On Vietnam visit, US official warns of ‘irresponsible’ China

U.S. Assistant State Secretary Daniel Kritenbrink went to Hanoi in the wake of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
RFA staff
On Vietnam visit, US official warns of ‘irresponsible’ China U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink met with Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son in Hanoi, June 22, 2022.
Handout/U.S. State Department

Senior U.S. State Department official Daniel Kritenbrink met with officials in Vietnam over the weekend for talks on bilateral relations and regional issues, during which he criticized China for “irresponsible” and “deeply destabilizing” behavior in the contested South China Sea.

Kritenbrink’s visit came days after Russian President Vladimir Putin spent a day in Vietnam meeting top leaders, but Kritenbrink denied that his trip on the weekend had anything to do with that.

Tensions have been rising sharply in the South China Sea, in particular between China and U.S. ally the Philippines, whose vessels have been confronting each other near the Second Thomas Shoal in Philippine waters, which China also claims.

The Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard of ramming and boarding Philippine navy boats during a June 17 confrontation, causing severe injuries to Filipino personnel. China says its personnel had acted lawfully.

“We think that China's actions, particularly its recent actions, around the Second Thomas Shoal, vis-à-vis the Philippines have been irresponsible, aggressive, dangerous, [and] deeply destabilizing,” Kritenbrink, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told a press briefing in Hanoi on Saturday.

He said that “many of China’s actions … should be of great concern, we think, for the entire region,” according to a recording of the briefing reviewed by RFA, an affiliate of BenarNews. 

“We think every country in the region, including China, needs to respect international law and needs to behave responsibly in the maritime domain,” Kritenbrink added.

He reaffirmed that the mutual defense treaty obligations that the U.S. has with the Philippines are “ironclad.”

“We are going to continue to stand with our Filipino allies,” Kritenbrink said, while declining to engage in discussion of any hypothetical situation.

‘Deeply concerned’

Kritenbrink met with Vietnam’s minister of foreign affairs, Bui Thanh Son, and one of his deputies, Vice Minister Ha Kim Ngoc.

The Vietnamese government reported on its website that Son and Kritenbrink stressed the importance of resolving disputes, including in the East Sea, Vietnam’s name for the South China Sea, through peaceful measures, in accordance with international law.

Earlier, a Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson said that her country was “closely monitoring and deeply concerned about the incident on June 17.”

Pham Thu Hang said Vietnam urged China and the Philippines to show restraint and act appropriately in accordance with international law, respecting the sovereignty and jurisdiction rights over the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves of coastal nations, which are established in accordance with the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

That call for respect of international law was until now the most explicit expression of support for the Philippines from Vietnam, which has always been careful not to antagonize its bigger neighbor China.

China claims historic rights over more than 80% of the South China Sea, while dismissing the claims of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Philippine officials on Friday said Manila has not considered invoking the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S, which obliges the U.S. to come to support it if Philippine forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

Giving a platform

Asked about Putin’s less than 24-hour visit to Russia’s old ally Vietnam on Thursday, Kritenbrink said: “Only Vietnam can decide how best to safeguard its sovereignty and advance its interests.”

Before Putin’s arrival, the U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in a statement that “no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities.”

Both the U.S. and Russia are comprehensive strategic partners of Vietnam.

While Russia is Vietnam’s main supplier of weapons and other military equipment, the U.S. has become its largest export market, worth U.S. $97 billion in 2023, according to official statistics.

Kritenbrink said on the social platform X that during his visit, he discussed with Vietnamese partners “how our nations can continue to implement the critical U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and bolster strong supply chains, high tech partnerships, educational ties, and bilateral investment.”

The senior diplomat, who served as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam from 2017 to 2021, insisted that trust between the two former enemies was at an all-time high and the U.S.-Vietnam partnership “has never been stronger."

RFA is a news service affiliated with BenarNews.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.