But while the intended audience may have been Washington, the show of force also had an effect on nations much closer to home. In particular, analysts say, it has encouraged a developing military partnership between Vietnam and India – a partnership many experts see as being aimed at countering China in much the same way as the China-Pakistan alliance is seen as countering India.
Vietnam has been angered by satellite images showing China recently deployed at least one H-6J missile-carrying bomber to Woody Island, one of the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
The images prompted Vietnam’s foreign ministry last week to warn the bombers’ presence on the island – known as Yongxing in China and Phu Lam in Vietnam – not only violated Vietnamese sovereignty but “jeopardised peace” in the region.
The images are thought to have been high on the agenda when Vietnamese ambassador Pham Sanh Chau met Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla last Friday to brief him on escalating tensions in the South China Sea. They are also thought to have featured in discussions during a virtual meeting between Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh on Tuesday.
Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor of the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said this was not the first time China had deployed bombers to the Paracels – it dispatched several H-6K long-range bombers there in 2018. However, Vietnam’s openness about the ambassador’s meeting was significant.
“Given that [this time] Vietnam made its brief to India public, it is likely that Vietnam is engaging in a diplomatic exercise to call out China’s actions with the objective of eliciting political support,” Thayer said.