Posts Tagged ‘vietnam’
I have a new piece out over at World Politics Review looking at some of the key issues that have shaped will shape US-Vietnam relations. I argue that the Washington needs to sustain and balance its engagement with Vietnam and Asia more generally this year even as it is consumed by elections, manage its relationship with China adroitly, and try to make progress on further strengthening economic and trade relations. Hanoi, for its part, needs to sustain internal reforms and address some of Washington’s concerns about human rights in order to increase the ‘ceiling’ on what can be achieved in the relationship. These measures will help both sides elevate the relationship “to the next level” as leaders often declare. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Relations between the United States and Vietnam have progressed rapidly and comprehensively since the normalization of ties in 1995. In just the past few years, the two countries have inked agreements in areas including environmental protection, nuclear energy and health research cooperation. They have also deepened their robust economic relationship, with Vietnam signing on to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, and have declared their common interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Yet if the U.S. and Vietnam wish to take their emerging strategic partnership to the next level, as officials from both sides have indicated, they will need to get past several challenges.
For the United States, the challenge will be sustaining and balancing its engagement with Vietnam and Asia more generally. Vietnam has welcomed the great strides made in relations between the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) under the Obama administration, including developments such as the Lower Mekong Initiative and American attendance at the East Asia Summit last year. However, Hanoi worries about the sustainability of the U.S. presence. This is a particular concern this year as the Obama White House moves fully into election mode. The management of noncrisis foreign policy issues may drop off the priority list, while foreign travel may be limited and new and existing agreements shelved. The potential departure of key Asia-focused members of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would only exacerbate this sense of drift, with potentially profound consequences for the regional security environment. …
Last month, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra (VNSO) perform at Boston Symphony Hall in its first ever visit to the United States.
They did not disappoint. The orchestra, led by its animated Japanese music director and principal conductor Tetsuji Honna, put on a spirited performance with a unique blend of Vietnamese folk music and classic compositions from the West. The very best of Vietnam was on display, from the vibrant colors of the ao dai national costume to the graceful hand movements of award−winning violinist Le Hoai Nam and then melodies of legendary Vietnamese composer Dam Linh.
The historic performance was also a product of cultural exchange diplomacy between the United States and Vietnam. VNSO’s “First Harmony Tour to the USA 2011″ reciprocated the New York Philharmonic’s first ever visit to Hanoi in 2009, where it performed at the Hanoi Opera House, home of the VNSO. Tran Nhu Son, the Deputy Consul General of Vietnam in San Francisco, was quoted in the concert program: “This is a very significant and great opportunity to strengthen cultural exchanges between Vietnam and the United States, making the people of the two countries more understanding of each other’s contemporary music life”. And Mr. Honna himself told me that performing in the United States had been a long−cherished wish for the VNSO and struck an emotional chord for many of the Vietnamese musicians.
The exchange also embodies the overall trajectory of U.S.−Vietnam relations. Just 16 years after the normalization of ties, Washington and Hanoi have managed to overcome the bitter past of the Vietnam War and forge one of the most important partnerships between the United States and Southeast Asia today, exemplifying the very peace and tolerance between peoples the VNSO emphasized as its performance theme. Cooperation has taken off in politics, trade, culture and even the military realm with an agreement signed on research collaboration and exchange in military medicine earlier this year. Key differences persist — particularly on human rights — but they are increasingly becoming the exception rather than the norm in the relationship. If Vietnam continues to be one of the fastest growing emerging economies and concerns about a rising China persist, both countries may be able to strengthen their “strategic partnership” even further in the coming years.
Indeed, when former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who presided over U.S.−Vietnam normalization, mistakenly told an audience at Tufts University earlier this month that Vietnam was America’s “most important ally in Southeast Asia” (a term usually reserved for formal U.S. alliances such as those with Japan or Thailand), it could have been as much a Freudian slip as it was a minor gaffe. Discussions between U.S. and Vietnamese officials these days, including those going on this week at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Honolulu with Mr. Clinton’s wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tend to focus boldly on how to “take the relationship to the next level.”
That might seem ambitious at first glance. But so might the idea of a strategic partnership between Washington and Hanoi 16 years ago. Or the notion of the VNSO playing in Boston Symphony Hall decades ago when it was weathering through financial and psychological national struggles after the Vietnam War. And yet they happened. Much like an orchestra, various instruments eventually cohered to produce a harmonious outcome with the aid of an able conductor.
The original article was published in the Tufts Daily and is available here.
Whenever starry−eyed investors knock on his door at the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C., Tung Nguyen, the deputy chief of mission, is sure to inject a dose of reality into their sunny optimism.
“I have to cool them down, because things are not that rosy in Vietnam right now,” Mr. Nguyen told a roundtable at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy last month.
Vietnam has certainly made great strides over the past few decades, digging itself out of the ravages of war, pushing for economic reforms and pulling an astonishing 40 percent of its population out of poverty. The Goldman Sachs and HSBCs of the world have boldly included Vietnam in their catchy lists of future emerging markets, citing its robust economic growth (7 percent per year on average), well−educated and young populace and stable political system.
Yet a gloomy shadow has recently descended upon the rising dragon. Vietnam has struggled to restore investor confidence amid stubbornly high inflation, ballooning trade and fiscal deficits and an ever−weakening dong. Its large, unwieldy, state−owned enterprises still have an iron grip on the economy despite their inefficiencies and abject recent failures. The government continues to round up dissidents and suppress media freedom, an authoritarian streak that manifested itself most recently when a U.S. official in Vietnam was roughed up while attempting to visit a dissident Roman Catholic priest. Most worryingly, the Communist Party elite appears to be turning Vietnamese capitalism into a family business through powerful, corrupt networks.
These problems are not intractable, particularly for a resilient nation like Vietnam, which has persevered through centuries of war and weathered several economic crises over the past few decades alone. But they are formidable nonetheless. Mr. Nguyen laments that there is “frankly speaking no political will” to battle corruption and that Vietnamese macroeconomic policy continues to be run by interest groups rather than intellectuals.
For years, Vietnam’s party elite has tried to set policy from behind the scenes and delegate implementation to the state, nudging and pushing where appropriate. Now some wonder whether the party will either be overwhelmed by corrupt forces or be underwhelmed about redistributing wealth from its wealthy supporters to the poor.
To their credit, Vietnamese leaders have recently hiked interest rates and slashed the dong to control inflation, which hit an alarming annual rate of 12.2 percent in January. Yet many believe that deeper changes are required with regard to corruption, government spending and the state sector in order to avert a financial crisis. They were disappointed when the Communist Party’s five−yearly congress concluded earlier this year with an unwavering commitment toward maintaining heavy state involvement in the economy and remain unconvinced that the government has decided to put tackling inflation ahead of stimulating growth.
In his declaration of independence speech in September 1945, Vietnam’s revolutionary hero, Ho Chi Minh, spoke colorfully about “mobilizing” all the “physical and mental strength” of the Vietnamese people. That may well be the kind of energy the Vietnamese government needs to confront the emerging problems that it faces en route to becoming a major economic power.
This article was originally published here for the Tufts Daily.