President Barack Obama is making history with his three-day visit to Vietnam, which is only the third by a sitting United States president since the end of the Vietnam War.
Furthermore, as part of his itinerary, he is set to be the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site of the infamous World War II nuclear bombing.
President Obama’s visit is an effort to bolster relations between the U.S. and its Pacific allies.
The U.S. government is hoping to lure another country in the region away from the tight influence and control exerted by China.
In an effort to achieve these goals, President Obama met with Vietnam’s newly elected prime minister and president on Monday.
Obama is going a step further by meeting with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, which exerts the real power through his political influence.
The United States has a hopeful chance of swaying Vietnamese officials to strengthen relations with the U.S., while loosening ties with China.
These hopes lie in the strained dynamic that has historically existed between Vietnam and China.
Nationally, Vietnam is permeated by deep feelings of nationalism and communal anti-Chinese sentiment.
Although the United States did go to war with Vietnam in the not-too-recent past, most of the population is under 30 and, thus, devoid of any bitterness stemming from that era.
Vietnam is reliant on China for trade, investment, and even the water that feeds the nation’s vast Mekong Delta. Because of this reliance, Vietnam has been reluctant to roust any ill-will from China.
Since the Sino-Vietnamese War fought in 1979, Vietnam has largely adopted an attitude of appeasement towards China, despite provocation from China as it asserts its dominance over the South China Sea that makes up the length of Vietnam’s 2,000-mile coast.
However, a recent incident seems to have been the last straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
In 2014, China began drilling for oil and gas on a rig just off the Vietnamese coats, a move that came without any consultation of the Vietnamese government.
As a result of the incident, Vietnam is warming up to the United States. Though a formal bilateral alliance between the two nations is still a ways off, a major thawing of relations is in the making.
Vietnam may grant American warships access to its ports. On the contrary, Washington is considering increasing the number of exceptions relating to an arms embargo. An end to the embargo altogether is even up for consideration.
One major motivating factor of Obama’s visit is to reform Vietnam’s economy.
Despite recent growth in the nation’s economy, widespread problems still remain. The econonmy is largely dominated by the state in its core sectors, such as telecommunications.
More problematic is that the recent increase in prosperity will not be sustainable because of an overwhelming reliance on low-wage manufacturing jobs.
Any potential economic growth for Vietnam has largely been stymied by widespread corruption amongst government officials.
Still, Vietnam’s future ecoonomic hopes are looking bright if negotations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership prove successful. Included in this trade agreement are the United States and 10 other countries, creating an economic partnership that will likely boost Vietnam’s economy.
It is projected that the agreement would increase Vietnam’s economic growth by tn percent by 2030 through increased sales in the textile and apparel industries.
While the terms of the Trans-Pacific deal were being hammered out, Vietnam had to make some major concessions. These included allowing iits citizens to form independent labor unions as well comply with certain environmental measures.
Because of such measures, it is feared that the trade deal will not pass in the National Assembly.
During his visit, President Obama intends to advocate for the removal of all obstacles to the deal’s passage.