The highly publicized meeting between President Donald Trump of the United States and leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea, in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 27-28, is significant for reasons of history and policy.
In November 2017, Trump made an extensive trip through East Asia, including China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. Stops included the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, held in Danang, Vietnam.
The traditional spelling of this third largest city in the nation is Da Nang, just as the traditional spelling of Vietnam is Viet Nam.
Americans do not like empty spaces. We turn unused real estate into productive enterprises. Getting rid of spaces between words speeds up pronunciation. After all, time is money - preferably dollars.
The fast-moving, fast-talking technocrats who dominated policy during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations brought precisely that perspective to decisions. One result was the vast, destructive Vietnam War.
Unfortunately, quantitative measures of dead bodies, enemy weapons and weight of documents captured were not reliable indicators of progress. Given the enormous scale of American firepower, increasing totals meant mainly that the enemy was growing more numerous.
Where quantitative measures are central is in the tough and quite tangible world of commerce, trade and investment. APEC is today perhaps the most important intergovernmental network in East Asia to promote those activities.
President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker deserve great credit for making APEC a firm reality. Australia Prime Minister Bob Hawke conceived the organization.
Australia, over the decades, has moved in the direction of free markets, and a much more explicit national commitment to tolerance, directly reflected in official policy toward indigenous populations. The Obama administration’s decision to station a U.S. Marine contingent in Australia underscored the strong bilateral ties between the two nations, dating back to World War II.
Vietnam hosted the 2006 APEC summit. That gathering provided a useful opportunity to highlight that nation’s economic growth and the wider commitment to multilateralism.
That nation, for understandable reasons, was long a special case. For years after Hanoi’s military victory in 1975, the newly unified country was unable to turn the corner from political revolution to economic development. Vietnam did not join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations until 1995, nearly three decades after the creation of the development organization.
Recent years have witnessed escalation of maritime conflicts across the Pacific. For example, in April 2014 China authorities impounded the Baosteel Emotion, a freighter of Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. The move was part of commercial claims resulting from World War II. The two nations also both claim the Senkaku Islands.
China and Vietnam are traditional enemies, a reality masked by their ideological alliance as Communist partners during the long Vietnam War. Maritime conflicts and occasional violent clashes between these nations continue.
There are military security aspects to APEC summits, though the focus is economics. In the 2008 summit held in Peru, Americans and Russians discussed differences over Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, and missile developments in Europe and Korea.
In 2006, Hanoi honored U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a parade. Poignantly, American flags were prominent. The realities of economics challenge communist control in Vietnam as well as China, and now even in North Korea.
Yet to succeed in today’s commercial Pacific, we must respect basic cultural differences. French journalist Bernard Fall brilliantly analyzed French and American Indochina wars.
In 1967, a landmine killed him in Vietnam. Read his book “The Two Viet Nams.”
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Macmillan). Contact him at email@example.com.