By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
It’s been 40 years since the fall of Saigon and the end of the War in Vietnam. Since that time, U.S.-Vietnamese relations have been re-established and seem to only be getting better.
Diplomatic relations weren’t normalized with Vietnam again until 1995, but the past two decades have been very productive, with efforts being made to rise above the past, overcome differences and promote shared interests.
Those efforts are in the spotlight this week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with members of Congress and Vietnam-era veterans today to remember and honor their sacrifices 50 years after the ground war began. Carter said that, militarily, the war taught us many lessons, two specifically: That the nation is committed to leaving no man behind and that we must support our service members, regardless of our feelings about war.
Yesterday, President Barack Obama welcomed Vietnam’s Communist Party leader, Nguyen Phu Trong, to the White House — the first time the party’s leader has ever visited the U.S. The pair adopted a joint vision statement recognizing the strides made between the nations.
But how did we get to this point? Well, here’s the quick history of it:
U.S.-Vietnamese diplomatic relations were originally established in 1950, but that changed when the country gained full independence from France in 1954 and was divided between the communist north and anti-communist south. The U.S. fought alongside the south for more than a decade before its capital, Saigon, fell to communist forces in 1975 and all U.S. personnel and troops were brought home. But as Vietnam was reunified under communist rule, it was largely isolated internationally, experiencing little growth for more than a decade due to its policies and humanitarian issues.
By the mid-1980s, Vietnam slowly began to introduce the reforms needed to grow its economy and better protect human rights. Those efforts led to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 1995, which have become increasingly cooperative and broad-based. They’ve accelerated greatly since Obama and Vietnam’s president launched the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership in 2013, further bolstering our relations in many areas, such as:
1) Accounting for all U.S. personnel missing in Indochina – it’s one of the highest priorities. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency continues its efforts to recover and identify servicemen who were lost. Vietnamese-led teams joined that effort in 2011.
2) The U.S. and Vietnam are working together to decontaminate the country from the after-effects of the defoliant Agent Orange, as well as unexploded ordnance left behind after the war.
3) Trade has grown dramatically. Statistics show exports and imports between the two countries have grown from $451 million in 1995 to nearly $35 billion in 2014.
4) Both countries are working to address maritime security, especially amid recent developments in the South China Sea that have increased tensions, eroded trust and threatened to undermine peace, security and stability. The countries are also working to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, as well as address humanitarian challenges such disaster response and search and rescue missions.
5) Educational cooperation has increased through university partnerships, including Vietnam granting a license for the new Fullbright University Vietnam.
6) In October 2014, the countries put into effect a 123 Agreement, which establishes guidelines for commercial nuclear trade, research and technology exchanges.
7) Both countries have an agreement on counternarcotics and hold regular dialogues on human rights.
Together, the U.S. and Vietnam have also accomplished much in the areas of science and technology, health care, tourism and response to climate change. Much of the success has also been attributed to the Vietnamese community in the U.S. and their contributions to better uniting the two nations.
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