By Nandita Bose and Francesco Guarascio
NEW DELHI/HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden visits Vietnam’s capital city Sunday, where the two countries are expected to declare themselves strategic partners, as the United States seeks to push supply chains from China and both countries to try to counter Beijing’s military and diplomatic influence in Asia.
Biden will arrive at the Presidential Palace Sunday afternoon for a formal welcome from Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s most powerful leader, then journey to the Party headquarters where the two will meet and then give public remarks.
The visit comes as trade and investment ties between the two nations are growing and a long-simmering territorial dispute between Vietnam and China heats up in the South China Sea. Vietnam has named four other countries “comprehensive strategic partners,” the designation expected for the U.S.: China, Russia, India and South Korea.
Highlighting Vietnam’s growing importance as a “friendshoring” destination for U.S. technology companies, on Monday, executives from Google, Intel, Amkor, Marvell, GlobalFoundries and Boeing are expected to meet Vietnamese tech executives and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Hanoi.
Vietnam’s exports to the U.S. rose 13.6% last year to $109.39 billion, led by shipments of garments, shoes, smartphones, electronics and wooden furniture.
Biden’s visit comes nearly 50 years after the end of the deeply unpopular Vietnam War between the Soviet-backed Communist government of North Vietnam and South Vietnam’s U.S.-backed regime.
It represents “a remarkable step in the strengthening of our diplomatic ties,” and reflects the “leading role” Vietnam will play in the US partnership in the Indo Pacific, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this week.
“For decades, the US and Vietnam have worked to overcome a painful shared legacy of the Vietnam War, working hand in hand to promote reconciliation, with our service members and our veterans lighting the way,” he said.
Washington has been pushing to elevate ties with Hanoi to a “strategic” partnership from one that for the past decade has been called “comprehensive.” Vietnam has been cautious given the risk of antagonizing China, a giant neighbor that supplies key inputs for its vital export trade, or Russia, another traditional partner.
Vietnam is talking with several other countries to upgrade and expand its mostly Russian-made arsenal, including the Czech Republic, and has recently engaged in multiple high-level defence meetings with top Russian officials.
Last week, a US government commission accused Vietnam of backsliding on religious freedoms, saying the country was on a “similar trajectory to China in terms of its regulation and control of religion.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Khanh Vu, Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Heather Timmons and Chizu Nomiyama)