Building Bridges: US-Vietnam Semiconductor Agreement Marks Milestone

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US President Joe Biden applauded the enhanced partnership with Vietnam on Sunday. This newly formed "comprehensive strategic partnership" underscores Washington's commitment to fortifying its network of allies across Asia and the Pacific, in response to the escalating influence of Beijing.

Biden, while emphasizing that his aim is not to contain China, voiced concerns about Beijing's attempts to reshape the international trade landscape. He stressed the necessity of establishing clear guidelines for bilateral relations.

Washington, consistently working towards its Indo-Pacific strategy, has invested substantially in building alliances. This includes initiatives like the Quad security dialogue with India, Australia, and Japan, as well as the AUKUS pact with Britain and Australia.

Following the G20 summit, where a consensus on phasing out fossil fuels remained elusive and divisions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine came to the fore, Biden flew directly to Hanoi.

Semiconductor Accord Marks a Milestone

The global disruptions in the supply chain, coupled with apprehensions about over-reliance on China for critical resources, have further propelled the urgency to strengthen ties with nations like Vietnam.

Central to this new partnership is an accord on semiconductors. The United States has committed to aiding Vietnam in advancing its capabilities and scaling up production. Additionally, a section dedicated to rare earth minerals, vital components in the production of cutting-edge devices such as smartphones and electric vehicle batteries, is included.

Vietnam boasts the world's second-largest reserves of rare earths, trailing only behind China. US officials affirm its pivotal role in diversifying and fortifying global supply chains.

Last month, Biden initiated measures to curtail US investment in sensitive areas of Chinese technology, including semiconductors, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence.

Enthusiastic about the prospects, Biden asserted, "This could mark the commencement of an even more profound era of collaboration," during his meeting with Nguyen Phu Trong, the leader of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party and the country's paramount figure.

United States Elevates Diplomatic Status

This landmark agreement elevates the United States to a status equivalent to China, Russia, India, and South Korea, among the highest echelons of Vietnamese diplomatic relations.

Trong expressed gratitude to Biden for his contributions to enhancing US-Vietnamese ties and assured that Vietnam is committed to diligently implementing the terms of the new agreement.

While Vietnam is careful not to align itself explicitly with either the United States or China, it shares America's apprehensions regarding China's increasing assertiveness in the hotly contested South China Sea.

Contrary to these diplomatic strides, The New York Times reported on Vietnam's discreet endeavors to procure arms from Russia, potentially violating US sanctions. The report cited a Vietnamese finance ministry document outlining plans to finance arms acquisitions from the Kremlin through a joint oil and gas venture in Siberia.

Addressing this matter, US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer acknowledged Vietnam's longstanding military relationship with Russia. However, he noted a growing unease within Vietnam about this partnership. The new collaboration is poised to offer Hanoi the opportunity to diversify its sources by incorporating supplies from the United States and its allies.

Human Rights Concerns Addressed

During his meeting with Trong, Biden raised concerns about human rights issues. Vietnam's track record in this regard has been a subject of criticism, with government critics facing intimidation, harassment, and imprisonment following unjust trials. Reports of police employing torture to extract confessions have also surfaced, according to Human Rights Watch.

While Biden has frequently criticized China for its human rights practices, he has been relatively reticent on the matter of Vietnam. Advocates had expressed concerns that this issue might not be addressed.

On Monday, Biden paid a visit to a memorial in Hanoi dedicated to his friend John McCain. The former US senator, shot down and held captive during the Vietnam War, played a pivotal role in later years in rebuilding ties between the two nations.

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