Hanoi looks to join the tigers of South-east Asia

WHATEVER its symbolic importance, the American decision to lift trade sanctions on Vietnam has little practical effect. Consumer products such as Coca-Cola and Kleenex are already available on the streets of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, smuggled in by the country's growing army of entrepreneurs.

The 30-year-old embargo has been progressively eased in recent years. Its impact was greatly reduced last autumn when the Clinton administration finally dropped its opposition to Hanoi receiving loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. That concession is expected to pump at least dollars 5bn (pounds 3.3bn) over five years into an economy that has been growing fast since Vietnam's Communist leadership decided to abandon doctrinaire socialism. But it simply increased the frustration of American businessmen, who felt that they were the only ones still suffering any pain from the embargo. Washington tacitly admitted this by allowing them to bid for projects financed by international institutions, but they face stiff competition from European and Asian companies, some of which have been established in Vietnam for years.

The end of the embargo will make commercial banks less wary of lending to Vietnam, although the country's continuing poverty limits its ability to digest too much money too quickly. The main prize, which continues to elude Hanoi, is full normalisation of relations with the superpower it defeated. This has prevented Vietnam from playing a full part in international affairs, something which pricks its fierce national pride.

American companies can expect to receive some lucrative contracts in Vietnam, if for no other reason than politics. This was thought to have been an important factor in a recent offshore oil exploration deal awarded to Mobil. The country needs better relations with the US to pursue its new aims of joining Asia's 'tiger' economies and becoming a member of the club to which many of them belong, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean). This is an ambition shared by Indochina's two other former members of the socialist bloc, Cambodia and Laos.

A thaw would also serve US strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Vietnam remains a traditional rival of China and still maintains one of the largest standing armies in the world, although its equipment is obsolete and its officers are increasingly interested in business, like their Thai and Chinese counterparts. For less battle-hardened nations alarmed by China's expansionist tendencies in the South China Sea, the Vietnamese look like useful allies.

Vietnamese officials privately admit that their country is as reluctant as any other in the region to see the US reduce its presence. The need to find a balance to Chinese power has been the theme of more than 1,000 years of Vietnamese history; the father of the Vietnamese revolution, Ho Chi Minh, turned to Moscow only after his appeal to Washington for support was rejected. Vietnam has even suggested that American forces might return to the giant naval base they built at Cam Ranh Bay, which was taken over by the Soviet navy after the US withdrawal in 1973.

The urge for reconciliation with the US seems to override any fear that opening the country to yet more foreign influences might weaken the Communist Party's hold on power. Although it still draws legitimacy from its struggle against foreign invaders, fading memories and corruption are eroding its prestige. Last month the party held a special mid-term congress, apparently intended to restore its sense of purpose, at which ageing leaders were replaced. It proved less easy to agree a coherent political line. Closer contact with Washington will simply heighten Vietnam's contradiction between traditional Marxism-Leninism and free-market economic policies.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
newsBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
films
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game