The U.S.-Vietnam Relationship

Project Expert

Joshua Kurlantzick

Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia

About the Project

During the past fifteen years, the United States has built close strategic and economic ties with Vietnam. But the two countries, and Southeast Asia generally, now face the most significant challenges in decades to maintaining peace in the region. As tensions mount over disputed claims in the South China Sea, China is militarizing parts of the South China Sea, the United States is considering more assertive protection of freedom of navigation in the Sea, and other Southeast Asian nations have also staked claims to portions of the South China Sea. The prospect for significant conflict—even major-power conflict—is rising.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. administration has labeled Hanoi as a trade cheat, while also retreating from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, potentially hindering the U.S.-Vietnam economic relationship. Hanoi’s ability to push the bilateral trade relationship further is limited by continued in-fighting within the Communist Party over how to handle further economic liberalization, especially regarding large Vietnamese state firms. Furthermore, the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, launched in 2013, remains a general strategy with minimal specifics. The two countries’ different political systems and continued U.S. concern over rights in Vietnam, also remain sizable hurdles to closer ties.

The project examines the multiple challenges buffeting the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and discusses steps the two countries can take to bolster security cooperation, improve their bilateral trade ties, and to work more effectively together on nontraditional security challenges such as terrorism, infectious disease, migration, and environmental degradation.

This project is made possible with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.