Twenty Years Ago Today: US Lifts Vietnam Trade Embargo

It's all about the Ho Chi Minhs Twenty years ago today, President Clinton took a step towards finally getting his country over the horrible nightmare of the Vietnam War. Of course, the war was far more of a nightmare for the Vietnamese than it ever was for the Americans, and the lifting of the trade embargo was more about getting co-operation on finding the more than 2,000 US servicemen still listed as missing, but nevertheless, it was a vital first step towards normalisation of relations.

Even so, there was a great deal of opposition within Congress and from veterans of the war, especially given the accusations of draft-dodging that were being thrown at Clinton back then. This opposition was silenced in part by the support of John McCain, the Republican senator (and disastrous 2008 presidential candidate). As a former Navy pilot who was himself a POW during the war, his opinion was virtually unassailable.

It was several years before meaningful trade actually resumed because there were still high tariffs on Vietnamese goods, but these days the trade relationship is now worth more than $20bn. Most of this has been added since the turn of the century, when a bilateral trade agreement was finally signed.

So is everything tickety-boo these days? Sort of. More of less. Because there's always something else underlying the shiny surface, and in this case it's the increasing regional dominance of China. Vietnam is quite keen to avoid being swamped as China asserts itself, especially in the South China Sea, and the US is the only power that can act as a balance. And so they're staying good friends with their former enemy. Just in case.

(and another thing I learned today is the Vietnamese unit of currency is the Dong. Feel free to insert your own culturally insensitive joke at this point, you bunch of perverts).