Vietnam's state-run media this week featured articles touting an invitation for Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to visit the United States and China this year.
The reports said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the invitation during a Saturday phone call with his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Binh Minh.
The news came after Trong received a similar invitation from China’s President Xi Jinping.
In a statement, a U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed the invitation but said Kerry was only repeating a long-standing offer to host Trong for a visit.
The spokesperson added, "There is no confirmed date for the visit, nor have we confirmed any meetings yet." It was not clear whether Vietnam had accepted the invitation.
Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, told VOA's Vietnamese service that the important issue was not where Trong went first, but that he visited both countries.
"Vietnam has been pressing for an invitation [from the U.S.]," he said. "There are all kinds of rumors of what Trong might offer the U.S., like access to the Cam Ranh airfield for American reconnaissance planes, naval exercises, things that Vietnam has not agreed to do before."
Earlier this month, a senior U.S. diplomat confirmed that Washington had transferred five fast patrol vessels to Vietnam as part of a plan to assist the former foe’s maritime forces, which engaged in a tense standoff with China last year over disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The diplomat, Puneet Talwar, spoke with VOA following a visit to Hanoi, where he said held talks "about the growing depth of the partnership and relationship between Vietnam and the United States."
But Vietnamese scholar Cu Huy Ha Vu said Washington should be wary of its growing relationship with Hanoi.
“If the U.S. government wants to affiliate with the Vietnamese communist government to counter China’s expansion in the South China Sea first, then talking about Vietnam’s human rights later, that would be an illusion that causes harm not only to Vietnam’s human rights and democracy but also to Washington’s interests," he said. "The reason is the Vietnamese communist government never goes against the Chinese communist government, which is the only mainstay for their survival.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of re-established diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Vietnam and the 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and Vietnam.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.