Trump visit to Vietnam: Hoping for US to reaffirm commitment to the region

US President Donald Trump welcoming Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House on May 31, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • United States President Donald Trump will travel to Danang city in central Vietnam on Nov 10 for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economic leaders' meeting.

The next day, he will fly north to Hanoi for bilateral meetings with President Tran Dai Quang and other senior Vietnamese leaders. The fact that Mr Trump was travelling to the Vietnamese capital for this meeting was important in itself, analysts said.

"We hope Mr Trump will speak about (the) US administration's commitment to the region," Dr Tran Viet Thai, deputy director-general of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, told The Straits Times. "We cannot expect more."

The communist country had stood to make one of the biggest gains from the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which Mr Trump pulled the US out of shortly after assuming presidency in January.

Through strong lobbying, Vietnamese premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc became the first Asean leader to visit the White House, in May.

Hanoi has been open about its intention to try to salvage some of the potential economic gains from the TPP, but is not expecting any major deals with the US in the near term.

Bilateral security cooperation, however, has kept steady despite the new American leadership. In May, the US government transferred six patrol boats and a high-endurance cutter, a large vessel, to the Vietnamese coast guard.

According to Dr Truong-Minh Vu, director of the Saigon Centre for International Studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City, deeper military ties with the US is a sensitive subject in the country because of many reasons, including the Vietnam war, and the risk of upsetting its powerful neighbour China.

"Defence cooperation in the end is an important indicator of bilateral relations," he said.

Any pledge by Mr Trump to maintain existing commitments would be significant, he added.

In May, Mr Phuc and Mr Trump pledged to strengthen bilateral defence ties as well as cooperation in security and intelligence.

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