Today Russia and America are again jockeying for influence in Vietnam, and this time they’re offering reactors. The head of the Russian state-owned nuclear power monopoly Rosatom, Sergei Kirienko, was in Hanoi on Friday, shaking hands with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. In December, Dung had visited Moscow. Two months later, he announced that the first of two nuclear reactors Vietnam plans to build by 2020 would be contracted to Rosatom’s export subsidiary, Atomstroiexport.
In Hanoi in July, at around the same time US and Vietnamese experts were working on the Section 123 Agreement, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, and offered implied support for Vietnam’s position in its dispute with China over maritime territory in the South China Sea. In August, the US and Vietnamese navies conducted limited training activities together, for the first time ever. Meanwhile, Vietnam doesn’t appear to have considered buying a nuclear reactor from a Chinese company. Vietnamese energy officials occasionally announce meetings with French nuclear power executives, particularly on safety issues. But South Korean companies seem to be out of the running.
In defence affairs, Vietnam generally likes to say that it wants to be a friend to all nations. That goes double for nations that have powerful militaries and nuclear technology. Hanoi has already allowed Moscow to present it with a token of its affection. It seems likely that Washington’s turn is next.