Vietnam - Quad: inevitable rapprochement?

Cover Page

Cite item


The consequences of the intensified competition of the great powers in recent years are especially clear in Southeast Asia. The launch of the Quadrennial Security Dialogue (Quad) by Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and New Delhi as part of their national Indo-Pacific strategies raised the question of further expanding this format and its interaction with the states of the region. Taking into account the obvious anti-Chinese orientation of the group, Vietnam is viewed as a promising partner, as it progressively develops bilateral ties with all four countries. The author comes to the conclusion that the proximity of the interests of Vietnam and Quad in curbing the growth of the PRC's influence in Asia-Pacific does not inevitably lead to the joining of Vietnam to the Quartet. Hanoi's unwillingness to complicate the already uneasy relations with Beijing (joining the anti-Chinese bloc will obviously not benefit bilateral ties) stipulates "flexible" formats of interaction with Quad on various topical regional issues. At the same time, it appears that Vietnamese course for the consistent strengthening of bilateral relations with the four mentioned states, including cooperation in the field of defense and security, will be continued.

Full Text

Introduction The shift of the center of world economic gravity to the Asia-Pacific region in recent decades affected the interaction of states in the field of politics and security in this part of the world. American-Chinese competition, which evolved (even in the rhetoric of US officials) into rivalry and containment during the Trump administration, led to the transfer of features of other subsystems of international relations to the Asia-Pacific subsystem. In particular, these include attempts to form stable blocs in the interests of achieving certain geopolitical goals. A good example is the resurrection of the so-called "Quadrilateral Security Dialogue", or Quad, composed of the United States, Japan, Australia and India, with the goal of discussion of security issues in the "Indo-Pacific region" proclaimed by these countries. It is not surprising that immediately after the first meetings in this format, the scientific and expert community began a discussion on possible further expansion of Quad and the schemes of its interaction with the already existing regional mechanisms. Given the obvious, if not openly declared, anti-Chinese nature of the dialogue and its emphasis on maritime security, the most likely candidate for priority interaction with the quartet is Hanoi, whose traditionally difficult relations with Beijing are complicated by territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In this regard, the main research question of the article can be formulated as follows: is the rapprochement of Vietnam with the Quad inevitable in the medium term? To answer the question it seems necessary to consider the interests of both Vietnam and the quadrilateral union, as well as analyze costs of a possible accession of Vietnam to the Quad. In that case it seems reasonable to use the methodology of the system approach, in particular, the system-historical method. The method makes it possible to comprehensively study the problems of relations between Hanoi and Quad, to trace the evolution of the sides' approaches in dynamics. The key principles of the modern school of political neo-realism are used as a second theoretical and methodological basis, which make it possible to identify the true interests of the states, correlate them with the implementation of specific ideas in practice. In addition, theoretical and practical concepts of regionalization are used to study the mutual influence of actors in Asia-Pacific. Unfortunately, the issue of relations between Vietnam and Quad, as well as Quad in general, due to its novelty, has not yet become widespread in the Russian scientific literature. This topic is partially touched upon in the article by A. Kireeva, dedicated to the Indo-Pacific strategies of the United States and Japan [Kireeva 2020]. In general terms, the attitude of Hanoi to the anti-Chinese bloc being formed under the auspices of the United States is described in the article by G.M. Lokshin [Lokshin 2018]. The author comes to the conclusion that strategic autonomy is the only reasonable choice for Vietnam. Among the foreign works, there is the collective monograph of the University of Western Australia "Vietnam in the Indo-Pacific Region: Challenges and Opportunities in New Regional Landscape" [Vietnam in the Indo-Pacific 2018], which examines Vietnam’s relations with key regional countries in the context of the Indo-Pacific strategies proclaimed by a number of them. Hanoi's approaches to strategies and the new geographic scheme are studied in the articles by Le Hong Hiep [Le Hong Hiep 2018], Pham Minh Thu [Phạm Minh Thu 2018, 2020]. The issue of further Quad expansion is discussed in the articles by D. Grossman [Grossman 2018, 2020], T. Corben [Corben 2018], G. Sinha Roy [Roy 2020], K. Miyake [Miyake 2020]. At the same time, these works do not provide a comprehensive analysis of the interests of Hanoi and Quad, as well as forecasts of the development of their interaction, which determines a gap in this area of scientific knowledge. The article is an attempt to make up for this gap. The appearance of Quad and Hanoi’s reaction The cooperation of Australia, India, the United States and Japan in the field of defense and security in a quadrilateral format can hardly be called an innovation of recent years. Back in 2004, their navies collaborated in providing assistance to the tsunami-affected countries of the Asia-Pacific region, which some researchers call the prototype of Quad [Lee 2020]. In 2007-2008 an attempt was made to form a group, but stable interaction did not work out then, while each country began to develop its own Indo-Pacific idea. The development of the Belt and Road Initiative by China became a catalyst for the work on national Indo-Pacific strategies and re-establishment of quadrilateral cooperation. Although Belt and Road was not limited to the basins of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, four countries regarded it as an instrument of Beijing's expansion in this part of the world, requiring an adequate response. Already in 2017, on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Da Nang, the format was reassembled as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue - Quad - with the purpose of discussion of security issues in the Indo-Pacific region [Quad Leaders': 12.03.2021] (Fig.1). . Fig.1. Quad on the world map. Source: URL: Despite the fact that some parameters of this geographic scheme are still unknown (for example, borders), all four countries promptly presented their Indo-Pacific strategies, more or less focused on containing Chinese ambitions in the region. It is no coincidence that the central place in them is given to support for freedom of navigation (Beijing is accused in challenging it - in the South and East China Seas), “the rules based order” and the development of cooperation between navies. The fact that these topics correspond with the main topics of the Quad meetings allows us to consider Quad as a tool for the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategies of the states. Vietnam's reaction was initially rather cautious [Terskikh 2019]. In February 2018, the Foreign Ministry’s weekly newspaper published an article entitled “Indo-Pacific: A New Approach to the Old Strategy,” which explicitly stated that the aim of strategies is to contain China [Phạm Minh Thu 2018]. On the whole, Hanoi was in no hurry to associate with the new geographic construction and, accordingly, Quad, despite the attractive idea of limiting the influence of its “northern neighbor”. At the same time, ASEAN, fearing the loss of its central role in the region due to the emergence of a new format that claims to be universal, has launched the development of its own Indo-Pacific strategy. In June 2019, the 34th Summit adopted the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”. The emphasis was placed on inclusiveness and the economic dimension of cooperation that was “forgotten” in other strategies, the central role of the Association and the need to rely on the existing mechanisms - EAS, ARF and ADMM-plus in resolving conflict issues [ASEAN Outlook: 06.23.2019]. Hanoi, as expected, expressed solidarity with this approach, which became the Association's compromise response to the activities of the four countries. But the Indo-Pacific structure took root, and thus a small step was made towards Quad. A serious impetus to cement the Quad’s role in regional affairs was made during the Vietnam’s chairmanship in ASEAN in 2020. In March, in the format of a video conference, there was a meeting of officials from Quad, as well as representatives of Vietnam, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, which was immediately called "Quad Plus" in the media. Although it, like the subsequent meetings in this format, was dedicated to the fight against COVID-19, and Hanoi's participation can be attributed to its chairman role in the Association, the composition speaks for itself. In addition, in 2020, the naval component of Quad was strengthened - ships from all four countries took part in the Malabar naval drills for the first time [Koldunova 2021]. Reasons for rapprochement The idea of expanding Quad appeared almost simultaneously with the recreation of the format. It is noteworthy that in October 2018, D. Grossman, in his article in Foreign Policy [Grossman 2018], argued that the accession of new countries to Quad is vital, otherwise the group will repeat its same path ten years ago and go out, failing the task to contain Beijing. In his opinion, it is necessary to involve "neutral" regional states - without them there will only be a coalition of like-minded people of the United States, which is obviously a weak point in any propaganda campaign. The analyst suggested that the ideal option would be to invite ASEAN or, more realistically, one of its members. Developing this idea, he came to the conclusion that it was necessary to concentrate on working with Vietnam - a country that strengthens ties with all four states and, at the same time, is involved in territorial disputes with China. D. Grossman proposed to implement this plan by inviting representatives of Hanoi to Quad meetings, starting with the expert "one and a half" track. Apart from ASEAN membership, Vietnam is of interest to Quad for other reasons. Vietnam is a welcome partner in the field of defense and security, also due to its advantageous geographic location (long coastline, natural deep-water bays, a common border with China). The Vietnamese People's Army is the strongest armed forces of the Southeast Asian countries, equipped with modern means of controlling the sea area. In addition, Hanoi, which is interested in diversifying military-technical cooperation and has a solid (by the standards of the region) military budget, can be viewed as a promising market for military products. At the same time, Vietnam is an attractive partner in trade and economic sphere, especially in the context of the course of Quad members to reduce trade dependence on China. In many spheres, Vietnamese goods can become an alternative to Chinese goods, especially taking into account the ongoing transfer of production facilities to Vietnam. It is no coincidence that Prime Minister of Japan Y. Sugi paid his first foreign visit to Vietnam, where he noted that Hanoi “plays a key role in the implementation of Free and Open Indo-Pacific” [Thủ tướng Nhật Bản: 19.10.2020]. American officials spoke in a similar vein - the US ambassador to Vietnam called Vietnam "central and vitally important” part of the Indo-Pacific, noting that the Indo-Pacific idea was announced in Da Nang, and not elsewhere [Vietnam "vitally important": 10.12.2018]. The interests of Vietnam are also quite understandable. The very anti-Chinese nature of the format already seems attractive to Hanoi. In Vietnamese society, there is traditionally a strong antipathy towards the "northern neighbor", explained by both historical reasons and the participation of both countries in disputes over islands and waters of the South China Sea. It is no exaggeration to say that the intensification of these disputes in recent years has become a catalyst for the rapprochement of Hanoi with the Quad members, primarily with Washington. It is no coincidence that among ASEAN countries Vietnam and the Philippines welcome the creation of Quad the most [Southeast Asian 2018]. Vietnam has relations of privileged partnership (from comprehensive to comprehensive strategic) with all four states, which include cooperation on defense and security issues. The sides organize calls of warships to the ports of Vietnam and conduct naval exercises on a regular basis. Hanoi is provided with preferential loans for the purchase of military products or, as a "first step" of cooperation in this field, receives equipment decommissioned from the armed forces of other states [U.S. to provide: 20.11.2019]. It is noteworthy that one of the key themes of these relations is increasing Vietnam's ability to control maritime area, which unequivocally echoes the tasks outlined by Quad and Hanoi's self positioning in the world. The Vietnam’s White Paper on defense states that Vietnam is “a maritime power that pays special attention to the security and protection of maritime territories, freedom of navigation and overflight” [Quốc phòng Việt Nam 2019]. At the same time, there are also obvious references to China (without direct mention of it) - “unilateral actions in the water area”, “violations of international law”, “militarization”, “attempts to change the status quo”, etc. are noted. In addition, ties with Quad also harmoniously fit into Hanoi's course of stepping up its foreign policy activities. Thus, in recent decades, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has turned participation in the maximum number of multilateral formats and various initiatives into a “signature line” of its policy. Quantitative indicators in this context sometimes prevail over qualitative ones. Reasons against (fast) rapprochement At the same time, rapprochement with Quad entails obvious problems. The most obvious - again, the emphatically anti-Chinese character of the group. Two of the four national Indo-Pacific strategies - American and Japanese - are built around the idea of containing the PRC [Kireeva 2020]. For Hanoi, which successfully portrays an "equidistant" policy in relations with the leading powers, inclusion in the orbit of interests of one of the parties will automatically mean an increase in tension with the other and, on the whole, will significantly complicate the traditional balancing behaviour. It is no coincidence that the SRV avoided to make any official comments in support of Indo-Pacific ideas before the ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific document. In addition, Vietnam still claims to adhere to the so-called "three no" policy. This refers to the ban on the deployment of foreign military bases on the territory of Vietnam, entry into military alliances and military cooperation with someone against the interests of a third country. At the same time, the interpretation of certain actions in the end remains with Hanoi [Grossman 2019], and the aforementioned updated White Paper includes a passage about the possibility of abandoning the “three no” in case of an external threat to the security of the state. The dilemma that the "southern neighbor" is facing is well understood in Beijing as well. China continues to strengthen as a leading trade and economic partner of Vietnam, bilateral trade in 2020 amounted to a record (despite the pandemic) 133 billion USD [Thống kê hải quan 2020]. Very close political, ideological and cultural ties are maintained. It is noteworthy that, in the midst of a discussion about Indo-Pacific, Global Times newspaper published an article, which directly stated that “if countries cooperate with the United States in building an Asian NATO and containing China, then their economic, political and security ties with China will be seriously revised " [Not easy for: 03.10.2020]. The likelihood of building the aforementioned "Asian NATO" is another cause for concern. Regardless of the official rhetoric of the four countries, supporting the central role of ASEAN in regional affairs, the very creation of a military-political group in the Asia-Pacific region with the implanting of bloc thinking into the region erodes ASEAN centrality. This statement is all the more true in relation to any extended Quad format, which will inevitably claim to be an alternative decision-making platform. Until now, the unity of the Association on key issues of the regional agenda has been a serious factor in ensuring the stability of South East Asia. The emergence of new dividing lines is fraught with undermining the unity and central role of the ASEAN and can lead to the loss of subjectivity of this regional organization with the subsequent involving of its members in groups that are antagonistic to each other. From the point of view of Vietnam, the insufficient elaboration of the economic dimension of cooperation - both Quad and the Indo-Pacific strategies of Quad countries - begs questions as well. Acting as a kind of competitor, the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, on the contrary, concentrates on the material (primarily infrastructural) benefits that are promised to its participants. The hastily launched “Blue Dots Network” , although it tries to compensate for this shortcoming, in principle does not imply comparable amounts of funding. The US-promoted Indo-Pacific Business Forum, although it boasts solid indicators of bilateral cooperation, does not imply the launch of new projects under its auspices - in fact, it is about the continuation of already launched successful business initiatives [2020 Indo-Pacific: 10.29.2020]. From the point of view of the Quad states themselves, the joining of Vietnam to Quad is associated with lower costs - both quantitatively and qualitatively. The main one is the discrepancy between the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the ideals declared by the group. Thus, Quad positions itself as an association of free democratic states, thereby opposing itself to the "not free" and "authoritarian" China. At the same time, the political system of Vietnam is as similar as possible to the Chinese one and is regularly criticized by Western countries (which, nevertheless, are extremely tolerant of it). This is especially true in the context of the Biden administration in the United States, which is expected to intensify efforts to promote democratic values abroad. The possible entry of Hanoi, thus, may lead to the loss of the Quad's ideological component and its transformation into an exclusively geopolitical structure in the eyes of other states in the region. Noteworthy in this context are changes in the rhetoric of US officials, who a few years ago began to call Vietnam a “like-minded country” [Mattis Calls: 25.01.2018] - this term was previously used mainly in relation to “democratic” partners. Conclusion It seems that Quad's course of attracting the South East Asian states to cooperation will continue in the foreseeable future, and Vietnam in this context will continue to be viewed as the most promising partner. Despite the general concern about China's growing influence in the region, four countries are more interested in involving the SRV in the group than Hanoi itself. Vietnam is aware of the possible consequences of the exacerbation of relations with China and does not seek open confrontation with it, although anti-Chinese elements of Vietnam's foreign policy are inevitable as well. At the same time, the PRC, given its close bilateral trade, economic and other ties with the SRV, has leverage over its “southern neighbour” to restrain the transformation of these elements into an openly unfriendly strategy. In this regard, Vietnam's joining Quad and the creation of a kind of "Quad+1" seems possible only in case of a sharp increase in Vietnamese-Chinese tension, for example, over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Moreover, we are not even talking about repeating the situation of 2014 with the entry of the Chinese drilling platform into the exclusive economic zone of the SRV. For such a decisive move, Hanoi needs a more serious threat from Beijing, which in general seems unlikely. The best option from Vietnam's point of view is the development of flexible and situational (mainly multilateral) forms of interaction with Quad without direct inclusion in the Quad+1 format, while simultaneously deepening bilateral cooperation with the four countries in the field of defence and security (primarily - sea). On the whole, this option is also acceptable for the Quad, therefore it can be considered as the most probable. In this context, it seems important this year to monitor the following issues. Firstly, the situation in the SCS, as the most explosive conflict knot - will there be an exacerbation of disputes? Secondly, the “Quad - Republic of Korea - New Zealand -Vietnam” format itself - will it remain, or will Brunei take the place of Vietnam as the current ASEAN Chairman in 2021? Thus, it will be clear whether Hanoi's involvement in the format was due to its role in the Association, or whether this factor was used as a formal reason. Thirdly, the US policy to promote democratic values - will Washington be ready in the interests of containing of Beijing not to irritate Hanoi with criticism of its political system and threats of economic sanctions? The answers to these questions can become peculiar indicators of the development of relations between Vietnam and Quad.

About the authors

M. A Terskikh

Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations

ORCID 0000-0001-8321-3666 Moscow, Russia


  1. Колдунова Е. АСЕАН на распутье: чем запомнился 2020 год? МГИМО Университет. URL:, 19.01.2021.
  2. Локшин Г.М. Саммит АТЭС 2017 и новые внешние вызовы для Вьетнама // Вьетнамские исследования. Серия 2. 2018. № 2. С. 11-34.
  3. Терских М. Подходы Вьетнама к «Индо-Тихоокеанским стратегиям» // Проблемы Дальнего Востока. 2019. № 4. С. 32-36.
  4. Bộ Quốc phòng Việt Nam. Quốc phòng Việt Nam 2019 (Sách trắng Quốc phòng Việt Nam 2019) [Министерство обороны Вьетнама. Оборона Вьетнама 2019 (Белая книга по вопросам обороны Вьетнама 2019)]. URL:!ut/p/b1/,10.12.2019.
  5. Corben T. The Quad, Vietnam, and the Role of Democratic Values // The Diplomat. May 25, 2018. URL:
  6. Grossman D. Don’t Get Too Excited, ‘Quad Plus’ Meetings Won’t Cover China // The Diplomat. April 09, 2020. URL:
  7. Grossman D. The Quad in not enough // Foreign Policy. October 19, 2018. URL:
  8. Grossman D. Vietnam’s Defense Policy of ‘No’ Quietly Saves Room for ‘Yes’ // The Diplomat. January 19, 2019. URL:
  9. Kireeva A. The Indo-Pacific in the Strategies of the U.S. and Japan // Russia in Global Affairs. 2020. №3. URL:
  10. Le Hong Hiep. America’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy: A Vietnamese Perspective // ISEAS Perspective. 2018. № 43. URL:
  11. Lee L. Assessing the Quad: Prospects and Limitations of Quadrilateral Cooperation for Advancing Australia’s Interests. Lowy Institute. May 19, 2020. URL:
  12. Miyake K. The Quad Security Dialogue in Tokyo: Who will join next? // Japan Times. October 7, 2020. URL:
  13. Not easy for Pompeo to sway China's neighbors in building military alliance // Global Times. October 3, 2020. URL:
  14. Phạm Minh Thu. “Ấn Độ - Thái Bình Dương”: Cách tiếp cận mới cho chiến lược cũ [«Индо-Тихоокеанский регион»: новый подход к старой стратегии] // Thế giới và Việt Nam, 03.02.2018. URL:
  15. Phạm Minh Thu. Chiến lược "Ấn Độ Dương - Thái Bình Dương tự do và rộng mở" nhìn từ góc độ điều chỉnh liên minh khu vực của Mỹ [Стратегия «cвободного и открытого Индо-Тихоокеанского региона» с точки зрения корректировки альянсов США в регионе] // Tạp chí Cộng sản, 29.10.2020. URL:
  16. Roy G. Sinha. A New Dynamics of U.S.-Viet Nam Relations: U.S.-led ‘Quad and Viet Nam Axis’ in the Indo-Pacific // Modern Diplomacy, April 26, 2020, URL:
  17. Southeast Asian perceptions of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Australian Strategic Policy Institute. October 2018. URL:
  18. The ASEAN Secretariat. ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. URL:, 23.06.2019.
  19. The White House. Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: “The Spirit of the Quad” . URL:, 12.03.2021.
  20. Thống kê hải quan 2020. Tổng cục Hải quan, Bộ Tài chính Việt Nam. [Таможенная статистика 2020. Главное таможенное управление, Министерство финансов СРВ.]. URL:, 31.12.2020.
  21. Thủ tướng Nhật Bản: Việt Nam đóng vai trò trọng yếu và là địa điểm thích hợp nhất [Премьер-министр Японии: Вьетнам играет ключевую роль и является наиболее подходящим местом] // Báo điện tử Chính phủ, 19.10.2020. URL:
  22. U.S. Department of Defense. Mattis Calls U.S., Vietnam ‘Like-Minded Partners’. URL:, 25.01.2018.
  23. U.S. to provide ship to Vietnam to boost South China Sea patrols // Reuters. November 20, 2019. URL:
  24. US Department of State. 2020 Indo-Pacific Business Forum Promotes Free and Open Indo-Pacific. URL:, 29.10.2020.
  25. Vietnam ‘vitally important’ in Indo-Pacific strategy: US ambassador // Tuoi Tre News. December 10, 2018. URL:
  26. Vietnam in the Indo-Pacific: Challenges and Opportunities in New Regional Landscape / Jeffrey Wilson (ed.). Perth USAsia Center, 2018. 120 p.

Copyright (c) 2021 Terskikh M.A.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies