From Foe to Frenemy

Why the United States is Courting Vietnam

Kham / Reuters

For several years now, the United States and Vietnam have been moving closer to a strategic entente grounded in mutual apprehension of China’s ambitions. Many in Beijing claim that the United States seeks to turn Vietnam against China. But that view has got the causal arrow backward: It is precisely China’s quest for hegemony over the South China Sea that keeps encouraging the United States and Vietnam to restore their patchy relations.

One sign that the United States and Vietnam are serious about strengthening their ties is President Barack Obama’s agreement to meet General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the head of Vietnam’s Communist Party, in Washington in early July. It’s a very rare thing for a mere party leader to have face time in the Oval Office, but there are several reasons why Trong merits Obama’s attention. Most importantly, the general secretary, who had

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