The U.S. in Vietnam…Today

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David Shear, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam

Amid the troubles in Afghanistan, it’s worth thumbing through the State Department inspector general’s report on our embassy in Vietnam released Tuesday. Basically, the 835 folks there – fewer than 200 of them Americans – are doing good and valuable work, the IG says.

They’re pretty evenly divided between Hanoi – remember, once the capital of North Vietnam, and now the capital of a reunited Vietnam – and Ho Chi Minh City, which we remember as Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. For those of us of a certain cohort, Vietnam was a defining part of our coming of age. So it’s strange to read certain sections in the report…kind of makes you wonder what the IG will have to say about our embassy in Kabul in 40 years:

Both sides assert that the Vietnam War – which the Vietnamese call the “American War” – has receded as a factor in the current relationship, but traces of mutual suspicion still linger. As one of the few remaining avowedly communist countries in the world, Vietnam is challenged to balance its economic liberalization with continued political authoritarianism, areas where the United States is viewed as both role model and threat. Building this partnership is a delicate, long-term process…

According to the World Bank, Vietnam is the world’s most rapidly transforming country, with one of the fastest rates of poverty reduction anywhere. U.S.-Vietnam trade has increased 17-fold in the past decade…

Staff morale among sections and agencies in Hanoi is high, notwithstanding the fact that the chancery building is an inadequate…and ramshackle structure. U.S.-Vietnam discussions about a new embassy compound have been dragging on for several years. The deliberations have been impeded by Vietnamese authorities’ unwillingness to grant a lease term that is acceptable to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations…

…there is a great hunger in Vietnam for information and education…In the academic year 2010-2011, 14,800 students from Vietnam studied at U.S. colleges and universities – ranking Vietnam as 8th worldwide in absolute numbers of students in the United States…

While still in Washington, the Ambassador [David Shear] conducted a television interview that was shown on Vietnamese TV after his arrival. An estimated 20 million viewers watched the interview. Another 6 million people viewed it after it was posted on the Internet. Given the restrictive media environment, there is surprisingly great interest in information about the United States…

But, of course, all is not perfect:

For security reasons, there is no wireless Internet access at the embassy’s American Center, which limits the usefulness of the its new iPads.


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