VIETNAMESE RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES

VIETNAMESE RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES

The United States established diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1950, following its limited independence within the French Union; France continued to oversee Vietnam's defense and foreign policy. In 1954, Vietnamese nationalists fighting for full independence defeated France, and the now-divided Vietnam entered into two decades of civil war. The United States did not recognize North Vietnam's government, maintaining the U.S. Embassy in South Vietnam, supporting the South against the North, and entering the war on the South's side. In 1975, the United States closed its Embassy and evacuated all Embassy personnel just prior to South Vietnam's surrender to North Vietnamese forces. [Source: U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, August 1, 2012 \:\]

Vietnam was reunified under communist rule. In 1978, it invaded Cambodia following border clashes. U.S. policy held that normalization of its relations with Vietnam be based on withdrawal of the Vietnamese military from Cambodia as part of a comprehensive political settlement and on continued cooperation on prisoner of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) issues and other humanitarian concerns. In 1995, the United States announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. \:\

U.S. relations with Vietnam have become increasingly cooperative and broad-based in the years since political normalization. The United States and Vietnam hold an annual dialogue on human rights, which resumed in 2006 after a 2-year hiatus. The economic relationship between the United States and Vietnam is flourishing. Vietnam is a partner in nonproliferation regimes, including the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and takes advantage of expertise, equipment, and training available under the Export Control and Related Border Security program. With the support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Megaports Initiative, Vietnam is installing radiation detection equipment to help it detect and identify weapons of mass destruction and their components at the commercial port of Cai Mep-Vung Tau. The United States and Vietnam have signed an agreement on counternarcotics. \:\

The United States considers achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing and unaccounted for in Indochina to be one of its highest priorities with Vietnam. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducts four major investigation and recovery periods a year in Vietnam, during which specially trained U.S. military and civilian personnel investigate and excavate hundreds of cases in pursuit of the fullest possible accounting. Vietnamese-led recovery teams have become regular participants in these recovery missions since August 2011. Vietnam remains heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war, primarily in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO) including extensive contamination by cluster munitions dating from the war with the United States. The United States is the largest single donor to UXO/mine action in Vietnam. While legacy issues such as UXO/demining, MIA accounting, and Agent Orange (a defoliant used by U.S. forces) provided the foundations for the U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship, mutual interest in addressing the challenges of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, search and rescue, and maritime security have allowed the defense relationship to accelerate, with Vietnam participating in U.S.-provided capacity-building training in these areas. Many of these topics are discussed in annual bilateral defense discussions. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding during the Defense Policy Dialogue that will further advance bilateral defense cooperation. \:\

The relationship between Vietnam and the US continues to grow closer. In September Vietnam opened a new consulate in New York, and the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City expanded with the opening of an American Center. The US and Vietnam are also among those currently negotiating to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free trade agreement. [Source: Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012]

United States Foreign Policy, Vietnam and the Vietnam War

The Communist victory in South Vietnam in 1975 abruptly concluded three decades of United States intervention in Vietnam and brought to a close a painful and bitter era for both countries. The war generated considerable social and political discord in the United States, massive disruption in Vietnam, and was enormously costly to both sides. Vietnam endured physical destruction--ravaged battle sites, leveled factories and cities, and untold numbers of military and civilian casualties. The United States escaped physical devastation, but it suffered the loss of 58,000 lives (2,400 unaccounted for) and spent roughly $150 billion in direct expenses to sustain the war. The war also divided and confused American society. [Source: Library of Congress *]

To the Vietnamese communists, the war against the United States simply extended the war for independence initiated against the French. In Hanoi's view, when the United States displaced the French in Indochina, it assumed the French role as a major-power obstacle to Vietnam's eventual reunification. For the United States, intervention was derived from considerations that largely transcended Vietnam. In the closing months of World War II, the United States had supported the idea of an international trusteeship for all of Indochina. Subsequently, in spite of misgivings in Washington about French intentions to reimpose colonial rule in Indochina, the United States eventually tilted in support of the French war effort in the embattled region. Anticolonial sentiment in the United States after World War II thus failed to outweigh policy priorities in Europe, such as the evolving North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) relationship. *

The formal creation of NATO and the communist victory in China, both of which occurred in 1949, led the United States to support materially the French war effort in Indochina. The perception that communism was global and monolithic led the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support the idea of a noncommunist state in southern Vietnam, after the French withdrawal under the Geneva Agreements of 1954. Although this goal arguably ran counter to two key features of the Geneva Agreements (the stipulation that the line separating North and South Vietnam be neither a political nor territorial boundary and the call for reunification elections), it was based on the United States assessment that the Viet minh--which, contrary to the agreements, had left several thousand cadres south of the demarcation line--was already in violation. The first United States advisers arrived in the South within a year after Geneva to help President Ngo Dinh Diem establish a government that would be strong enough to stand up to the communist regime in the North. *

Although Washington's advisory role was essentially political, United States policy makers determined that the effort to erect a non-communist state in Vietnam was vital to the security of the region and would be buttressed by military means, if necessary, to inhibit any would-be aggressor. Defending Vietnam's security against aggression from the North and from southern-based communist insurgency was a mission Washington initially perceived as requiring only combat support elements and advisers to South Vietnamese military units. The situation, however, rapidly deteriorated, and in 1965, at a time when increasing numbers of North Vietnamese-trained soldiers were moving in South Vietnam, the first increment of United States combat forces was introduced into the South and sustained bombing of military targets in North Vietnam was undertaken. Nearly eight more years of conflict occurred before the intense involvement of the United States ended in 1973. *

An "Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam" was signed in Paris on January 27, 1973, by Washington, Hanoi, Saigon, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, representing the Vietnamese communist organization in the South, the Viet Cong (contraction of Viet Nam Cong San). The settlement called for a cease-fire, withdrawal of all United States troops, continuance in place of North Vietnamese troops in the South, and the eventual reunification of the country "through peaceful means." In reality, once United States Forces were disengaged in early 1973 there was no effective way to prevent the North from overwhelming the South's defenses and the settlement proved unenforceably. *

Following the fragile cease-fire established by the agreement, PAVN units remained in the South Vietnamese countryside, while Army of the Republic of Vietnam ( ARVN) units fought to dislodge them and expand the areas under Saigon's control. As a result, the two sides battled from 1973 to 1975, but the ARVN, having to fight without the close United States air, artillery, logistical, and medevac (medical evacuation) support to which it had become accustomed, acquitted itself badly, losing more and more ground to the community. The surprisingly swift manner in which the South Vietnamese government finally collapsed in 1975 appeared to confirm that the Paris agreement had accomplished little more than to delay an inevitable defeat for the United States ally, South Vietnam, and that Washington had been impotent to avert this outcome. *

Vietnamese Relations with the United States After the Vietnam War

Following the war, Hanoi pursued the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, initially in order to obtain US$3.3 billion in reconstruction aid, which President Richard M. Nixon had secretly promised after the Paris Agreement was signed in 1973. Under Article 21 of the agreement, the United States had pledged "to contribute to healing the wounds of war and to postwar reconstruction of the DRV . . ." but had specifically avoided using terminology that could be interpreted to mean that reparations were being offered for war damages. Nixon's promise was in the form of a letter, confirming the intent of Article 21 and offering a specific figure. Barely two months after Hanoi's victory in 1975, Premier Pham Van Dong, speaking to the National Assembly, invited the United States to normalize relations with Vietnam and to honor its commitment to provide reconstruction funds. Representatives of two American banks--the Bank of America and First National City Bank--were invited to discuss trade possibilities, and American oil companies were informed that they were welcome to apply for concessions to search for oil in offshore Vietnamese waters. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Washington neglected Dong's call for normal relations, however, because it was predicated on reparations, and the Washington political climate in the wake of the war precluded the pursuit of such an outcome. In response, the administration of President Gerald R. Ford imposed its own precondition for normal relations by announcing that a full accounting of Americans missing in action ( MIAs), including the return of any remains, would be required before normalization could be effected. No concessions were made on either side until President Jimmy Carter softened the United States demand from a full accounting of MIAs to the fullest possible accounting and dispatched a mission to Hanoi in 1977 to initiate normalization discussions. *

Although the Vietnamese at first were adamant about United States economic assistance (their first postwar economic plan counted on the amount promised by President Nixon), the condition was dropped in mid-1978 when Hanoi made additional gestures toward normal relations. At that time, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach and the United States government reached an agreement in principle on normalization, but the date was left vague. When Thach urged November 1978, a date that in retrospect is significant because he was due in Moscow to sign the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, Washington was noncommittal. During this period, United States officials were preoccupied with the question of the Indochinese refugees, and they were in the process of normalizing relations with China. This was an action that could have been jeopardized had Washington concurrently sought a rapprochement with Vietnam, a nation whose relationship with Beijing was growing increasingly strained. Policy makers in Hanoi correctly reasoned that the United States had opted to strengthen its ties with China rather than with Vietnam, and they moved to formalize their ties with the Soviets in response. Their original hope, however, had been to gain both diplomatic recognition from the United States and a friendship treaty with Moscow, as a double guarantee against future Chinese interference. *

In the United States, the issue of normalizing relations with Vietnam was complicated by Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, the continuing plight of Vietnamese refugees, and the unresolved MIA issue. In 1987, under President Ronald Reagan, the United States continued to enforce the trade embargo imposed on Hanoi in 1975 and barred normal ties as long as Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia. Any efforts to improve relations remained closely tied to United States willingness to honor its 1973 aid commitment to Vietnam and to Hanoi's failure to account for the whereabouts of more than 2,400 MIAs in Indochina. From the signing of the Paris agreements in 1973 until mid-1978, the Vietnamese had routinely stressed the linkage between the aid and MIA issues. Beginning in mid-1978, however, Hanoi dropped its insistence that the MIA and aid questions be resolved as a precondition for normalization and stopped linking the MIA question to other unresolved matters between the two countries. Vietnamese leaders contrasted their restraint on the MIA issue with its alleged political exploitation by the United States as a condition for normal relations. As additional signs of goodwill, Hanoi permitted the joint United States-Vietnamese excavation of a B-52 crash site in 1985 and returned the remains of a number of United States servicemen between 1985 and 1987. Vietnamese spokesmen also claimed during this period to have a two-year plan to resolve the MIA question but failed to reveal details. *

Although Vietnam's Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986 officially paid little attention to relations with the United States, the report of the congress noted that Vietnam was continuing to hold talks with Washington on humanitarian issues and expressed a readiness to improve relations. Although ambivalent in tone, the message was more positive than the 1982 Fifth National Party Congress report, which had attributed the stalemated relationship to Washington's "hostile policy." The improved wording was attributable to the influence of newly appointed Party General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, who was expected to attach high priority to expanding Vietnam's links with the West. *

Within a few months of the Sixth National Party Congress, however, Hanoi began to send conflicting signals to Washington. In mid-1987 the Vietnamese government, having determined that cooperation had gained few concessions from the United States, reverted to its pre-1978 position linking the aid and MIA issues. The resumption of its hardline stand, however, was brief. A meeting between Vietnamese leaders and President Reagan's special envoy on MIAs, General John W. Vessey, in August 1987 yielded significant gains for both sides. In exchange for greater Vietnamese cooperation on resolving the MIA issue, the United States agreed officially to encourage charitable assistance for Vietnam. Although the agreement fell short of Hanoi's requests for economic aid or war reparations, it marked the first time that the United States had offered anything in return for Vietnamese assistance in accounting for the MIAs and was an important step toward an eventual reconciliation between the two countries. *

United States Lifts Trade Embargo and Restore Diplomatic Relations with Vietnam

In February 1994, the United States lifted its 19 year trade embargo against Vietnam, and in June 1995, the United States and Vietnam normalized relations. In June 2005, a high-level Vietnamese delegation, led by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, visited the United States and met with their U.S. counterparts, including President George W. Bush. This was the first such visit in 30 years. Relations with China took another step forward after the two countries settled their long-standing border dispute in 1999. China is now a major trading partner, and Vietnam models its economic policies after China’s.

Upon announcing that relations with Vietnam had been restored, U.S. President Bill Clinton said, "This moment offers up the opportunity to bind up our wounds." The leader of the drive for normalization was former POW, Sen. John McCain. In September 1999, a new United States consulate opened in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It was built on the site of the old American embassy, which was torn down in 1998. The first American ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson, was a navy pilot who spent 6½ years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

Vietnam has cooperated with the United States in the wars against drugs and terrorism. The Peace Corps has been invited to discuss sending volunteers to Vietnam. In December 2004, the first U.S. flight since 1975— United flight 869 from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City—touched down in Vietnam. It was the first since a Pan Am flight took off from Saigon in April 1975.

Vietnamese Attitude Towards Americans

Americans are often surprised with how warmly there are welcomed in Vietnam. "There is a great affection for America here," an American in Ho Chi Minh City told National Geographic in the 1990s, "in spite of, or maybe because of, the wartime trauma were shared." One returning American Vietnam War veteran told Stanley Karnow in Smithsonian magazine: "It's weird. I've got a better reception as an American returning to Vietnam than I did as a Vietnam veteran returning to America." A Taiwan business man told Time: " the Vietnamese would declare another war tomorrow and immediately declare themselves the losers if they could just get the Americans back.” Many young people in Vietnam now take evening English classes. The American dollar is the semiofficial currency. Vietnam even sponsored a surfing competition at China Beach.

Former war correspondent Robert Kaiser wrote in the Washington Post: "Some bitterness and anger must survive here, but they are well hidden." While in Hanoi in 1994, former Vietnam war correspondent Malcolm Brown wrote, "Beneath an outwardly friendly curiosity many Vietnamese display toward Americans, a predatory undertone tinged with bitter resentment is detectable."

Some speculate that one reason why the Vietnamese don't seem to hold a grudge against the Americans is that Vietnam has a history of confrontation and the American military "held back on unleashing its full military power." An American businessman told the Washington Post about a man who lost his mother in a B-52 bombing raid, "When I thought I knew him well enough I asked why he likes Americans, since American bombs killed his mother. He told me 'Oh, my mother wasn't the target. It was a cement plant. We lived near a cement plant."

The Vietnamese have traditionally been very forgiving of their enemies and insist that the war was against the American government not the American people. They spent much long periods of time fighting the Chinese and the French. The American War was just blip in history marked by hundreds of years of warfare. In Hanoi, more than 600 streets have names of places and people connected to the wars with the Chinese and French, only two—Liberation Road and Victory Over B-52s Road—are related the Vietnam War. The latter was renamed to honor a hero who fought against the Japanese.

Vietnamese Foreign Policy Towards the United States

Vietnam began pursuing some sort of rapprochement with the United States almost immediately after the Vietnam War ended. Vietnam has pursued closer relations with the United States as a hedge against aggression from China. Vietnam wants the U.S. in Southeast Asia to keep China from upsetting the balance of power in the region.

The Vietnamese are more than a little suspicious of the Americans, who broke promises to both the North and South Vietnamese. Delegations of American politicians have lectured the Hanoi government about making economic and human rights reforms.

Shawn W Crispin wrote in Asia Times, Vietnamese authorities have “adopted a policy of selective openness when dealing with Washington, similar to the cat-and-mouse tactics Myanmar's generals have employed in dealing with United Nations' many failed attempts to encourage political reform there. [Source: Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, July 6, 2006]

United States Foreign Policy and Aid Towards Vietnam

The United States has been seeking closer ties with Vietnam, in large part because it shares concerns with Hanoi over China's increasing assertiveness in Southeast Asia. The U.S. is vocal in its criticism of Vietnam’s human rights record, which many observers say is getting worse. Vietnam received $3.5 million in aid from the United States in 2000.

By 1978 Washington was close to establishing relations with Hanoi. But in the end Vietnam was sacrificed for closer U.S. relations with Beijing and Hanoi was pushed into the arms of the Soviet Union, on whom it relied for support through the 1980s.

During its incursion into Cambodia in 1978–89, Vietnam’s international isolation extended to relations with the United States. The United States, in addition to citing Vietnam's minimal cooperation in accounting for Americans who were missing in action (MIAs) as an obstacle to normal relations, barred normal ties as long as Vietnamese troops occupied Cambodia. Washington also continued to enforce the trade embargo imposed on Hanoi at the conclusion of the war in 1975.

U.S. Assistance to Vietnam

In the 1980s, Vietnam introduced market reforms, opened up the country for foreign investment, and improved the business climate. It became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Vietnam's rapid economic transformation and global integration has lifted millions out of poverty and has propelled the country to the ranks of lower-middle-income status. Despite this success, Vietnam's level of development trails many of its neighbors. U.S. assistance in Vietnam focuses on consolidating gains to ensure sustainable economic development and on promoting good governance and the rule of law. Assistance projects aim to deepen regulatory reforms, improve the capacity and independence of Vietnam's judicial and legislative bodies, and promote more effective public participation in the law and regulation-making processes. U.S. assistance also seeks to support Vietnam's response to climate change and other environmental challenges, including Agent Orange/dioxin contamination, strengthen the country’s health and education systems, and assist vulnerable populations. [Source: U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, August 1, 2012]

In the 1990s Vietnam experienced an invasion of American lawyers seeking to get a piece of the action as the terms were worked for the return of seized property. The Vietnam government wanted the return of $290 million in assets of the former South Vietnamese government frozen by the U.S., and $230 million in U.S. property seized by the communists.

See Agent Orange Under Health.

Vietnam, the U.S. and Human Rights Issues

Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “In May 2005, the US and Vietnam reached an agreement that set binding benchmarks to pave the way for more religious and political freedoms, including legislation designed specifically to protect religious-based rights. As part of that deal, Hanoi vowed to instruct local authorities to comply with the new legislation and facilitate processes that allowed for the congregations they previously harassed to reopen shuttered churches, shrines and other sacred places. Vietnam's leaders also agreed to take on board US suggestions for prisoner amnesties. [Source: Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, July 6, 2006 <=>]

“In exchange, the US promised to de-list Vietnam from the State Department's catalogue of rights-abusing "countries of particular concern", known inside Washington's Beltway as "CPC", and pave the way for more comprehensive bilateral ties. Since then, Vietnam has released a handful of high-profile religious leaders, re-opened some churches and shrines, officially outlawed forced recantations of faith and in March issued a decree to facilitate the registration of religious venues. Still, the government continues to ban religious activities that do not have prior official permission. Notably the March decree backtracked on Hanoi's original agreement with the US, by reasserting the government's legal powers to crack down on any worshippers who undermine peace, independence or national unity, disseminate information against state law or policies, or spread superstitious practices. Officials have drawn on these amendments to justify recent arrests and harassment. <=>

“The commercial rush to embrace Vietnam's transition from a communist to capitalist economy often overlooks messy political considerations. US politicians with long involvement in Vietnam, including senators John McCain and John Kerry, who have consistently insisted that greater economic engagement rather than finger-wagging is the best way to encourage more Vietnamese democracy. Even the philanthropic-minded Bill Gates has recently hobnobbed and discussed possible business deals with the country's communist rulers. To date, though, Hanoi has clearly taken more of its policy cues from Beijing than Washington. Vietnam's state-led development model, albeit at a slower, more deliberate pace, directly mirrors China's controlled mix of economic openness and political repression, which notably has given rise to an entrepreneurial, but politically voiceless, middle class...The US is uniquely positioned to demand that Vietnam allow for more democracy in exchange for more economic privileges and strategic assurances. It is no longer academic truth that economic liberalization inevitably leads to more democracy, particularly not in Asia. And nowhere is that unfortunately more apparent than in Vietnam. <=>

Economic and Trade Relations Between Vietnam and the U.S.

Since entry into force of the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement in 2001, trade between the two countries and U.S. investment in Vietnam have grown significantly. The United States and Vietnam have concluded a trade and investment framework agreement; they also have signed textile, air transport, and maritime agreements. The two countries participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations that seek to develop a regional free trade agreement. U.S. exports to Vietnam include agricultural products, machinery, yarn/fabric, and vehicles. U.S. imports from Vietnam include apparel, footwear, furniture and bedding, agricultural products, seafood, and electrical machinery. [Source: U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, August 1, 2012]

Full implementation of a bilateral trade agreement, which came into effect in December 2001, was initially held up by a dispute over catfish exports. In July 2003, the International Trade Commission decided in favor of the United States in the catfish dispute. Vietnam’s government is also upset with a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress in July 2004 to link non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam’s human rights record.

Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “Because of its comparatively small size, Vietnam does not command the negotiating power of China's massive markets. Vietnamese exports to the US last year represented less than 0.5 percent of total US trade, despite a 400 percent increase in bilateral trade since 2001. Most US investors still view Vietnam more as a hedge than an alternative to increasing their capital exposure to China. Vietnam's communists are increasingly dependent on Western capital and markets to fuel growth and hence maintain their grip on political power. [Source: Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, July 6, 2006 <=>]

See Catfish Under Trade.

Bill Clinton Visits Vietnam

In November 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton made a historic trip to Vietnam. It was the first time a U.S. president set foot in Vietnam since Richard Nixon briefly slipped into the country in 1969. U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright traveled to Ho Chi Minh City in June 1997.

AFP reported: “U.S. President Bill Clinton was wrapping up his landmark reconciliation visit to communist Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, receiving an ecstatic welcome from tens of thousands at the scene of America's humiliating retreat from the war. Massed crowds of waving and cheering Vietnamese brought the former Saigon to a standstill as they welcomed the first American head of state to return since the US-backed Southern capital was taken by North Vietnamese troops in 1975. Surging throngs were packed outside the old presidential palace where communist tanks crashed through the gates during the fall of Saigon. Residents, many dressed in nightclothes, formed an almost unbroken line from the city center along the five-kilometre (three-mile) road to the airport. Police blocked off the route and streets around Clinton's hotel, causing gridlock. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 19, 2000|+|]

"I was here 25 years ago when the Americans left and I am very honoured today to see President Clinton," said Trinh Quang Dai, 44. US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, leading talks on a bilateral trade deal signed in July, told an audience of students: "This is a very emotional visit. "The reaction of the Vietnamese people on the streets to President Clinton is heart-warming and something all of us will always remember, most particularly the president. "Of all the trips we have taken over the last eight years, this is the one that will always stand out." |+|

The rapturous welcome accorded Clinton and his wife Hillary appears to have taken Vietnam's communist regime by complete surprise and there were signs of irritation. Clinton has been free to take walkabouts in Hanoi, make a number of public speeches -- including a live address to the nation -- and visit excavations for the remains of Americans still listed as missing in action (MIA). But the state press has maintained a stony silence on the crowds and made no mention of his attempts to raise the issues of human rights, religious tolerance or freedom of information. On Sunday Vietnam's conservative communist leader, in a tone contrasting with Clinton's pleas to heal the past and reformers in his own government, hailed the guerrilla resistance against the United States in the Vietnam War as the cradle of determined socialism. Communist party secretary general Le Kha Phieu demanded the US respect Vietnam's monolithic political system and banged the drum of the North's victory over the American-backed South. |+|

"The resistance wars brought the Vietnamese people national independence and reunification to advance the country toward socialism so for the Vietnamese people the war was not ultimately a story of darkness, sadness and unhappiness," the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) quoted Phieu as saying when he met Clinton on Saturday. "The future of the Vietnamese nation is independence and socialism ... socialism (will) not only exist but further develop." He also stressed the "primary role" of the state sector in business, taking a different line from Trade Minister Bu Khoan's statement Saturday that the economy had to open up to develop. White House officials gave no immediate reaction, but said Clinton had made his views "very clear" during the two leaders' talks. |+|

Bush Visits Vietnam

U.S. President George W. Bush was warmly received when he visited Ho Chi Minh City in 2006. He drew attentions to religious issues in Vietnam by visiting a church. Kate McGeown of the BBC wrote: “When US President George W Bush attended a church in Vietnam, his visit was a political statement as well as an act of faith. Just days before he arrived in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit, the U.S. took Vietnam off a list of nations it believes severely violate religious freedom. In announcing the decision, the US state department said there had been "significant improvements toward advancing religious freedom" in Vietnam in recent years. Mr Bush's trip to Hanoi's Cua Bac church was designed to highlight those improvements, and make sure the trend continues. "A whole society is a society that welcomes basic freedom - and there is no more basic freedom than the freedom to worship as you see fit," he told reporters after the service."My hope is that people all across the world will be able to express religious freedom." [Source: Kate McGeown, BBC, November 19, 2006 ^^^]

“Christians in Hanoi clearly feel that progress has been made. "My parents had some difficulties in the past," said 22-year-old Do Duy Nghin, one of Vietnam's six million Catholics. "People they knew were banned from going to church at one point, and some priests were even jailed. "But now I feel free and comfortable to worship the way I want." It appears that the days when the Communist authorities attached a stigma to religion are now over. ^^^

“The Vietnamese government views its removal from the US blacklist - which includes such countries as North Korea, Iran and Sudan - as a cause for celebration. But it also sees the move as nothing less than it deserves."This decision reflects accurately the reality in Vietnam," said Ngo Yen Thi, director of the Committee for Religious Affairs. Explaining the move, the US state department said Vietnam had released many religious prisoners in recent years, and that harassment of worshipers had diminished. "Though important work remains to be done, Vietnam can no longer be identified as a severe violator of religious freedom," the department said. ^^^

Visits by Vietnamese Leaders to the United States

In June 2005, Phan Van Khai became the first Vietnamese prime minister to visit the United States in 30 years. He met with U.S. President Bush but also faced protesters, in Seattle, that likened him to Saddam Hussein and demanded he leave the U.S.

In June 2007, Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet visited the United States. Michael Sullivan of NPR wrote: “Nguyen Minh Triet's trip is the first for a president of the communist-led country to the United States since the Vietnam War and he will bring with him a delegation of more than 100 Vietnamese businessmen. Strengthening economic ties between the two former enemies will be the theme of Triet's visit. [Source: Michael Sullivan, NPR, June 21, 2007]

On the eve of his trip, President Triet told state-run television that he wants American investors to know the Vietnamese government has done its best to improve conditions for foreign investors and that the environment for them now is "very open" and "very advantageous." Vietnam is also keen to see the U.S. relax restrictions on Vietnamese exports to the U.S. "The economic structure of the U.S. and Vietnam are complementing each other," economist Le Dang Doanh said. "I think [the] Vietnamese need American banking, technology, software, Boeing aircraft and Vietnam could [send] garment, foot-ware, furniture and other items to the U.S."

In July 2013, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visited President Barack Obama at the White House.

Friendly Relations Between the United States and Vietnam

Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post, “Thirty-plus years ago, few would have predicted that Vietnam and the United States would someday come together. The long war of attrition left government ties strained, to put it mildly, and forever scarred both populations. In the United States, the war damaged the reputation of the military, severely dented America's own image of its power and undermined U.S. standing in the world. And for the loved ones of the 58,000 American servicemen and women killed, the war was a tragedy from which they may never recover. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post, October 25, 2009 ==]

“Much like the airstrikes in Afghanistan, U.S. tactics in Vietnam -- such as the spraying of Agent Orange and bombings that caused widespread civilian deaths -- alienated the civilian population there. And even after the war officially ended, Washington continued to punish Hanoi, refusing to recognize the Vietnamese-installed government in Cambodia that had ousted the genocidal Khmer Rouge and slapping a trade embargo on Vietnam. ==

“Today, however, 76 percent of Vietnamese say U.S. influence in Asia is positive, according to a 2008 study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs -- a greater percentage than in Japan, China, South Korea or Indonesia. When President Bill Clinton visited Vietnam in 2000, citizens greeted him like a rock star, mobbing him whenever he stepped out in public. Two-way trade now surpasses $15 billion annually, compared with virtually nothing in 1995, the year the two countries normalized diplomatic ties. American companies have descended upon Vietnam, and last year foreign direct investment in the country tripled compared with 2007. ==

“U.S. Navy ships now call at Vietnamese ports, and the two governments have institutionalized high-level exchanges, including a 2003 Pentagon visit by Vietnam's defense minister -- the highest-level Vietnamese military trip to Washington since the war. Following up on Clinton's visit, President George W. Bush traveled to Vietnam in 2006; the previous year, Bush welcomed Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai on a visit to America. ==

“Why the dramatic reversal? Time helped, certainly: Just as Americans will forget Mohammad Omar, eventually the images of tortured American POWs and massive bombing of the Vietnamese countryside began to fade on both sides. But more important, American war veterans publicly made peace with their old adversaries. In the Senate, vets John Kerry and John McCain pushed for the normalization of ties between the nations in the 1990s. And on the ground in Vietnam, groups of veterans met with civilians from the areas where they had served. These meetings had a profound impact on Vietnamese public opinion. ==

“Hanoi reciprocated American goodwill and allowed a U.S. investigative commission to scour the country for any remaining prisoners of war, a major concern of the U.S. veterans community. The commission reported in 1993 that it had found little evidence that any POWs remained. The report, more than any other gesture, helped bring the American public on board for reengaging with Hanoi. ==

“The George W. Bush and Obama administrations have continued to grapple with some of the old differences. The Bush administration, prodded by Congress, began funding efforts to study the extent of chemical contamination and clean up pollution in areas near a former U.S. facility in Da Nang. And this month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted Vietnam's foreign minister and vowed to expand trade links between the two countries. ==

“At the same time, the large Vietnamese American community, many of whom fled to the United States after the communist takeover of their homeland in 1975, gradually abandoned their fears and began pouring investment into Vietnam in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This trade has helped heal old wounds, crowding out memories of war with new commercial influence, as American products compete for space in the shops and open-air markets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. ==

De Facto American-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic, “A de facto American-Vietnamese strategic partnership, in effect, was announced in July 2010 at an ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. has a “national interest” in the South China Sea, that the U.S. is ready to participate in multilateral efforts to resolve territorial disputes there, and that maritime claims should be based on land features: that is, on the reach of continental shelves, a concept violated by China’s historic line. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called Clinton’s remarks “virtually an attack on China.” American officials shrugged off Yang’s comments. Since then, the Obama administration has announced plans to rotate 2,500 marines in and out of northern Australia, declared that Pentagon budget cuts will under no circumstances come at the expense of U.S. forces in the Pacific, and announced the intention—events permitting—to “pivot” away from the Middle East and toward the Pacific. [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, May 21 2012 <*>]

“Ngo Quang Xuan, the vice chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, tells me that the critical year for contemporary Vietnam was not 1975, when South Vietnam was overrun by the Communist North, but 1995, when relations were normalized with the United States, and Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and signed a “framework” agreement with the European Union. “We joined the world, in other words,” Xuan says, admitting that before making these decisions, “we had many hard discussions among ourselves.” For the truth is that despite their successive victories over the French and the Americans, the Vietnamese Communists, as their officials explained to me in a series of conversations over several weeks, felt continually humbled by events thereafter. <*>

How Former Enemies–the U.S. and Vietnam–Have Forged Closer Ties

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic, ““The Vietnamese don’t have amnesia regarding the war against the United States in the 1960s and 1970s,” a Western diplomat explains. “Rather, a certain generation of Americans is stuck in a time warp.” The Vietnamese have not forgotten that 20 percent of their country is uninhabitable because of unexploded American ordnance; or that, because of the defoliant Agent Orange, nothing will ever grow again on significant parts of the landscape. But three-quarters of all Vietnamese were born after the “American War,” as they call it to distinguish it from all the others they have fought before and since, and an even larger percentage have no memory of it. The students and young officials I meet at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, an arm of the Foreign Ministry, are further removed chronologically from the American War than Baby Boomers are from World War II. [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, May 21 2012 <*>]

“Another reason Vietnamese harbor relatively few sensitivities about the American War is that they won it. In a town hall–style meeting with me at the Diplomatic Academy, with a bust of Ho in the room, students and officials tell me that they have been, in fact, critical at times of the United States, but for reasons having nothing to do with the war. They’d been upset that America had not intervened against China in the 1990s, when Beijing challenged the Philippines’ ownership of Mischief Reef, part of the Spratly Island Group in the South China Sea. One student summarizes, “U.S. power is necessary for the security of the world.” Indeed, one after another, students and officials at the Diplomatic Academy use the term balancing power to describe the United States vis-à-vis China. “The Chinese are too strong, too assertive,” one female analyst says. “That is why a Pax Sinica is very threatening to us.” <*>

“Whereas America has been marginal to the Vietnamese past, China has been central. “The overwhelming emphasis of official Vietnamese history is on resistance, almost always against China,” Robert Templer writes in a pathbreaking 1998 book about contemporary Vietnam, Shadows and Wind. “The fear of domination has been constant and has crossed every ideological gap, it has created the brittle sense of anxiety and defensiveness about Vietnamese identity.” As one Vietnamese diplomat puts it to me: “China invaded Vietnam 17 times. The U.S. invaded Mexico only once, and look at how sensitive the Mexicans are about that. We grow up with textbooks full of stories of national heroes who fought China.” The Vietnamese fear of China is profound precisely because Vietnam cannot escape from the embrace of its gargantuan northern neighbor, whose population is 15 times as large. Vietnamese know that geography dictates the terms of their relationship: they may win the battle, but then they are always off to Beijing to pay tribute. That kind of situation is alien to a virtual island nation like America.

Vietnam, China and the United States

Robert D. Kaplan wrote in The Atlantic, “The United States sees the world as Vietnam does: threatened by growing Chinese power. The difference is that whereas the United States has many geopolitical interests, Vietnam has only one: to counter China.” [Source: Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic, May 21 2012 <*>]

Because the Soviet Union failed to help Vietnam in 1979, the Vietnamese will never again fully trust a faraway power. Beyond geography, the Vietnamese at a certain fundamental level distrust the United States. One official tells me simply that the U.S. is in decline, a condition worsened by Washington’s continued fixation—despite recent protestations to the contrary—on the Middle East rather than on the rise of China in East Asia. Though such an analysis is self-serving, it may nevertheless be accurate. Then there is the fear that the U.S. will sell out Vietnam for the sake of a warmer relationship with China: Xuan, the foreign-affairs-committee official, specifically mentions Nixon’s opening to China as providing the geostrategic context for China’s invasion of Vietnam. “It can happen again,” he tells me, shaking his head in frustration. One official of the Communist government tells me, “The elephant in the room during our discussions with the Americans is democracy and human rights.” The Vietnamese live in fear that pressure from Congress, the media, and various nongovernmental organizations may one day cause the White House to sell them out the way it has sold out autocratic Asian countries: Uzbekistan and Nepal, for example. “The highest value should be on national solidarity and independence,” Le Chi Dzung, a Foreign Ministry deputy director-general, tells me, trying to explain his country’s political philosophy. “It is the nation, not the individual, that makes you free.” <*>

Vietnam and the U.S. Military

The first American warships stopped in Vietnam in 2003. In October 2003, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Vietnam’s defense minister Pham Van Tra, who in turn made a trip to Washington in 2004 and was welcomed with a complete Honor Guard at the Pentagon by Rumsfeld. In March 2000, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen visited Vietnam.

There have serious discussions about closer military ties between Vietnam and the United States. The United States has shown interest in taking over the base at Cam Rahn Bay. The United States wants to use it as a port of call for its Navy ships. Washington needs Hanoi and its 480,000-member military as a counterweight against China. Hanoi needs Washington’s to help modernize its army. In June 2008, a U.S. Navy hospital ship anchored off the Vietnamese city of Nha Trang and spent 10 days treating Vietnamese patients.

Joseph Santolan wrote in the World Socialist website, In June 2012, “U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta travelled to Vietnam to discuss the increase of the US military presence in the country. He visited the strategic port of Cam Rahn Bay, becoming the highest ranking American official to do so since the end of the US war in Vietnam. Panetta arrived in Vietnam from the Shangri-la Defense Summit in Singapore where he delivered a speech over the weekend announcing that Washington would be shifting the majority of its naval forces to the Asia-Pacific region. This move is a calculated step that threatens China’s ability to deploy its military forces and to access global trade routes...The talks were cemented with an exchange of the personal effects of the war dead. Thanh and Panetta exchanged diaries and personal letters which had been taken from the corpses of Vietnamese and American combatants during the war. [Source: Joseph Santolan, World Socialist website, June 5, 2012 <<<]

“Cam Ranh Bay is regarded as the best deep water harbour in Southeast Asia, and has historically been a vital military asset. Control of Cam Ranh Bay played a key role in maintaining the military dominance of first French and then US imperialism in the country. Panetta delivered a speech in Cam Ranh Bay from the deck of USNS Richard E. Byrd, a merchant marine supply ship, currently undergoing repairs by Vietnamese contractors. He stated that the US "pivot" to Asia required that Washington be "able to use harbors like this as we move our ships from our ports on the West Coast towards our stations here in the Pacific." In 2010, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced that Cam Ranh Bay would be refurbished to facilitate the docking and repair of foreign naval ships, including submarines. Since then US supply ships have been visiting for repairs, but combat ships have not yet been allowed into the port. <<<

“The main purpose of Panetta’s visit was to expand military ties between Washington and Hanoi and to negotiate for more frequent port calls for US naval vessels in Vietnam. Panetta met with the Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh. Panetta stated that he was interested in taking US ties with Vietnam "to the next level," so that the US could "help Vietnam deal with critical maritime issues." Vietnamese Defense Minister Thanh responded by requesting that the US lift sanctions against the sale of lethal military equipment to Vietnam. Washington has had an arms embargo on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam since 1984. During a visit to Vietnam in August 2011, US Senator Jim Webb, a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, called for the lifting of the embargo. In a visit to Vietnam in January 2012, Senators McCain and Lieberman made it apparent that token gestures at "improving the human rights record" would be sufficient for ending the embargo. <<<

According to a Congressional Research report on the state of US-Vietnamese relations published on May 18, 2012, Washington sold $100 million worth of non-lethal military equipment to Vietnam from 2007-2010. In 2009 the United States began supplementing these sales with Foreign Military Financing (FMF) assistance. <<<

In April 2012, Vietnam participated with the United States in a weeklong naval exchange amid tensions in the South China Sea with China. Associated Press reported: “Three ships from the U.S. 7th Fleet visited Danang during the five-day event. No live-fire drills were conducted. Instead the two sides were practiced salvage and disaster training as they have done before. in recent years. [Source: Associated Press April 22, 2012]

Vietnam, China and the U.S. Military

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: “Cold War enemies the United States and Vietnam demonstrated their blossoming military relations Sunday as a U.S. nuclear supercarrier cruised in waters off the Southeast Asian nation's coast – sending a message that China is not the region's only big player. The USS George Washington's stop is officially billed as a commemoration of last month's 15th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the former foes. But the timing also reflects Washington's heightened interest in maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific. [Source: Margie Mason, AP, August 8, 2010 :::]

“During an Asian security meeting in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also angered China by unexpectedly calling on the Communist powerhouse to resolve territorial claims with neighboring Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea. "The strategic implications and importance of the waters of the South China Sea and the freedom of navigation is vital to both Vietnam and the United States," Capt. Ross Myers, commander of the George Washington's air wing, said aboard the ship Sunday as fighter jets thundered off the flight deck above. "I'm certain that the Chinese government and the Chinese people are trying to protect their interests," he added when asked about China's increased aggressiveness within the area. "It is more important for Vietnam (and) its partners to establish that they have an equal right to economic prosperity and peace within the region as well." :::

“Chinese navy ships were seen shadowing the USS George Washington at a distance over the past several days as the supercarrier made its way throught the South China Sea along Vietnam's eastern coast, U.S. Navy officials said. China claims the entire sea and the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands over which it exercises complete sovereignty. But Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also have staked claims on all or some of the territory, which straddles vital shipping lanes, important fishing grounds and is believed rich in oil and natural gas reserves. Clinton announced that the U.S. has a national interest in seeing the claims resolved. :::

“Vietnam has long been vocal about the issue, protesting China's plans to bring tourists to the islands and most recently seismic studies conducted near the Paracels. Last month China also held naval drills in the South China Sea. "Vietnam does not support containing China, but like most other ASEAN members would like to see each major power offset the other," Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "Quite simply, these are not too subtle signals that Vietnam wants the United States to stay engaged in the region to balance China." :::

“The formidable USS George Washington is a permanent presence in the Pacific, based in Japan. As one of the world's biggest warships, it is a floating city that can carry up to 70 aircraft, more than 5,000 sailors and aviators and about 4 million pounds (1.8 million kilograms) of bombs. It lurked Sunday about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off the central coast of Danang, Vietnam's jumping-off point for the disputed islands. :::

“A Chinese newspaper ran a front-page story last week strongly hinting that China also is not happy about reports that Vietnam and the U.S. are negotiating a civilian nuclear fuel and technology deal that could allow Vietnam to enrich uranium on its own soil. U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said China had not been consulted about the talks, but he would not discuss the specifics of the enrichment provision. Congressional aides have said the agreement will likely not contain a no-enrichment pledge, which the U.S. promotes as the "gold standard" for civilian nuclear cooperation accords to ensure materials are not being used to build a nuclear weapon. :::

Human Rights Issues Temper U.S.-Vietnam Ties

Vietnam's poor human rights record is a major obstacle to closer ties and U.S. labor and human rights groups have urged Obama to suspend free-trade negotiations with Vietnam because of its treatment of workers and government critics. In the past few years there has been an increase in arrests and convictions of government detractors, in particular, bloggers.

In August 2013, Wall Street Journal reported: “Vietnam's efforts to stifle the Internet and punish local dissidents are hampering the growth of stronger ties with the U.S., with the U.S. ambassador warning that the human rights environment in the Communist-run country will need to improve before Washington agrees to lift an embargo on lethal arms sales to Vietnam. [Source: Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2013 //// ]

“Vietnam “had appeared to be gaining ground in its efforts to better relations with the U.S. Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visited President Barack Obama at the White House in July 2013 amid a fresh spurt of investment from U.S. companies into Vietnam, including the opening of the first Starbucks. Before the White House meeting, Vietnam requested the U.S. to lift a ban on its supplying war weapons, which Vietnam views as a way to further normalize relations between the former war-time foes and boost military cooperation. ////

“The U.S., though, isn't ready to lift the embargo, despite the Obama administration's desire to cultivate Vietnam as a useful new ally in its broader foreign policy rebalancing toward Asia. "The Vietnamese side has expressed an interest in lifting that restriction, and we will consider that request seriously," U.S. Ambassador David Shear said. "But we also believe that in order to generate political support for lifting the restrictions … we will need to see some progress in human rights on Vietnam's side." ////

“Vietnam has prosecuted and imprisoned over 40 dissidents this year, more than in all of 2012. Worldwide, only China has detained more bloggers or journalists, and Vietnam's crackdown appears set to continue. Hanoi's moves have included banning people from copying and pasting news articles and other information on blogs—which could restrict the growth of informal news portals. ////

“Some of the world's largest Internet companies fear the new web restrictions could chill growth of online commerce in the country. The Asia Internet Coalition, a Hong Kong-based industry group comprising Google, Facebook and other big names such as Yahoo! Inc. said in a statement this week that "in the long term, the decree will stifle innovation and discourage businesses from operating in Vietnam." ////

“Religious leaders are also worried by the climate of intolerance in the country. The leaders of five major faiths in Vietnam issued a joint communique in Hanoi in August 2013 disputing statements by Mr. Sang that the government fully respects human rights. Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant representatives, together with leaders from the local Cao Dai and Hoa Hao faiths, called on the government to release prisoners of conscience and scrap the new Internet rules. ////

“Yet, together with the continuing campaign against bloggers and other antigovernment critics, the Internet decree makes it difficult for Vietnam to step up its ties to the U.S. The curbs also potentially complicate future commercial ties, including Vietnam's efforts to join the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact. While Vietnam has signed strategic partnerships with other members of the U.N. Security Council—including China, Russia and Britain—President Sang didn't secure such a strategic partnership arrangement during his meeting with Mr. Obama, notes Carlyle Thayer, an expert on Vietnamese affairs and emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. ////

U.S., Vietnam Sign Nuclear Trade Agreement

In October 2013, Reuters reported: “The United States and Vietnam signed a pact that would allow the transfer of nuclear technology to Vietnam and open the way for U.S. investment in the burgeoning industry. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S.-Vietnam Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement would allow U.S. firms to tap Vietnam's future nuclear power market, although the State Department said the deal will not allow Vietnam to enrich or reprocess U.S.-origin nuclear materials. "This agreement will create numerous opportunities for our businesses," Kerry said. "Obviously our nuclear cooperation is quite significant." [Source: Lesley Wroughton, Reuters, October 10, 2013 +++]

“With Vietnam at an early stage of nuclear development, the official said the agreement provides the basis for U.S. firms to enter the market early as it builds nuclear power plants and for the U.S. government to ensure the proper safeguards. The U.S. official said the agreement "will also strengthen the Obama administration's long-standing policy of limiting the spread or enrichment and reprocessing capabilities around the world." The deal stems from U.S. President Barack Obama's Prague initiative, a drive for global nuclear security which he launched in his first term. Asked whether the provisions of the deal would ward off any concern that Vietnam might someday seek nuclear weapons capability, the official said: "That certainly would close off one path toward that." +++

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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