US-Vietnam ties: Present outweighs past

HANOI,GARDINER HARRIS:When Bill Clinton landed in this lake-studded capital 16 years ago, the first U.S. President to visit since the end of the Vietnam War, his mission was to put that conflict behind him, and the trip was among the most remarkable of his presidency.

U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland for a trip to Vietnam and Japan.

When President Barack Obama arrives here early on Monday, his task may be a bit less dramatic, but is in many ways far more ambitious. These two countries, bedevilled by decades of misunderstandings, violence and wariness, now have the chance to create a partnership that seemed unlikely even three years ago.

Access to ports
Since then, China’s expansion in the South China Sea has deeply shaken a new Vietnamese government. While the leadership here has not let up on its repression of its people, it now appears more interested in playing one superpower off against the other, perhaps even giving the Pentagon some rotating access to key Vietnamese ports.

“It does show how history can work in unpredictable ways,” said Benjamin Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser who spent time over the past two years luring Myanmar out of its shell. “Even the worst conflicts can be relatively quickly left behind.”

South China Sea question
The Chinese, who hindered U.S. efforts during the Vietnam War, are making things easier for the United States. For years, the Communist Party leadership in Vietnam, headed by Nguyen Phu Trong, ignored Chinese activity off the country’s coast. But in 2014, China placed a deep-sea drilling rig to explore for oil and gas right off Vietnam, and Mr. Trong, the party’s general secretary, could not even get his phone calls to Beijing returned.

He registered his protest by visiting Mr. Obama in the Oval Office last year, an unsubtle signal to the Chinese that Vietnam had other options.

Ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit, a parade of U.S. officials, including Daniel Russel, the State Department’s most senior Asia hand, have been showing up in Hanoi. Their goal has been to get enough human rights guarantees from the Vietnamese to allow for the lifting of sanctions on arms sales to Vietnam and perhaps the return of U.S. military units to its shores. — New York Times News Service

Posted by on May 23, 2016. Filed under World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.