague. Days before Mr. Trump’s visit to Manila this Sunday, it disclosed that President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered construction halted on a disputed sandbar in the South China Sea, a move widely regarded as intended to placate Beijing.

甚至连菲律宾似乎也屈服了,尽管它在海牙国际法庭上赢得了南海诉讼案。在特朗普周日访问马尼拉之前几天,菲律宾宣布,总统罗德里戈·杜特地(Rodrigo Duterte)已下令暂停在南海一个有争议的沙洲上施工。这一举动被普遍认为旨在平息北京的不满。

Since taking office last year, Mr. Duterte has deemed the era of American military and economic pre-eminence over, and has called China his country’s best and faithful friend. He has been rewarded with billions of dollars in infrastructure investment from Beijing.


“The U.S. has been playing catch-up to China’s charm offensive since the turn of the new century,” said Tang Siew Mun, who heads the Southeast Asia center at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, a think tank in Singapore.

“新世纪以来,美国在魅力攻势上一直落后于中国,”在新加坡智库尤索夫伊萨东南亚研究所(Southeast Asia center at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute)任主管的邓秀岷(Tang Siew Mun)说。

Vietnam, more than any other country, has grown practiced at divining when not to challenge the two Pacific powers — both of which it fought within the last half-century.


In the 1970s and 1980s, China seized spits of land in the South China Sea that Vietnam had controlled or that were unoccupied but claimed by Hanoi.


Yet perhaps sensing an American reluctance to confront China in the South China Sea, Vietnam has declined to take China to international court, as the Philippines did, even as the Chinese have turned disputed reefs and sandbars into militarized islands.


Chinese pressure continues, despite the United States’ supplying the Vietnamese Coast Guard with a cutter and new patrol boats.


This year, a Spanish company with prospecting rights from Vietnam suspended drilling in an oil block off the coast of Vietnam. Beijing claims part of the waters as its own.


In 2014, the Chinese parked a state-owned oil rig off Danang, where Mr. Trump attended the APEC summit meeting on Friday, in a forceful incursion into what Hanoi considers its territorial waters.


“Living next to China, which has ambitions to become the most powerful country in the world, is not easy,” said Vo Van Tao, a popular political blogger. “To lower the heat, Vietnam needs to withdraw from areas that belong to Vietnam.”

“中国有成为世界最强国家的野心,与它比邻而居不是一件容易的事,”广受欢迎的政治博主武文曹(Vo Van Tao)说。“为了给局势降温,越南需要从属于越南的区域撤离。”

Grand strategy is beyond the worldview of Vietnamese like Do Van Duc. In 1979, he was stationed on the border with China, as part of an antiaircraft artillery unit, when hundreds of thousands of People’s Liberation Army soldiers from China flooded south.

对于像杜文德(Do Van Duc)这样越南人来说,大战略超出了他们的世界观。1979年,他所属的高射炮部队驻扎在越中边境,当时有数十万中国人民解放军士兵向南涌来。

The Vietnamese, while outmanned, put up an unexpectedly robust defense. Within a month, the Chinese, professing that they had taught the Vietnamese a lesson for interfering in regional geopolitics, withdrew.


During the war with China, Mr. Duc was only 17 years old, but he came to understand one thing then that today, as a security guard living in Hanoi, he said he still clings to.


“We cannot trust the Chinese,” he said. “They are our ancient enemy, and that will not change.”


欢迎在Twitter上关注本文作者Hannah Beech @hkbeech

Chau Doan对本文有报道贡献。



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