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Mike Pompeo

As China looms over Asia, Pompeo warms up to an old adversary: Vietnam


WASHINGTON (Circa) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent trip to Asia did not secure any new agreements with North Korea, but his meeting with Vietnam's top leaders showed the increasingly close partnership between the U.S. and its old adversary.

Pompeo met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong after visiting North Korea and Japan in order to discuss shared interests in south Asia.

"The Secretary and Vietnamese leaders also discussed ways to further strengthen the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership so as to advance our common bilateral and regional priorities and common efforts to promote peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

The U.S. and Vietnam fought one of the longest and most controversial wars in U.S. history, but the two sides are more concerned with a common adversary: China and its attempts to dominate the South China sea. Approximately $5.3 trillion worth of goods flows through the sea each year, including $1.2 trillion worth of U.S. trade. China's military build up on the islands within the South China sea threatens to impede that trade, which has forced U.S. leaders to increase their focus on the area militarily.

Despite their shared communist heritage, Vietnam and China have had a tumultuous relationship since Vietnam reunified in 1975. This strife eventually led to a brief war on the shared border in 1979, which was followed by several skirmishes over the following years. Today, the topic of dispute is the South China sea and competing claims of ownership over the islands located within it's boundaries.

While U.S.-Vietnam relations have been thawing since the George H.W. Bush administration, it was President Barack Obama who made the strongest push toward normalizing relations when he lifted the arms embargo on Vietnam that had existed since the war. This occurred around the same time as his "pivot" to Asia. Small steps toward normal ties followed, though most flew under the radar.

The Trump administration continued Obama's policy, with the president himself visiting the country as part of an Asia tour in November after Phuc visited the U.S. in May. With all the diplomatic meetings and more than $54 billion in bilateral trade, it's remarkable to note the two countries were at war nearly fifty years ago. Indeed, a brief look at Pompeo's statements during the trip show a keen interest in continuing the relationship.

"The fact that we are cooperating -- and not fighting -- is proof that when a country decides to create a brighter future for itself alongside the United States, we follow through on American promises," said Pompeo.

That cooperation has already extended to military and intelligence partnerships. And while Vietnam is still wary of allowing any foreign military bases in its territory, the U.S. Navy has frequented Cam Ranh Bay, one of the best deep water ports in the region located just east of the disputed islands, and south of China.

There are areas of concern. The U.S. runs an estimated $38 million trade deficit with Vietnam, an issue which Trump has brought up with China. Vietnam has expressed concern over Trump's removing the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

That said, Pompeo hailed the current U.S.-Vietnam relationship as an example that North Korea could learn from.

"In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong Un," said Pompeo. "President Trump believes your country can replicate this path - it's yours if you seize the moment.This miracle can be yours, could be your miracle in North Korea as well."

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