Even under Trump, US-Vietnam relations seem to be improving

15 November 2017

Given how closely Barack Obama was associated with the deepening of US-Vietnam ties, the change of administrations in the United States inevitably raised questions about the relationship’s future.

From Vietnam’s perspective, some of Donald Trump’s administration’s early moves raised alarm bells, especially its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was a major disappointment for Vietnam. Moreover, despite the Trump administration’s continuation of freedom-of-navigation operations, there is a perception in Vietnam that the South China Sea issue figures relatively low in Trump’s foreign policy priorities.

In fact, after nine months in office, and amid growing tension in the region, there is little sign that Trump is formulating a comprehensive strategy for Asia. The North Korean nuclear crisis has absorbed most of the US’s attention in Asia. Moreover, Trump’s initial talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping led some in South-East Asia to fear that a softer US line on the South China Sea could be traded for China’s cooperation on North Korea.

Despite their concerns, Vietnamese leaders were proactive in engaging directly with the new US President. In May this year, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was the first South-East Asian head of state, and the third from Asia (after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China’s Xi) to visit Trump after he took office. The meeting was considered successful and set a positive tone for the relationship.

The US has a large trade deficit with Vietnam, which totalled $US32 billion last year. During the presidential campaign, Trump listed Vietnam as one of several countries flooding the US economy with cheap goods. The US has also criticised Vietnam’s lack of protection for intellectual property rights, placing it on its watch list last year. During his visit in May, the Vietnamese Prime Minister tried to alleviate these and other concerns. Phuc signed a $US15-17 billion agreement on the exchange of technological goods and services, which Trump described as a win-win outcome: “They [Vietnam] just made a very large order in the United States; we appreciate that – for many billions of dollars, which means jobs for the United States and great, great equipment for Vietnam.”

To read the entire article by Huong Le Thu, visit the Canberra Times website.

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