U. S. -Vietnam: Yesterday, Enemies: Today, Allies Against China??

[NOTE: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and “what goes around . . . .”

Who in the U.S. remembers the ten years of bitter jungle and urban warfare (and the dozen years of “secret” fighting before that), besides a rapidly disappearing remnant of veterans, a cadre of geezer peaceniks, a scattering of historians and a novelist/filmmaker here and there?

That was then: 58,000 American troops killed, hundreds of thousands wounded, a generation scarred. Not to mention two to three million Vietnamese, Cambodians and others in the dust and rice paddies poisoned with something called Agent Orange. (One vivid incident in my experience is recounted here.)

This is now: the U. S. Is gearing up for what could be a rerun of that nightmare, but this time in league with Vietnam against a common adversary, China.

Sometimes it sounds as if the war with us — which the Vietnamese won, by the way— was just a relatively brief bad dream for them. The threat from China, instead, is perpetual.

So what if the old U. S. hawks were right that Ho Chi Minh was building a ruthless Communist dictatorship? They were wrong about their predictions of doom for the “Free World” if the Indochina dominos fell.

After their victory, Ho’s successors did what the other shrewd commies did: jail or banish their dissidents, then “invade” the U. S., quite successfully, with smart phones, shirts and sneakers. The grandchildren of the U. S. Hawks are lapping up that legacy every day. And this old peacenik still wonders — couldn’t we have just skipped the 25 years of war and gone directly for the commerce?

No such luck.

Will the Americans and the Chinese churn the western Pacific red with the blood & treasure of another generation of Americans and Asians, fighting to control sea-lanes and which flag flies over Taiwan? If they/we are foolish enough; and the overall record is, shall we say, quite mixed. Will the diplomacy reported here, from two angles, move us away from that abyss?]Reuters: U.S., Vietnam say they hope to deepen ties as Blinken visits Hanoi

HANOI, April 15 (Reuters) – Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday expressed a desire to deepen their ties as Washington seeks to solidify alliances to counter an increasingly assertive China.

In his first visit to the southeast Asian country as the top U.S. diplomat, Blinken met with top officials including Vietnamese General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. The main topic was the possibility to upgrade bilateral ties.

“For President Biden, for Washington, this is one of the most dynamic and one of the most important relationships we’ve had,” Blinken said at a news conference capping a day of engagements in Hanoi. “It’s had a remarkable trajectory over the last couple of decades. Our conviction is that it can and will grow even stronger.”

It remained unclear when an upgrade of formal ties could be agreed, but Blinken expressed hope it could happen “in the weeks and months ahead”.

Before his meeting with Blinken, Chinh said both sides were looking to elevate ties “to a new height”, following a phone call last month between President Joe Biden and the head of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, a conversation he said yielded “great success”.

The diplomatic anniversary and the Biden-Trong call could lead to a meeting between the two in July or other high-level meetings, analysts say, although it is unclear what exactly the upgraded ties would entail.

Blinken told reporters security was among the key components of the two countries’ relations and noted this was growing, with Washington finalising the shipment of a third naval cutter to support Vietnam’s coastguard.

Washington and U.S. defence firms have openly said they want to bolster their military supplies to Vietnam – so far largely limited to coastguard ships and training aircraft – as the country seeks to diversify away from Russia, which is currently its main supplier.

But military deals with the U.S. face many potential hurdles, as Washington’s lawmakers might block arms sales over human rights issues. U.S. weapons are also expensive, risk triggering Chinese reactions, and may not easily be integrated with Vietnam’s legacy weapons, analysts said.


US-Vietnam trade has doubled in the past five years, from around $50 billion to $100 billion plus.

Blinken’s visit was part of a wider U.S. strategy in southeast Asia to build a coalition to counter China and deter any potential action by Beijing against Taiwan. Many countries in the region are reluctant to antagonise their giant neighbour, which is not just a military power but also a key trading partner and source of invest

For the U.S., Vietnam is a crucial southeast Asian trading partner that Washington wants to bolster ties with. But for Hanoi, it has been a difficult balancing act, between cooperating with Washington without upsetting Beijing, even though Vietnam has been alarmed by China’s increasing claims in the South China Sea.

The diplomatic calculus is further complicated by increasingly close relations between Beijing and Moscow, which last year declared a “no limits” partnership shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – although in Vietnamese waters the two powers have opposing interests as Russian firms extract gas in blocks claimed by China.

Some analysts expressed doubts about the potential upgrade.

“For one thing, there is no need, from Vietnam’s perspective, to unnecessarily antagonize China … Another is that Hanoi wants to avoid appearing openly part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy designed to counter China,” Rand Corporation Senior Defence Analyst Derek Grossman said. . . .

Blinken said progress on human rights was “essential” and a central focus of the relationship with Vietnam. Rights groups have regularly raised concerns over the communist country’s treatment of dissidents.

Earlier this week, a Hanoi court sentenced a prominent Vietnamese political activist to six years in prison for conducting anti-state activities, his lawyer said.

AP News: US, Vietnam pledge to boost ties as Blinken visits Hanoi

BY MATTHEW LEE — April 15, 2023

HANOI (AP) — Fifty years after the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam, Secretary of State Antony Blinken looked Saturday to strengthen America’s ties with its old foes in Hanoi as it seeks to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the IndoPacific.

Blinken and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh pledged to boost relations to new levels as they met just two weeks after the 50th anniversary of the U.S. troop withdrawal that marked the end of America’s direct military involvement in Vietnam.

And it came as Blinken broke ground on a sprawling new $1.2 billion U.S. embassy compound in the Vietnamese capital, a project the Biden administration hopes will demonstrate its commitment to further improving ties less than 30 years after diplomatic relations were restored in 1995.

Despite concerns over Vietnam’s human rights record, Washington sees Hanoi as a key component of its strategy for the region and has sought to leverage Vietnams traditional rivalry with its much larger neighbor China to expand U.S. influence in the region.

“We think this is an auspicious time to elevate our existing partnership,” Blinken told reporters after meetings with Chinh, Vietnams foreign minister and Communist Party chief.

This has been a very comprehensive and effective relationship and going forward we will continue to deepen relations,” Chinh said. “We highly appreciate the role and responsibility of the U.S. towards the Asia Pacific, or, in a larger scheme, the IndoPacific.”

He added that Vietnams communist government is keen to “further elevate our bilateral ties to a new height.”

Along with a number of Chinas smaller neighbors, Vietnam has maritime and territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea. The U.S. has responded by offering diplomatic support and bolstering military cooperation with the Philippines and the selfruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as a renegade province.

Blinken noted that the U.S. is currently finalizing the transfer to Vietnam of a third Coast Guard cutter, which will complement existing maritime security cooperation that has seen Washington give Hanoi 24 patrol boats since 2016 along with other equipment and training.

All of these elements bolster Vietnamese capacity to contribute to maritime peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.

Just last month, China threatened “serious consequences” after the U.S. Navy sailed a destroyer around the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea for the second day in a row, in a move Beijing claimed was a violation of its sovereignty and security. The Paracels are occupied by China but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

U.S. officials are reluctant to describe any visit to Asia in terms of China, preferring instead to discuss the importance of improving bilateral ties. But they frequently speak to broader concerns in the region that are clearly directed at China.

“We focused on how our countries can advance a free and open IndoPacific; one that is at peace and grounded in respect for the rulesbased international order, Blinken said.

And five decades after the Nixon administration pulled U.S. combat forces out of Vietnam on March 29, 1973, Blinken said the U.S. is seeking a more strategic orientation with the country.

Blinkens visit comes as the administration grapples with its own record of troop withdrawals and is facing congressional criticism and demands to explain the chaotic U.S. departure from Afghanistan two years ago.

Some have likened that to the Vietnam experience, especially as it relates to the fate of Afghans who supported the 20year military mission but were left behind when the Biden administration pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021.

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