The “same bed, different dreams” of Vietnam and China: how (mis)trust could make or break it


The relationship between Vietnam and China could be captured in the Chinese expression of “同床异梦”, which means lying on the same bed but having different dreams. The two countries share certain cultural and political similarities but also diverge vastly in their national interests. This paper adds to the extant literature on this topic by analyzing the element of trust/mistrust in their interactions in trade-investment, tourism, and defense-security. The analysis shows how the relationship is increasingly interdependent but is equally fragile due to the lack of trust on both sides. The mistrust or even distrust of Chinese subjects run deep within the Vietnamese mindset, from the skepticism of Chinese investment, Chinese tourists, discrimination against ethnic Chinese, to the caution against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. The paper forecasts that, despite the deep-seated differences and occasional mistrust, going forward, neither side would risk damaging the status quo even when tensions peak.

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