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POSTED | 10:13 AM | 05-07-2015

US readies red carpet for Vietnam communist chief

Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong doesn’t hold an official government post, but it’s not surprising that he’ll meet with President Barack Obama on his visit to the United States this week. He is the de-facto top leader of his country.

More telling is one of Trong’s other engagements — a dinner reception hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce, bastion of American free enterprise. Economic imperatives drove the US and Vietnam to normalize postwar relations 20 years ago, and they remain a major incentive to boost ties, according to The Associated Press.

President Bill Clinton announced the normalization of relations between the US and Vietnam on July 11, 1995, following up on the lifting of punitive economic sanctions imposed after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 with a communist victory.

The bitterness on both sides gave way to pragmatism. Vietnam’s socialist planners were running the economy of the newly unified nation into the ground, and needed a helping hand. American businesses saw opportunities that might otherwise be seized by Asian and European competitors.

Trong called his trip on Tuesday (7 July 2014) “a historic visit.” He said he expects Obama to make his first visit to Vietnam later this year, though the White House has not confirmed the trip.

US officials are eager to take relations with Vietnam — currently friendly but hardly intimate — to a new level. Vietnam could be a linchpin in Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia, playing a strong geopolitical and economic role. As a front-line country nervous about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, Vietnam also would not mind the US directing at least a little hard talk at Beijing.

“We believe that as one of the world’s leading major powers and a member of the (UN Security Council), the US has a great interest and responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific,” Trong said Friday in a written response to questions submitted by The Associated Press.

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