(Originally published in East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin on Feb. 29, 2012)
Vietnamese and Americans joined together in Hanoi last December for a happy celebration, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the entrance into force of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement signed in December, 2001. The gathering of current and former trade negotiators, diplomats, and business leaders exchanged witty anecdotes about who had been the toughest negotiator. However, the main focus for both American and Vietnamese participants was on the positive prospects for future US-Vietnam relations across the spectrum of trade and strategic common interests.
For those of us who served in Vietnam during the war years, this celebration was the latest reminder of the remarkable transformation of a relationship from one of bitter foes to strategic partners. Ties between the United States and Vietnam have steadily improved since they were formally normalized in 1995, but the pace has accelerated during the past three years, motivated in part by shared concern over China’s aggressive maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Washington views Vietnam as a rapidly developing mid-sized country of some 90 million people, and Hanoi has been increasing its leadership role in Southeast Asia, a region that has America’s renewed attention. In turn, the Vietnamese leadership seeks regional stability, global integration, new foreign investment, and markets for its export industries, goals that require good relations with the United States.