Why the U.S. is so insanely popular in Vietnam even after a devastating war

During the 60’s until 1975 the United States sent a lot of troops to Vietnam. They dropped thousands of bombs and sprayed with the infamous horrifying napalm with thousands of civilian victims as a result. But when the Pew Research Center published the annual Global Attitudes & Trends report of 2017, Vietnam came on top with the most positive view towards the U.S.

(This article is a follow up to How the world sees the U.S.A. after Trump)

How come you ask? I contacted Dr John Kleinen from the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research. Kleinen taught anthropology and history of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, and visual anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.

Apart from the Pew report, there are other clues of Vietnam’s favourable view towards the U.S., Kleinen says.

The enthusiasm with which Vietnam welcomed Clinton and Obama speaks volumes. These events caused comprehensive coverage in the Vietnamese State media. Bloggers on the dissident side were enthusiastic as well.

Nowadays the U.S. (especially after the election of Donald Trump) seems busy enough with themselves. And with it comes a downwards trend of the countries’ popularity around the globe. Surprisingly enough, Vietnam is an exception. So what could be the root of this favourable view in Vietnam?

Lifting trade embargo and a young population

Overall, the Vietnamese are very positive towards the U.S. in part because of the series of political reconciliations between the two countries. The relationship improved after the lifting of the trade embargo in 1994. The Washington Post published Vietnam and America’s surprising turn from foes to friends which listed key events.

On top of these political reconciliations, age is a decisive factor. The fact that the generation that experienced the war is a minority in Vietnam helps.

Vietnam won the war

According to Dr Klein, the people that experienced the war are remarkably mild to the U.S. This has to do with the fact that Vietnam, although against a high prize, won the war.

China and Russia were bigger bullies

Despite the support of the Soviet Union to capital Hanoi, the Vietnamese were strongly anti-Russia.

“The Russians were considered rough and greedy. ‘Lien-Xo’ (Soviet-Russ) was a nickname with a negative connotation.”

Another point is that the Vietnam War (or the American War, is how it’s called in Vietnam) only took ten years.

“This stands in stark contrast with the 1000-year colonisation and influence by their big neighbour, China. The interference from China since 1954 in North-Vietnamese political affairs is a pain point which goes far beyond the relationship between Vietnam and the U.S.” Dr Kleinen says.

Trump is a different story

After Trump became a reality the alliance between the two countries, like in almost every country in the world, is wired. However, the Vietnamese government choose a very cautious tactic that’s called Realpolitik.

Realpolitik: politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises. — Wikipedia

Where Vietnam welcomed Clinton and Obama as hero’s and foreign friends, the meeting between Premier Phuc and Trump only lasted for 30 minutes.

Dr Kleinen explained that despite the disappointment of Trump’s departure from TTP and the fear of protectionism, Prime Minister Phuc’s visit aimed at convincing Trump that Vietnam is a reliable partner on regional (North Korea, China) and international issues.

Trump followed with a letter to President Quang in which he secured support for bilateral cooperation.

(The demonstrative and excessive handshake was nowhere to be seen when Donald Trump met with Prime Minister Phuc in the White House.)

Maybe it’s nothing, but one of the few ambassadors who Trump didn’t fire because Obama nominated him was the one in Vietnam. Why is unclear but the Vietnamese have perceived this as a signal of continuity of policy, and for the future, Dr Kleinen says.

It has nothing to do with sympathies for the screaming twitterer in Washington. In Europe we can be full of disgust when we report on Trump, Vietnam doesn’t have that kind of luxury, they need the U.S. against China and a healthy economic future. The Vietnamese are therefore comfortable defending their diplomacy based on given circumstances rather than moral premises.

Vietnam’s former enemy in battle is now a reliable ally. They need each other and are willing to forget the past with a prosperous future in return.


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