Arthur I. Cyr: Donald Trump goes to Vietnam
United States President Donald Trump’s extensive tour of East Asia has historic importance. The busy schedule included stops in China, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.
Most press attention has focused on the two largest economic powers in the vat region — China and Japan. However, arguably the most significant stop in tangible as well as symbolic terms has been Vietnam
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit has just concluded in Danang, Vietnam. The traditional spelling of this third largest city in the nation is Da Nang, just as the traditional spelling of Vietnam is Viet Nam.
Americans do not like empty spaces. We turn unused real estate into productive enterprises. Getting rid of those blank areas between words speeds up pronunciation and, after all, time is money. The fast-moving, fast-talking technocrats who dominated military policy during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations brought precisely that perspective to U.S. foreign policy during the Vietnam War.
Unfortunately, quantitative measures featuring dead bodies, enemy weapons and weight of documents captured were not reliable indicators of progress. Given the enormous scale of American firepower, increasing totals especially of bodies meant mainly that the enemy was becoming more numerous.
Where quantitative measures are central is in the tough and quite tangible world of commerce, trade and investment. APEC is emerging as perhaps the most important intergovernmental network in East Asia to promote those activities.
President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker deserve great credit for making APEC a firm reality. Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke conceived the organization.
Australia over the decades has moved in the direction of free markets, and a much more explicit national commitment to tolerance, directly reflected in official policy toward indigenous populations. The Obama administration decision to station a U.S. Marine contingent in Australia underscores the strong bilateral ties between the two nations, dating back to World War II.
Vietnam hosted the 2006 APEC summit. That gathering provided a useful opportunity to highlight that nation’s economic growth and the wider commitment to multilateralism.
The nation for understandable reasons was long a special case. For years after Hanoi’s military victory in 1975, the newly unified nation was unable to turn the corner from political revolution to economic development. Vietnam did not join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations until 1995, nearly three decades after the creation of the regional development organization.
Recent years have witnessed escalation of maritime conflicts across the Pacific. For example, in April 2014, China authorities impounded the Baosteel Emotion, a freighter of Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. The move was part of commercial claims resulting from World War II. The two nations also both claim the Senkaku Islands.
China and Vietnam are traditional enemies, a reality masked by their ideological alliance as Communist partners during the long Vietnam War. Maritime conflicts and occasional violent clashes between these nations continue.
There are military security aspects to APEC summits, though the focus is economics. In the 2008 summit held in Peru, Americans and Russians discussed differences over Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, and missile developments in Europe and Korea. In 2006, Hanoi honored U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and our government with a martial parade, complete with American flags — an ironic and quite poignant gesture.
French journalist Bernard Fall provides brilliant insight regarding Vietnam. He was reflective, unhurried and never taken in by any side in the wars that shaped that nation.
Read his book “The Two Viet Nams.”
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.