THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Trade with Vietnam
By Richard Armitage and Randy Schriver
July 18, 2006
Reconciliation between former
enemies is not an event but a process. More than a quarter-century after the
end of the Vietnam War, the United States
has an opportunity to achieve an important milestone in our efforts to promote
reconciliation with Vietnam
by securing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR). Congress should move
rapidly toward approval of PNTR and provide our two countries, as well as the
Asian region, with concrete evidence that we are committed to putting U.S.-Vietnam
divisions behind us.
Normalization is only a
small part of the rationale for approving PNTR for Vietnam. The starting point for our
support lies in the expected gains for the U.S.
economy once Vietnam
becomes a member of the World Trade Organization, and PNTR offers the ability
to benefit from that membership. Vietnam
is already an expanding market for U.S. exports, growing 24 percent in
the last year alone. Once implemented, our bilateral trade deal with Vietnam will further benefit U.S. companies,
including firms in key service sectors such as telecom, distribution, financial
services and insurance.
PNTR will also promote
ongoing internal reforms within Vietnam.
WTO membership will require adherence to the rule of law and greater
transparency where trade matters are concerned. Implementation of Vietnam's trade
obligations will have residual impact on human rights and political
liberalization there. Clearly, there are serious shortcomings with respect to
human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam today. However, we are
confident that once Vietnam
embraces the global rules-based trading system, the country will set in motion
a variety of forces that will ultimately lead to a freer nation.
Perhaps most importantly, PNTR
for Vietnam is beneficial
for the United States
and our posture in a key region. Southeast Asia
has an estimated current population of over 600 million people and a combined
gross domestic product of almost $800 billion. We can expect both figures to
grow quickly. In addition to its economic importance, Southeast Asia holds
strategic importance as it sits astride the sea routes from the Persian Gulf and
Indian Ocean to the Pacific -- through which
30 percent of the world's trade and over 50 percent of the world's energy
shipments flow. We also need the full cooperation of Southeast
Asia in fighting terrorism, proliferation and infectious diseases.
China's influence in Southeast
Asia is undeniably on the rise. While Southeast Asian nations have
benefited from the expanded trade and investment opportunities that China represents, there has been considerable
debate in Asia over how China's
economic rise will change the political landscape. This debate is particularly
robust in Vietnam and is
accentuated by that country's difficult past in relation to China. Vietnam and China
have engaged in war even more recently than Vietnam
and the United States -- China
attacked across the border in 1979.
This country needs stronger
relationships in Southeast Asia, and to gain these the United States
must demonstrate a genuine interest in the problems and challenges of our
friends. Many in Southeast Asia look at the United States as "Johnny One
Notes" on counterterrorism issues. Though this is unfair (particularly in
light of our generous response to the tsunami), this is a perception of the United States
that we haven't countered effectively enough.
PNTR for Vietnam does not a Southeast
Asia strategy make. However, it will send a signal to countries in
the region that we are committed to being an active participant in their
collective affairs in the long run. Statements from our executive branch to
this effect will be all the more persuasive when Southeast Asia sees that
members of Congress in Washington
are willing to stand alongside a former wartime enemy in the interest of
greater peace, stability and prosperity.
There is even greater potential
for U.S.-Vietnam cooperation, and the PNTR vote is a key pivot point. We have
resumed U.S. Navy ship visits to Vietnam and instituted modest
military-to-military programs. Our cooperation within multilateral
organizations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC is strong, and
improving. And our agenda for addressing transnational and global issues is
expanding. PNTR for Vietnam
will be a great source of leverage for even further partnership. President Bush
will spend extra time in Vietnam
after the 2006 APEC meeting in Hanoi.
It would be an added boost to our president's ability to strengthen ties with Vietnam
if we already have PNTR successfully implemented.
As was the case when we
established formal diplomatic relations with Vietnam,
congressional advocacy for better relations with Vietnam is spearheaded by Vietnam
War veterans. In the Senate, John McCain, Chuck Hagel
and John Kerry are all original cosponsors of the PNTR legislation. And Rep.
Jim Kolbe is a strong supporter in the House. We admire their service to their
country and their leadership on this issue. We hope other members of Congress
will choose to add their own support to this legislation.
Richard Armitage is the president of Armitage
International, a former deputy secretary of state and a veteran of four combat
tours as a naval officer in the Vietnam War. Randy Schriver
is the founding partner of Armitage International and a former deputy assistant
secretary of state for East Asia.