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Why Is Biden Going to Vietnam, Not Indonesia

FILE - Then-Vice President Joe Biden, right, toasts with General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong, during a luncheon gathering in honor of Nguyen at the Department of State in Washington, July 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Why Is Biden Going to Vietnam, Not Indonesia
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U.S. President Joe Biden will visit Vietnam on September 10 after attending the 2023 G20 leaders’ meeting in New Delhi, India.

Biden is visiting Vietnam to raise relations between the countries to a new level: a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Biden will not attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ meeting, or summit, in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, from September 5 to 7. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend instead of the president.

Biden visited Indonesia last year when he attended the 2022 G20 Bali summit. At that time, Biden along with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, announced aid for projects in areas including climate, security and education.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told VOA that Vietnam is a valuable partner for the United States as it develops ties in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia has been a U.S. strategic partner since 2015. Vietnam is now ready to increase its relations with the U.S. after 10 years of comprehensive partnership.

One reason Vietnam might now be ready to increase relations with the U.S. is because of China’s activities in the South China Sea. China claims almost all the sea as its territory. Vietnam and China have conflicting claims in parts of the South China Sea and over many landforms there. Vietnam wants to protect its rights in the South China Sea by making partnerships that strengthen its position.

Earlier this month, Biden said Vietnam “…want[s] relationships because they want China to know that they're not alone."

The U.S. has supported Vietnam’s maritime, or sea, security in the past. The U.S. provided two former U.S. Coast Guard ships to Vietnam, one in 2017 and another in 2021.

Increased partnership would help Vietnam develop its technology industry. This would include production of semiconductors and development of artificial intelligence. Both these fields are areas of competition for the U.S. and China.

Earlier this year, the ASEAN Studies Center in Singapore released a report about the opinions of people in Southeast Asia. The report found that, among Southeast Asians, the United States was more popular than China and that popularity increased from the year before. However, Indonesians appeared to be outliers. The percentage of Indonesians choosing the U.S. fell 18 percentage points from 2021 to 2023. Those choosing China rose by about the same number of percentage points during the same period.

Rangga Aditya Elias is the head of international relations at Binus University in Indonesia. He said finding balance between the U.S. and China is the “biggest homework” for Indonesia.

One way for Indonesia to find balance is to look to the U.S. to provide arms.

Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in Washington. They announced their shared interest to increase Indonesia's ability to defend itself.

I’m John Russell.

VOA News reported this story. Gena Bennett adapted the story for Learning English.


Words in This Story

coast guard–n. a maritime, or sea, security organization of a country

strategic–adj. related to plans for reaching goals that extend over a long period of time

comprehensive –adj. including everything or almost everything

semiconductor –n. a kind of part or material that is necessary to make electronics

outlier –n. something or someone which is different from others in a group