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Report to Congress on U.S.-Vietnam Relations

The following is the Feb. 16, 2021, Congressional Research Service In Focus report: U.S.-Vietnam Relations.

From the report

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam in 1995, overlapping strategic and economic interests have led the two countries to expand ties across a wide spectrum of issues. The United States is Vietnam’s 2nd largest bilateral trading partner (after China), and Vietnam is the United States’ 10th largest trading partner. Since 2010, the two countries have formed partnerships on many regional security and economic issues, due in part to shared concerns about China’s increased assertiveness in the region and to Vietnam’s position as a rising middle power. Vietnam is serving as a 2020-2021 non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, providing addition opportunities for bilateral cooperation.

The pace and extent of the improvement in bilateral relations is limited by several factors. First, Vietnam usually does not undertake large-scale diplomatic moves—especially with the United States—without first calculating China’s likely reaction. Second, though opinion polls show the Vietnamese public holds positive views of the United States, many Vietnamese officials remain suspicious that the United States’ long-term goal is to see an end to the Vietnamese Communist Party’s monopoly on power through “peaceful evolution.” Third, U.S. concerns about Vietnam’s human rights record, which has deteriorated in recent years, remain a barrier to improving the bilateral relationship.

Vietnam’s Political Structure 

Vietnam is a one-party, authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). In practice, the CPV sets the general direction for policy, while the day-to-day details of implementation generally are left to the state bureaucracy, the National Assembly, and the Vietnamese military. The two top leadership posts are the CPV General Secretary and the Prime Minister.

In early 2021, the CPV held its 13th Party Congress to determine personnel positions and set the direction for Vietnam’s economic, diplomatic, and social policies. Party Congresses are held every five years. During the Congress, Nguyen Phu Trong (born April 1944) was reelected to a third term as General Secretary, receiving exemptions from the mandatory retirement age limit and from a rule limiting the party head to two terms. Trong is the longest-serving leader of the CPV since the 1980s. During the Party Congress, current Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (b. July 1954) also received a retirement age waiver and reportedly was selected to be the next President, a largely ceremonial post. Pham Minh Chinh (b. December 1958), currently head of the CPV’s Commission on Personnel and Organization, is believed to have been selected as the next Prime Minister. In May, the National Assembly is to gather to vote on Phuc and Chinh taking up their new positions.

Vietnam’s COVID-19 Response 

As of mid-February 2021, Vietnam reported it had fewer than 2,200 cumulative cases of infection from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and fewer than 50 deaths. Vietnam achieved these results through acting early, restricting and then halting foreign travel, quarantining entire neighborhoods and villages where infections were detected, and conducting large-scale testing and contact tracing. Underlying factors that helped Vietnam contain the virus’ initial outbreak include its relatively youthful population, its recent experience with prior epidemics, and the government’s broad authority and capacity to monitor and restrict the activities of its citizens.

Download the document here.