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History, ‘bamboo diplomacy’ in focus during Putin’s Vietnam trip

History, ‘bamboo diplomacy’ in focus during Putin’s Vietnam trip

HANOI, June 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi on Thursday after signing a mutual defense agreement with North Korea.

AFP looks at the background to the visit and what the two sides hope to achieve.

– Why is Putin going to Hanoi? –

Vietnam and Russia have close ties dating back to the 1950s, but Hanoi is unlikely to give Putin the public promise of “full support” for Ukraine he received from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Southeast Asian manufacturing powerhouse has for years carefully avoided allying too closely with any major power – the so-called ‘bamboo diplomacy’ approach, which seeks strength through flexibility.

Both US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping have visited in recent months to deepen ties.

But hosting Putin – under sanctions and seen as a pariah by much of the world – will be “a test of how far Hanoi’s multi-directional hedge can go and still be accepted by other major powers,” he said. Huong Le Thu, Deputy Member of Parliament. director of the Asia program at the International Crisis Group.

For the Russian leader, the trip could be an opportunity to show he has international supporters, Thu said.

– What is their history? –

The former Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognize the Vietnamese government of Ho Chi Minh and establish diplomatic ties in 1950.

About 50,000 Vietnamese studied at Soviet universities until 1991, and successive Vietnamese governments had been heavily dependent on weapons supplied by the Kremlin for decades.

According to the Vietnamese Army newspaper, during the war with the United States, the Soviet Union provided its fellow communists in Vietnam with fighter jets, missiles, helicopters and tanks, as well as nearly 11,000 soldiers.

Ties persisted even after the collapse of the Soviet Union – Russia accounted for more than 80 percent of Vietnam’s arms imports between 1995 and 2023, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Moscow also used Vietnam’s strategic Cam Ranh Bay in the South China Sea as a military base in the Asia-Pacific until 2002.

The two upgraded their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2012, Hanoi’s highest level. Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States also share top-level ties with Vietnam.

– What will they discuss? –

Russian officials say the talks will focus on trade, education and energy issues, in particular how Moscow can help Vietnam transition to clean energy.

But analysts say arms exports, the war in Ukraine and Moscow’s promised support for Hanoi to join the BRICS group of emerging economies will also be on the table.

Vietnamese arms imports from Russia have declined in recent years due to international sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Carl Thayer, professor emeritus of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said the two sides were likely to work behind closed doors on ways to do business without running afoul of Western sanctions.

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