With a friendlier relationship with Washington, Hanoi becomes more self-confident and less disadvantageous when facing Beijing. At the same time, it is careful not to do harm to the good relationship with the giant neighbor. While the solidarity approach is waning, the deference approach has gained the approval of both the modernizers and the anti-imperialists.
Vietnam’s China policy in the post-Cold War era has not been guided by a single strategy. Nor is there a change from one strategy to another. Rather it is a synthesis of four different approaches with a changing saliency.
From 1990 to the present, Vietnam’s China policy has undergone four phases. Between early 1990 to the end of 1991 the solidarity approach maintained the upper hand, while potentials for balancing and enmeshment were built up. From 1992 until 1997 the most salient dimension of Vietnam’s China policy was the enmeshment approach. However, the solidarity strategy was also pursued. Between 1998 and 2003 steps in the balancing avenue were undertaken amid a new honeymoon between Vietnam and China, which was a synthesis of the solidarity and deference approaches. From 2003 to the present, the balancing strategy has become more salient, while the deference approach also gained ground.
The four-approach synthesis reflects the composition of the Vietnamese leadership, which consists of two broad factions with two contending long-term goals—one is to safeguard socialism and oppose U.S. imperialism, the other is economic development and national modernization.
The anti-imperialists try to pursue the solidarity strategy because it fits in with their desired state of affairs. The solidarity strategy is aimed at creating a solidarity bloc led by China as the senior leader and Vietnam as its junior partner. This desired role implies that the anti-imperialists are ready to follow the deference path in relations with China. Thus, it is difficult to separate a deference approach from a solidarity strategy in