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APRIL 2015


Now known for its dynamic economy, Vietnam has slowly

but surely taken its place among the nations of the world.


Murray Hiebert serves as senior fellow and deputy

director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies

at the Center for Strategic and International Stud-

ies inWashington, D.C. Prior to joining CSIS, he was

senior director for Southeast Asia at the U.S. Chamber

of Commerce, where he worked to promote trade and

investment opportunities between the United States and Asia. Earlier in

his career, Mr. Hiebert reported for the

Wall Street Journal Asia Edition

and the

Far Eastern Economic Review.

He is the author of two books on


Chasing the Tigers

(Kodansha, 1996) and


(Review Publishing, 1993).


ver the last four decades, Viet-

nam has morphed from the site

of a bloody, protracted war into

a country known for its dynamic

economy, increasingly coopera-

tive ties with the United States, and

front-line status in the dispute

with Beijing over the strategically

critical South China Sea. During

a visit to Vietnam in late 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry said

that no two countries “have worked harder, done more and done

better to try to bring themselves together and change history and

change the future.”

Vietnam’s roughly 92 million people live on a long, narrow

strip of land with a 2,000-mile coast along the South China Sea, at

the crossroads between Northeast Asia and mainland Southeast

Asia. After Hanoi’s communist troops defeated the U.S.-backed

southern forces in 1975 and introduced hard-line socialist poli-

Vietnam Today



cies, the country’s economy went into a tailspin. Vietnam’s ouster

of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in neighboring Cambodia

in 1979 triggered an invasion by China, raised tensions with

neighboring countries and deepened its international isolation,

including from the United States.

With its economy in shambles, the ruling Communist Party in

1986 courted foreign investors and freed farmers from socialist

cooperatives. It also pledged to withdraw its troops from Cambo-

dia and step up its efforts to account for U.S. servicemen missing

in Vietnam from the war. In 1994, President Bill Clinton lifted the

U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam and normalized diplomatic

relations in 1995. That same year, the Association of Southeast

Asian Nations, established at the height of the Cold War to block

the spread of communism, welcomed Vietnam as a member in its

regional economic and political grouping.

The Virtue of Trade

Freed from collectives, Vietnam’s farmers turned the country

from a rice importer into one of the world’s top rice exporters.

The country’s economy has grown an average of about 6 percent

a year since 2000, boosting its per capita income to just under

$2,000 a year by 2013. An October 2014 Pew Research Center poll

found that a whopping 95 percent of Vietnamese are enthusiastic

about the free market, compared to only 70 percent of Americans.

Bilateral trade with the United States soared from under $3

billion in 2001, when the two countries signed a bilateral trade

agreement, to $35 billion last year. Today both countries are part

of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations that, once

completed, are expected to give bilateral economic relations an

extra shot of adrenaline.