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Trump aide tells Vietnam to curb China shipments to avoid duties

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US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told Vietnamese leaders they must curb illegal rerouting of Chinese exports and buy more US goods such as liquefied natural gas and military equipment to avoid punitive American tariffs.

The US Commerce Department this month imposed preliminary anti-subsidy duties on Vietnamese car and truck tyres, citing the nation’s “undervalued currency” among the reasons.

Speaking during a stop in Hanoi, the aide to President Donald Trump said he told the country’s leaders that cracking down on Chinese trans-shipments and easing America’s trade deficit with Vietnam “could be the basis for a reversal” of the tariffs.

The duties have become a sticking point between the US and Vietnam even as the former adversaries strengthen overall ties to counter Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

Mr O’Brien, who met with officials including Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh, said they were “very concerned” about Chinese actions to prevent Vietnam from tapping into offshore resources such as fish and natural gas.

He said Vietnam was interested in more military-to-military information sharing as well as obtaining additional US Coast Guard equipment to better protect maritime areas. He told them the US may be able to provide financing to help with purchases of the American helicopters to reduce Vietnam’s bilateral trade surplus, which is on pace to break last year’s record $US56 billion ($76 billion).

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Phuc last month reiterated that Vietnam does not use its currency for a competitive trade advantage during a meeting with Adam Boehler, head of the US International Development Finance Corporation. Vietnam’s government previously has signalled it plans to buy “large volumes” of LNG from the US, while also saying it has intensified efforts to crack down on Chinese exporters trying to route products through the south-east Asian nation to bypass higher US tariffs.

Mr O’Brien said Vietnam was typically cautious with public statements related to China and wanted to maintain good relations with its much larger neighbour country. He believed Vietnam was interested in getting American companies involved in offshore oil and gas projects because they thought China would be less likely to interfere in that case.

Vietnam’s strategy for standing up to Beijing was to work with other regional countries through the Association of South-east Asian Nations, Mr O’Brien said. But he added that China had some leverage in the organisation through its ally Cambodia.

By Jennifer Jacobs – Bloomberg – November 23, 2020

Trump aide tells Vietnam to curb China shipments to avoid duties
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