1992 the Third Plenum of the Seventh Central Committee adopted a new guideline for Vietnamese foreign policy in the post-Soviet era, which reiterated the policy of “diversification and multidirectionalization” adopted at the Seventh Party Congress.28 The guideline marked a turning point in Vietnam’s geopolitical orientation as it determined regional cooperation and relations with the great powers and the world economic centers be the top priorities of Vietnamese foreign policy.29 With regard to Vietnam’s relations with China, regional cooperation implied a strategy of enmeshment. As a Vietnamese foreign ministry official explained,
Sino-Vietnamese relations will be meshed within the much larger regional network of interlocking economic and political interests. It is an arrangement whereby anybody wanting to violate Vietnam’s sovereignty would be violating the interests of other countries as well.30
Vietnam’s multidirectional foreign policy in fact mixed up an enmeshment and a balancing strategy. This was manifested in Hanoi’s treatment of the Kantan affair in 1997. On March 7, 1997 China sent oil platform Kantan-III and two pilot ships to conduct exploratory oil drilling in an area Vietnam claimed to be within its exclusive economic zone in the Tonkin Gulf. After Vietnam’s protest did not bring the Chinese home, Hanoi summoned the ASEAN ambassadors to explain the Vietnamese position. During the row with China, the command of the U.S. forces in the Pacific went to Hanoi on March 22, becoming the highest U.S. military official to visit Vietnam since normalization. The visit resulted in an agreement on defense cooperation between Hanoi and Washington. These activities soon yielded fruits when on April 1 China withdrew its vessels from the disputed area and agreed on solving the problem through consultations with Hanoi.
28 See Do Muoi, “Thoi cuoc hien nay va nhiem vu cua chung ta” [The Present Situation and Our Tasks], report to the Third Plenum of the Seventh Central Committee, Tap chi Cong san, No. 8 (August 1992): 3-10; and Hong Ha, “Tinh hinh the gioi va chinh sach doi ngoai cua ta” [The World Situation and Our Foreign Policy], Tap chi Cong san, No. 12 (December 1992): 10-12.
29 Ha, “World Situation,” p. 13.
30 Nguyen Hong Thach, “Vietnam-China Ties: A New But Not Easy Era,” Business Times (Singapore), 31 December 1992. Quoted in Thayer, “Sino-Vietnamese Relations,” p. 528.