Connect to share and comment

Vietnam: America’s begrudging military playmate

The US and Vietnam, former foes, are now becoming military allies clamoring to reign in China's dominance in the South China Sea.

In another cable, which details a US ambassador’s plea to increase his in-country staff, a high-ranking Vietnamese official is described as asking “why are you so demanding?” and noting that authorities don’t like “the fact that you have people running all over the country.”

These sentiments are borne not from anti-Americanism per se but from Vietnam’s ferocious independent streak, Thayer said. “There might be one odd person out there who’s a veteran and hates Americans,” he said. “But it’s not the prevailing view. The government propaganda has told people to let bygones be bygones.”

The fall of Saigon, though burned into the American psyche, is more often seen by the Vietnamese as one blip in a long series of repelled invaders including the Khmers, the Mongols and the French. But China, which ruled Vietnam for 1,000 years, is foremost among colonizers.

With China’s efforts now turned towards dominating the South China Sea – called the “East Sea” in Vietnam – the US faces increasing pressure to keep the sea open to its allies. More low-level clashes on the open waters appear likely, Green said, and America may be asked to prove its power by diplomatically backing China down.

“Today, it’s the Philippines,” Green said. “Next year, it may be Vietnam again. If there’s a conflict, and there’s any ambiguity as to who started it, it will inevitably be seen as a challenge to US primacy in the region.”