Russian President Vladimir Putin has an unpleasant surprise for Chinese President Xi Jinping. Putin has strongly backed Vietnam and has ended up foiling China’s desperate bid to drive a wedge in the ASEAN.
Russia backs Vietnam
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow sees good prospects in further deepening its relationship with all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Vietnam.
Lavrov called Vietnam a long-standing and trustworthy friend. This year, Moscow is planning to step up dialogue and cooperation with Hanoi.
Russia wants to strengthen its trade and economic partnership with Vietnam, the fastest growing Southeast Asian economy. Moscow also wants cooperation in oil and gas exploration and exploitation between the two countries. China routinely disrupts oil and gas exploration by other countries in South China Sea region, but Russia is promising cooperation in the exploration sector with no regard for China’s inhibitions.
Russia backs better ties with ASEAN; calls for ASEAN to lead resolution in Myanmar
Lavrov said that Russia will focus on maximizing cooperation in politics, security, economy, trade, science and technology, and hoped to promote collaboration with ASEAN countries in culture, humanitarian activity and tourism.
More importantly, the Russian Foreign Minister backed ASEAN to play a leading role in the Myanmar situation. He said that Russia was willing to work with ASEAN and provide humanitarian aid to Myanmar, including support for fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic.
But the big message is that Russia wants only the ASEAN to play the leadership role in resolving the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, an ASEAN member country. Russia is pushing back against the external intervention of the kind that China has displayed.
Russia foils China’s bid to co-opt ASEAN
After Cambodia took over as ASEAN chair, Beijing suddenly found that it could use its proxy to divide the intergovernmental organisation into two warring factions.
China tried to pull Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia to its side. All these countries are okay with Chinese hegemony in sharp contrast with countries like Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia that have to fight territorial and ideological disputes against China.
China was even having its way inside the ASEAN on issues like getting the military junta government of Myanmar legitimized by sitting ASEAN chair Cambodia.
China’s enemies inside ASEAN have been trying to overwhelm the China-Cambodia nexus. Vietnam has even picked border tensions with China in a bid to keep the anti-China sentiment in ASEAN intact and foil Beijing’s evil gameplan.
Vietnam is making it a point to expose China’s economic coercion. It has publicly blamed China’s overzealous Pandemic restrictions. In a statement issued on December 31, Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade described Beijing’s Pandemic-prevention measures as “over necessary”. The Ministry said that “this disruption has caused [a] negative impact on bilateral trade and great losses to businesses and people on both sides”.
Hanoi doesn’t want China to wedge a divide in the ASEAN and reap benefits out of a divided ASEAN. Vietnam understands that China could use any divisions within the ASEAN to push its agenda on issues like the South China Sea Code of Conduct.
For Vietnam, it makes sense to reach out to Russia and seek its support in ensuring that China isn’t able to co-opt ASEAN. Russia’s push for ASEAN’s centrality and ensuring that China doesn’t get to meddle in its internal affairs changes everything upside down. China wanted to co-opt ASEAN but Russia has stonewalled its efforts.