Raymond Burghardt, Geopolitical Monitor, March 3, 2012 —
Eurasia Review, March 4, 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.
The Hanoi commemoration of the Bilateral Trade Agreement came soon after President Barack Obama’s mid-November hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu, followed a few days later by his attendance at the East Asia Summit in Bali. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used these summit meetings to announce America’s “pivot” back to Asia as the United States withdraws from its two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration has made clear that while the U.S. overall defense budget is reduced, it will not affect the U.S. forward deployment throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
An important component of the Obama administration’s Asia “pivot” policy has been its championing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, which was a major topic of interest at the APEC summit. Nine Asia-Pacific countries, including the United States and Vietnam, are now engaged in negotiating this agreement. A major objective for the United States has been to counter the trend of recent years in which China has signed trade agreements with its Asian neighbors that have excluded the United States. . . .
See also China Seas