Vietnam’s foreign policy is at an important crossroads. Recent actions by China, particularly in the South China Sea, and a sophisticated adjustment in approach by the United States have combined with demographic and other changes within the country to cause a significant outlook shift within the ruling elite.
This study examines the dynamics behind this shift. It argues that change is not total and that the Vietnamese leadership will try to avoid making hard choices. It will seek support from a wide range of states but remains wary of over-engaging with the most powerful. Nonetheless, the change is real. However, if this process is to continue, the United States will have to be true to its verbal commitments to respect Vietnam’s political system and should not expect an overt security opening-up.