If history, whether good or bad, should only be used to look forward to
a brighter future, then Vietnamese and American leaders have certainly
been on the right path over the last decade.
As celebrations loom to mark 10 years since diplomatic relations were
normalised, the June 21 visit to the US by Vietnam''s Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai will be interesting not just from a political point of
view but also for what it can offer the business communities of the two
The June visit will be the first by a Vietnamese leader to the US, and
former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Vietnam in November 2000
has been the only such visit since the end of the war in 1975. "People
in both countries welcome the first-ever visit by a Vietnamese Prime
Minister to the US," said Mr Adam Sitkoff, Executive Director of
American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hanoi.
and the future
The chance for close relations between the two countries first
presented itself in 1870, when Vietnam''s Emperor Tu Duc sent his
Special Envoy to meet President Ulysses Grant seeking co-operation
possibilities. Although opportunities were lost to avert the brutal war
in the 60s and 70s, it has thankfully had no bearing on the current
renewed relations. Rising two-way trade figures of up to $6.4 billion
in 2004 from $1.4 billion in 2001, mainly due to the Vietnam-US
Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) in 2001, is ample evidence that history
has been confined to the past. Annual visits by senior officials from
both governments over the last few years have cemented the
relationship, easing harsh memories and augur well for a bright future.
"Head of State visits between the two signal strong bilateral relations
and I am pleased that the relationship between Vietnam and the US is
going so well," said Mr Sitkoff.
Because of their shared history, though, the relationship is always a
sensitive matter and often attracts the attention of international
observers with an eye on Vietnam-US links. This partly explains the
existence of several disagreements between the two over certain issues.
With a great degree of goodwill, both sides are trying to narrow the
gap and gradually foster bigger and better business ties. "While there
will always be areas of disagreement among nations, bilateral
co-operation now exists between Vietnam and the US on many levels that
would have been difficult to imagine just a few years ago, including a
growing law enforcement and military relationship," said Mr Sitkoff.
All concerned, including AmCham, can be extremely proud of the growing
importance of American businesses in Vietnam''s economy over the last
decade. Many big names in the US such as Ford, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, FedEx
and United Airlines are already on the scene, bringing total US
investment to $1.3 billion as at the end of April, according to
Vietnam''s Ministry of Planning and Investment. These figures are much
more important than disagreements, which are normally seen in every
bilateral relationship around the world. "Disagreements still exist
between our two countries, but I believe too much is made of these,"
said Mr Chris Runckel, President of the US-based Runckel &
With a view to looking at what unites the two countries rather than
what divides them, Mr Runckel believes that Vietnam and the US both
want a stable, prosperous and independent Vietnam that is well
integrated into Southeast Asia and international forums and
organisations. Clearly, a growing Vietnam also brings opportunities for
the US and its corporate community, and overrides any disagreements.
"I''m sure that they vastly outnumber the small number of issues on
which we disagree," Mr Runckel said. "Further, even on the issues where
we disagree, we continue to consult and negotiate and educate each
other. Such is the way of colleagues that appreciate and value each
other’s right to freedom and independence."
While international observers are eyeing Prime Minister Khai''s visit
in terms of political and diplomatic ties, the Vietnamese and American
business communities are expecting more concrete outcomes. "Some of our
members will be participating in the visit, by sharing their success
stories to help spread the message that, not only is Vietnam open for
business, but that rules have changed so foreign companies can actually
be profitable and successful in the Vietnamese market," said Mr
Sitkoff. One very positive and favourable response to the Prime
Minister''s visit, according to Mr Runckel, who was one of first
American diplomats to come to Vietnam in 1995, will be a continued
building of interest in Vietnam by Americans in general. "Vietnam has
increasingly become an attractive tourist destination because of its
stability and its scenic countryside, memorable cities and friendly
people," he said, referring to figures showing that North American
arrivals to Vietnam in the first quarter of this year now represent 11
per cent of the total.
Significantly, executives at the Seattle-based Boeing Commercial
Airplanes are hopeful that the state-run Vietnam Airlines can finalise
a deal to buy four Boeing 787s, which the country''s national flag
carrier verbally committed to in December 2004. "We do not want to
speak on behalf of our customers, but we hope we can do something
during the Prime Minister''s visit," said Mr Randy Tinseth, Boeing''s
Director of Product and Services Marketing, when he was in Vietnam last
month. Sources from the foreign business community in Vietnam told
Vietnam Economic Times that the giant US chip maker Intel might
possibly reach an agreement with the Vietnamese Government over its
planned multi-million dollar investment in the Hoa Lac High-Tech Park.
On top of that, trade officials from both sides hope the two may
finally ink an agreement that paves the way for Vietnam''s bid to join
the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
"We also strongly support Vietnam''s accession to the WTO, and the
attaining of Permanent Normal Trade (PNTR) status from the US, which
will mark the completion of a long journey both nations have embarked
on to normalise bilateral economic relations," said Mr Sitkoff.
Xuan Son reports.
Vietnam Economic Times -
[ 2005-06-01 ]