How Vietnam got Trump's White House to open its door

10/06/2017
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 31, 2017


Experts say the Southeast Asian country has been successful in 'pro-active diplomacy' by seeking multiple routes to Trump.
When Vietnam's prime minister sat down with President Donald Trump at the White House last week, it reflected a concerted Vietnamese diplomatic effort unmatched by most Asian peers.
It also underlined the strategic importance the one-time enemy has secured under Trump in the face of China's increasing regional weight and despite a growing surplus that frustrates U.S. trade hawks.
Among Asian leaders, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc's reception followed only those for his Japanese and Chinese counterparts.
Fearful it would lose security and business gains made under the Obama administration, Vietnam started to prepare as soon as Trump was elected.
"We were already calculating options," said Tran Viet Thai, vice head of Vietnam's Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.
Vietnam got a call set up between Phuc and Trump more than a month before he took office.
Helping to spearhead contacts was Vietnam's ambassador in Washington, Pham Quang Vinh, a veteran of successful efforts under the Obama administration to lift an embargo on arms sales.
Pham was also instrumental in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which Trump ditched, to Vietnam's consternation.
Unlike most Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam retains a Washington lobbying firm — the Podesta Group — which it pays $30,000 a month, according to Justice Department documents.
Both the foreign minister and deputy foreign minister made trips to Washington. Also pressed into service were friends in congress, academics and both U.S. and Vietnamese businesses, according to diplomats and researchers.
Vietnam's message was taken to the National Security Council, specifically to Matt Pottinger, senior director for East Asia, and to Vice President Mike Pence's office as well as Defense and State Departments.
Having a career U.S. ambassador in Hanoi helped. Vietnamese-speaking Ted Osius was not among political appointees swept out by Trump.
Vietnam sought multiple routes to Trump.
"They really 'flooded the zone' and comprehensively improved the relationship," said Carl Thayer, of Australia’s Defence Force Academy. "At this point it does seem to be a success as a piece of pro-active diplomacy from Hanoi."
There were broad smiles at the White House, where Trump appeared more at ease with Phuc, than Western leaders who bridle at his "America First" policies.
China is always near the top of Vietnam's concerns, although it tries to avoid alienating its neighbor.
The joint statement with Trump was just as supportive for Vietnam as one last year, particularly on the South China Sea, where Vietnam is the most vocal opponent of Chinese claims. The sea is officially known in Vietnam as the East Sea
In fact, there was more: a possible U.S. carrier visit, acquisition of U.S. defense equipment and both naval and intelligence cooperation.
Trump is due in Vietnam in November for the meeting of countries in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group.
The problem for Trump is the trade deficit, the United States' sixth biggest last year at $32 billion.
In the first four months of 2017, Vietnam's U.S. exports grew over $400 million more than U.S. imports did.
Some $8 billion in new deals with U.S. firms hailed by Trump during Phuc's visit were less than they seemed: at least $5 billion related to deals made public last year.
Trump's decision to abandon the TPP trade pact in the name of protecting U.S. jobs didn't only harm Vietnam, which would have seen tariffs disappear. It would have forced Vietnam to improve access to a market of over 90 million people - more than Germany but with economic growth four times as fast.
"Vietnam's commitments under TPP would have opened many new markets for American exporters," James Fatheree, Asia executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.
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All comments [ 10 ]


John Smith 10/6/17 21:38

Phuc’s trip from May 30 to 31 is yet another signal that the Trump administration’s engagement of the subregion remains an early priority and that it continues to place an importance in cultivating Vietnam as an emerging partner in the region.

Gentle Moon 10/6/17 21:38

Phuc’s trip – the first White House visit for a Southeast Asian official – is an indication that Trump administration’s engagement of subregion remains an early priority even as it sorts out its wider domestic and foreign policy

LawrenceSamuels 10/6/17 21:40

But more specifically, the visit is also testament to the enduring strategic importance of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and its remarkable trajectory in recent years.

Jane smartnic 10/6/17 21:42

As the United States seeks to further boost its position in the Asia-Pacific, it has placed a greater emphasis on deepening ties with emerging partners like Vietnam.

yobro yobro 10/6/17 21:43

Vietnam, for its part, has sought to boost ties with Washington as part of its omni-directional foreign policy to engage a range of major powers to improve its security and prosperity.

Love Peace 10/6/17 21:44

Some in the United States remain concerned about the administration’s commitment to democracy and human rights, which is an area that continues to bedevil U.S.-Vietnam relations.

MaskOf Zero 10/6/17 21:48

It says something about the eagerness with which Hanoi and Washington, DC are reaching out to each other and the priority each enjoys in the agenda of the other.

Only Solidar 10/6/17 21:49

The United States and Vietnam have important economic and security issues to discuss.

Pack Cassiopian 10/6/17 21:50

Vietnam holds a key to the regional balance of power. After the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Hanoi is eager to know what the Trump administration can offer instead of that multilateral-trade agreement.

Deck Hero14 10/6/17 21:52

While these hot issues make Prime Minister Phuc’s trip desirable, it is a new level of U.S.-Vietnam relations that makes it possible.

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