preponderance.37 To the comfort of the modernizers, Manh established a “reliable partnership” with Japan and a strategic and comprehensive cooperative relationship with India, two potential rivals of China in Asia, at his visits to the two countries in 2003.
Rediscovery of a New World, 2003-2005
The U.S. war against Iraq in 2003 hit hard on the mind of the Vietnamese leadership. After a short period of fury, Hanoi realized that the balance of forces was much more in favor of the United States than Vietnam had estimated. Although the Vietnamese kept predicting the advent of a multipolar world order publicly, in private some admitted that the world was currently unipolar and the United States was, as the Iraq war had shown, unchallengeable. In July 2003 the VCP Central Committee adopted a new “Strategy for the Defense of the Fatherland in a New Situation,” which stipulated new criteria for the determination of friend and foe. According to the new strategy, ideology will no longer play a role in defining who Vietnam’s partners of cooperation are and who its objects of struggle.38 This fundamental change has two major implications. First, it has improved the position of the modernizers, who associate themselves with the national interest as opposed to ideology and instinctively favor balancing and/or enmeshment over solidarity.
Secondly, it paved the way for closer ties with the United States. There was a surge of Vietnamese high-level visits to America after July 2003, and U.S. warships visited Vietnam twice in 2003 and 2004, something unthinkable in the previous period. The new-found friendship between Vietnam and the United States rendered Vietnam’s geopolitical orientation more balanced. Again, Hanoi’s balancing act was demonstrated in 2005 when Vietnam sent General Secretary Manh to France and President Luong to China after Premier Phan Van Khai’s visit to the United States.
37 “Vietnam-China Joint Statement,” December 2, 2001 (VNA, December 4, 2001).
38 Ban Tu tuong-van hoa trung uong [Central Committee Department of Ideology and Culture], Tai lieu hoc tap Nghi quyet Hoi nghi lan thu Tam Ban chap hanh Trung uong Dang khoa IX [Documents for the Study of the Resolution of the Eighth Plenum of the Ninth Party Central Committee] (Hanoi: Chinh tri Quoc gia, 2003), p. 44.