Both the U.S. and China see Vietnam as a key claimant in the South China Sea. If either can stick and carrot it to their side, they think the rest will follow. This makes Vietnam a critical player. But it must play its cards very well lest it anger and alienate both.
In late August, US Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Singapore and Vietnam to bolster the burgeoning US effort to bring Southeast Asian countries into a US-led coalition against China. Her visit followed one in late July by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that was designed to do much of the same. In Singapore she declared that “the United States stands with our allies and partners in the face of [China’s] threat in the South China Sea”. In her meeting with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Harris said “We need to find ways to _ _ raise the pressure…on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge, its bullying and excessive maritime claims.”