Navigating Stormy Waters: The Triangular Relationship between the United States, Vietnam and China and the South China Sea Disputes

  • Susan McEwen-FialEmail author
  • Alexander Brand
Part of the Global Power Shift book series (GLOBAL)


The growing triangular relationship between the U.S., Vietnam and China represents an interesting case study as to how the smaller powers around the South China Sea try to balance China’s increasing assertiveness in the region by engaging the United States. Analyzing the respective sets of bilateral relationships (U.S.-Vietnam and China-Vietnam) hence seems to be promising in order to understand the conflict dynamics in the South China Sea against the background of an often assumed, to a lesser degree examined regional (and eventually global) power transition dynamic. Vietnam has a checkered history with both the U.S. and China, all the while these countries are its most important economic partners at the moment. In exploring the trajectories of selected, interwoven key bilateral relationships in the region with a focus on the economic dimension, we aim at a deeper understanding of the supposed regional power shift accompanying these disputes. Economic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam and China and Vietnam respectively are analyzed given the high level of economic interrelatedness between Vietnam and the two great powers. By using a comparative approach to focus on the economic relations—trade, FDI and (non-) cooperation in the oil/energy sector—the chapter looks at how economic and politico-diplomatic activities are related. Ensuing patterns of activity, embedded in political and diplomatic processes, may indicate to what degree economic trends are emblematic of shifting regional power structures.


United States China Vietnam South China Sea Power transition Trade Investment Energy cooperation TPP 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Political ScienceJohannes Gutenberg-University MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Society and EconomicsRhine-Waal UniversityKleveGermany

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