Politics

Former Enemy - Future Partner?

President Obama’s Visit to Vietnam

May 30th, 2016
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On May 22nd, President Obama started his 3-day historical visit to America’s former enemy, Vietnam, to prove the complete normalization of relations with the Communist ruled state. Four decades after the Vietnam War we are witnessing a transformation of an old enemy into a new partner. As part of the commitment to upgrade relations, the two countries are discussing security cooperation built on trust, including a complete lift of the 32 year old arm embargo.  The Governments are expected to announce a host of new agreements with requirements around human rights, and as military and defense are important, for the citizens of Vietnam the concept of trade, investment and economic development are in the focus.

16 years ago Bill Clinton was the first American President visited the Southeast Asian country after the war. That time it would have been impossible to imagine the two nations cooperating, but today the goal is to put the relations on a more equal footing. As President Obama highlighted, most citizens have no living memories of the war, which took 19 years 5 months 4 weeks and 1day. The post-war progress in Vietnam has led to improved relations with the United States and to an impressive economic growth. Beyond all the positive feedback and expectations, Barack Obama is criticized by the human rights activists for lifting the embargo without obtaining concession on freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion. The Head of State is scheduled to meet with Vietnam’s most senior leaders, President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong.

The visit coincides with the five yearly elections in the National Assembly in Vietnam, where 90% of the seats belong to the ruling Communist Party. This year unusually large number of candidates tried to get their names on the ballot, but despite the official statements encouraging young independents, the party rejected almost everyone in a questionable process. One of the overruled candidates is Mai Khoi, a popular singer, who also made an appeal on YouTube for a meeting with the President to seek his help in opening up the political system of Vietnam. Human rights are universal, and it is important for people to have the right to express themselves freely in the arenas of politics, labor, media and religion. To demonstrate that the USA will continue to raise issues related to Human Rights, the President met with six leaders from the Vietnamese independent civil society in Hanoi.

Part of the President’s Pivot to Asia policy announced in 2011, the visit to create closer ties is related to recent territorial disputes in the South China Sea and to the landmark trade agreement of Trans-Pacific Partnership. Vietnam is located on one of the world’s most strategically vital waterways and this visit proves that Vietnam seeks US backing in its dispute against China’s expansion in the area. As Obama said: “Nations are sovereign and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its sovereignty should be respected”. TPP has important strategic benefits, including counter of China’s growing influence in the region. The discussion covered security, trade and investment education and human rights and the two countries hope that this visit will led to an even more deeper collaboration.

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References

Cultural Diplomacy News
Bettina Kovacs, CD News