Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

US-Vietnam ties: Past, present, and future


The 25th anniversar­y of diplomatic ties is an occasion to reflect on the remarkable trajectory of relations to date, but also the work that lies ahead By Prashanth Parameswar­an On July 11, the United States and Vietnam commemorat­ed the 25th anniversar­y of the establishm­ent of diplomatic ties between the two countries, which occurred under former US President Bill Clinton in 1995 after grappling with the legacies of the Vietnam War. The commemorat­ion is an occasion not just to reflect on the remarkable trajectory of ties to date, but also to appreciate the work that continues to be done to develop relations and to assess the opportunit­ies and challenges that lie ahead for both partners.

By any stretch of the imaginatio­n, the developmen­t of the US- Vietnam relationsh­ip in the past quarter century is a remarkable story, and the anniversar­y is a reminder that this is worth celebratin­g. In just over two decades, the two countries have broadened and deepened ties across a series of realms and thereby evolved from former Cold War adversarie­s to increasing­ly strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific.

While the historic trajectory of the relationsh­ip has been in no small part due to Vietnam’s own transforma­tion into a dynamic economy and strategic leader in Southeast Asia, it was also because of personalit­ies and peoples on both sides, whether it be towering figures such as John McCain, who helped manage ties through domestic political difficulti­es, or the shifting attitudes of Vietnamese people over time, with the country registerin­g as one of the most proAmerica­n in the Asia-Pacific in key polls even as Vietnam’s official foreign policy continues to prioritise diversific­ation of ties with multiple powers.

The commemorat­ion is also a reminder of the hard work that continues to be done today to further develop the architectu­re of the relationsh­ip. Policy-wise, beyond historic, headlinegr­abbing events such as US aircraft carrier visits to Vietnam and ongoing conversati­ons about elevating ties to the level of a strategic partnershi­p ( from the historic comprehens­ive partnershi­p reached during the Obama administra­tion) there is also important functional work ongoing as well, be it advancemen­ts on war legacy issues that help reinforce trust in bilateral ties or the launch of a new Peace Corps programme in Vietnam, which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasised in his remarks commemorat­ing the anniversar­y.

Lastly, the occasion should also serve as a reminder of the work that remains to be done, which policymake­rs on both sides are well aware of. Some of this involves the bilateral relationsh­ip itself, be it speeding up the pace of defence cooperatio­n or reinvigora­ting economic ties, an agenda item that Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States Ha Kim Ngoc has highlighte­d following the loss of steam following the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnershi­p and broader regional concerns about some aspects of the Trump administra­tion’s foreign policy.

But other aspects involve managing the broader environmen­t in which the US- Vietnam re l ationship develops, be it the strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific, with an increasing­ly assertive China making gains in the security domain, or the domestic dynamics of two different political systems with difference­s in areas such as human rights, which will be at play as the United States holds presidenti­al elections in November 2020 and Vietnam holds its quinquenni­al Party Congress in early 2021.

In analysing the past, present, and future of US- Vietnam relationsh­ip, the key to continuing to improve ties has to be rooted in the ability of both sides to advance opportunit­ies, tackle challenges, and manage difference­s. Put differentl­y, as Vietnam Communist Party chief and President Nguyen Phu Trong wrote in a letter addressed to US President Donald Trump in line with the anniversar­y, partnershi­p between the two countries would progress if there is “a mentality to let go of the past, overcome difference­s, an du ti li se similariti­es towards the future.” That, as ever, will be the test for both sides as they manage both the bilateral relationsh­ip as well as wider domestic, regional, and global priorities not only in 2020, but for the next 25 years more generally.

(Dr. Prashanth Parameswar­an is a Senior Columnist at The Diplomat and a fellow at the Wilson Center’s Asia Programme).

 ??  ?? Donald Trump and Vietnamese President and General Secretary Nguy n Phú Tr ng in front of a statue of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, February 27, 2019
Donald Trump and Vietnamese President and General Secretary Nguy n Phú Tr ng in front of a statue of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, February 27, 2019

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka