Talks are likely to focus on semiconductors and critical minerals amid a revelation that Vietnam was in talks with Russia over a new arms supply deal that could trigger US sanctions.
Received in Hanoi with a warm welcome on Sunday, Joe Biden has predicted “the beginning of an era of even greater cooperation” with Vietnam.
“Vietnam and the United States are essential partners” at an “extremely important” moment for the world, the US president declared at the start of a meeting with the general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyễn Phú Trọng.
Soldiers in full uniform joined school children waving small flags from the two Vietnam and the US welcomed Biden, as he arrived hot on the heels of the G20 summit in New Delhi.
The aim of the visit is to assert American power in Asia at the gates of China.
Biden is set to sign an “extended strategic partnership” which reflects the highest possible degree of diplomatic proximity to another nation.
It’s something that Vietnam has only previously done with Russia, India, South Korea and China.
While taking care not to be perceived as siding with Washington or Beijing, Hanoi wants to strengthen its position against China, against a backdrop of maritime and territorial rivalries.
The country, though, is not only relying on American support. The New York Times reported that Vietnam was secretly negotiating a new arms deal with Russia – despite international sanctions.
Jon Finer, Joe Biden’s Deputy National Security Advisor, explained that Vietnam and Russia have cooperated for decades in military cooperation but, according to Finer, there is “a growing unease among the Vietnamese” about this relationship.
He said that Washington and its allies could help Hanoi “diversify its partners” in an unstable political climate.
Joe Biden’s visit has an important economic colouring for the US, too. Washington needs Vietnam, a hub of global industry, to establish economic circuits less dependent on China.
On Monday, Joe Biden will meet with President Vo Van Thuong and Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính and also plans to pay his respects while in Hanoi at a monument dedicated to the late John McCain, a former American war hero and politician.
McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and later helped rebuild ties between the two countries.
During his visit, Biden will also have to juggle strategic interests with the defence of human rights, in which Vietnam has a heavily criticised record.
Opponents have reportedly faced intimidation, harassment and imprisonment after unfair trials and there have been reports of torture to extract confessions, according to Human Rights Watch.
Activists fear that the American president, despite his great speeches on the defence of democracy in the world, will avoid the subject in Hanoi.
Biden is likely to want to make his trip more than an obligatory passage, though; Since 1995, every American president has visited the Asian nation.