Vietnam: The Odd Man Out

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryWhen most Americans think about Vietnam, we think about the Vietnam War and all those American soldiers and other personnel (like nurses, soldiers of America’s allies, journalists as well as some business people) who were there. What Vietnam has become after unification in 1975 is another matter. Under the Communist Party of Vietnam, the country has gone through a metamorphosis that has made Vietnam almost unrecognizable. Just after Vietnam unified, it sided with the Soviet Union in the bitter ideological struggle between the Soviet Union and its allies on the one hand and China and its allies on the other. Vietnam invaded the Chinese client state of Kampuchea (Cambodia) in 1979 under the infamous Khmer Rouge and occupied the country. This war of attrition lasted for ten years until the Vietnamese withdrew in 1989. At the same time, China fought a series of bloody border wars with Vietnam from 1979 to 1989. In the late 1980’s the entire Vietnamese Communist leadership was replaced in a purge that resulted in Vietnam ending up under economic reformists.

In the 1990’s, Vietnam started to emulate China’s model of economic capitalist development, which has seen the rise of a very successful Vietnam in terms of economic wealth as well as a growing income level for the average Vietnamese. Once one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is now one of the more developed Southeast Asian countries with many foreign businesses flocking to this country instead to China. Now as then, Vietnam is ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam. However, Vietnam has no allies and is constantly threatened by China and its allies. China’s allies now include Cambodia and Laos—countries neighboring Vietnam. China’s navy threatens Vietnam’s claims to offshore islands, and China keeps a heavy military presence on Vietnam’s border. This is why Vietnam has been turning more and more towards the United States, its former enemy, for help. Even though Vietnam more resembles China as a Communist state, Vietnam is no friend of China. The centuries old animosity between China and Vietnam is alive and well. This is why Vietnam has not joined China’s Belt and Road initiative which would have made Vietnam a virtual satellite of China. In so many ways Vietnam is the odd man out in the Communist world. It has a bad relationship with China, and yet maintains relations with all Communist states like China, Laos, North Korea and Cuba. At the same time, it has maintained a good relationship with the United States and this is why the summit between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and America’s President Donald Trump is being held in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. Where will Vietnam go from here? It all depends on who has the greater power in the fight for control of not only Asia but many parts of the world between China and the United States. The Vietnam War is long over, but the fight between the United States and China on a global scale continues. Vietnam is simply a part of this conflict.

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