40 Years On, Some Vietnamese Hope for Closer Ties to the U.S.

 President Xi Jinping
China's President Xi Jinping (front R) gestures to Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (front L) as they pose for a group photo with Chinese and Vietnamese youths at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, April 7, 2015. REUTERS/China Daily

On April 30, Ho Chi Minh City, commonly referred to as Saigon, marked the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Vietnam, after the army of communist North Vietnam brought down the government of South Vietnam and drove out the Americans following two decades of unsuccessful military involvement.

Preparations were lavish and involved, with the streets plastered with large propaganda posters, large speakers barking out military songs and some streets closed intermittently to the bustling traffic for rehearsals.

Many Vietnamese chose to mark the occasion by visiting the War Remnants Museum, where atrocities carried out during the Vietnam (American) War against the Vietnamese population are displayed. The parade was well orchestrated, with 6,000 soldiers from Vietnam's Army, Navy and Air Force in attendance, but few citizens were allowed within viewing distance of the actual festivities.

With all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the victory over the Americans, some observers might wonder whether any animosity still lingers between the two once-warring nations.

But on the streets, especially among the young, I found a profound dislike among many for marking of the defeat of Americans. Some young Vietnamese found the ceremony unnecessary, with some calling it degrading to a nation that helped Vietnam in many ways since the normalization of relations almost 20 years ago.

Many also hold out hope for significant American intervention should the Chinese ramp up their territorial hostilities in the South China Sea (East Sea). One year ago, the Chinese towed an offshore oil drilling rig into disputed waters, unleashing riots in an industrial zone outside of Saigon and causing the death of Chinese workers after a 1,000-strong mob set upon a Taiwanese steel mill in central Vietnam.

Despite the close ties between the two Communist nations, many Vietnamese welcome the "pivot to Asia" of the Obama administration and would like to see the U.S. become a formal "strategic partner" with Vietnam to offset the power of its northern neighbor.

Following the May riots, 61 Vietnamese Communist Party members penned a letter to the Communist leadership advocating an "escape" from their dependence on China. Yet the Vietnam leadership maintains an official policy of "three 'no's"—no military alliances, no foreign military bases and no use of a third party against a second party, all of which limit the role of the U.S. military in Vietnam.

Vietnamese are also holding out hope for the 12-nation U.S. Trans Pacific Partnership, which will draw the two nations together economically and politically. And there has been an increase in high-level visits of Vietnamese to the U.S.—Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, is expected to become the first Vietnamese Communist Party chief to visit the U.S.

Forty years on, and despite the propaganda and the official policy of not playing third parties against second parties, the U.S. is being welcomed by its former enemy Vietnam as a potential counterweight to an increasingly threatening northern neighbor.

Gary Sands is a senior analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. This article first appeared on the Foreign Policy Association site.