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Emma Nelson
December 2016.
22
Is Vietnam effectively under Chinese control?
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No, it’s definitely not under the control of China. Attitudes towards China divide the country tremendously. Furthermore, what often appear to be divisions about the country's international orientation are, in fact reflections of divisions within Vietnamese society

For example: what might appear to be an issue of whether Vietnam is going to be pro-China or pro-West, is often little more than a top level tussle about who, or which gang is going to dominate. Vietnam has a love-hate relationship with China. You just have to visit the country and you'll see how deep the influence is: from the architecture to the food. 

"Vietnam has a love-hate relationship with China. You just have to visit the country and you'll see how deep the influence is: from the architecture to the food."

Seventy percent of Vietnamese vocabulary comes from the Chinese language. Yet, at the same time, Vietnam more or less defines itself in opposition to China. “You know we are Vietnamese because we are not Chinese.” Sigmund Freud had a great quote about the so-called ‘narcissism of minor difference’ . The Vietnamese will hate me for saying this, but they say they have a culture that belongs within the Chinese orbit. 

Vietnam tries to maintain its independence but it's very difficult when you're a country of 80 million people and you've got a country of 10 or 20 times that size on your northern border. You have to constantly work hard to maintain your independence. And part of that involves bowing down and tugging your forelock when you have to. 

"The Vietnamese will hate me for saying this, but they say they have a culture that belongs within the Chinese orbit." 

The other part involves standing up straight when you can. For example, Vietnam has a massive trade deficit with China, of around $35bn a year. It would dearly love to get rid of that but it knows it can't. It can't close the border because too much of its economy depends on things coming from China. Even on the issue of the South China Sea, Vietnam defends its own interests in terms of occupying certain islands. But it's not going to thumb its nose to China. 

Where, for example the Philippines took a case against China to an international tribunal, It's very unlikely that Vietnam would do the same thing unless China does something very stupid. To do so would be disrespectful to China. China is the big brother and Vietnam the little brother, and deliberately trying to humiliate China would be upending of normal relations.