THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
Now known for its dynamic economy, Vietnam has slowly
but surely taken its place among the nations of the world.
BY MURRAY H I EBERT
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
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-
ON THE FOREIGN SERVICE IN VIETNAM
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.