In late September, the leader of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, invited his Cambodian and Laotian counterparts—Hun Sen, who is also Cambodia’s prime minister, and Thongloun Sisoulith, who is also Laos’ president—to Hanoi for a meeting. According to Vietnam’s official media, the three leaders talked about cooperation past and future, and the necessity of effective and close-knit relations among the ruling parties and governments of the three countries.
Such a banal readout for a rare in-person meeting raised some eyebrows and fueled speculation. Writing for Asia Times, David Hutt reported that “analysts and observers saw the Hanoi-hosted talks as a significant move as Vietnam attempts to reassert influence over its two historic allies, which have increasingly turned to China in recent years.”
Though that seems like a bit of a stretch, it’s quite possible that, as Hutt suggests, China was the elephant in the room where the three leaders met. Chinese banks and businessmen have become hugely powerful in both Laos and Cambodia. Trong may have proposed that Vietnam help to sustain a more tolerable equilibrium.