Trump to pay state visit to Vietnam after attending APEC summit

By Dien Luong   October 16, 2017 | 09:33 am PT
Anticipation has been building for Trump’s upcoming trip to a country where his predecessor received a rockstar welcome last year.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to Vietnam this November will also include an official state visit aside from his participation at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, the White House has confirmed in what appears to be a symbolic move to allay concerns that the trip could possibly not happen.

Trump will meet with Vietnam's top leaders in Hanoi on November 11, the White House said in a statement Monday. A day earlier, he will attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting and deliver a speech at the CEO Summit there. The six-day summit will open on November 6 in the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang, with other world leaders including China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin expected to attend.

Typically, heads of state on an official visit to Vietnam will meet the country’s triumvirate of leaders - Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, President Tran Dai Quang and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

President Quang will host the formal welcoming ceremony. Over the past months, Quang’s attendance at public events has been receiving special coverage since he disappeared from the media for a month in July, triggering online speculation about his health. But just last week, during a town-hall meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, Quang’ constituents said they were moved to see how “hale and hearty” he was (Quang is also an elected legislator).

Trump’s Vietnam visit is part of his Asia tour, which will mark the first time he has traveled to the region since taking officeJoined by his wife Melania, he will be stopping in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hawaii between November 3-14. Trump will also be attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conclave in the Philippines.

In late September, the White House only confirmed Trump’s participation in the APEC Summit in Da Nang, but an official visit to Hanoi had already been anticipated. Given that, the latest statement by the White House has been interpreted as a symbolic gesture.

“I'm interested in why they had to more or less reissue the announcement,” Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia analyst at the National War College in Washington, said. “Sure, there are a few more details, but not a lot as to what was already known and expected. Clearly the work of the White House to reassure people that everything is on track.”

Trump had appeared non-committal about his planned visits to Vietnam and the Philippines last month. To many analysts, if he canceled those two trips, his administration would be another step closer to retreating from a region that China is salivating at marching on with its expansionism stratagem.

A March survey by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore that polled government officials, business representatives, academics and journalists in Southeast Asia found that around 75 percent of the respondents saw China, not the U.S., as the most influential player now and for the next decade. Two-thirds of respondents also viewed the U.S. less favorably.

Vietnam is Southeast Asia’s biggest exporter to the U.S. Right after becoming president, Trump nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a mammoth U.S.-led trade deal whose 12 members make up nearly 40 percent of global GDP, dismantling the signature policy of his predecessor Barack Obama.

Last May, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc paid an official visit to the White House, beginning a series of Washington visits by Southeast Asian leaders who were seeking to gauge Trump’s policies toward the flashpoint South China Sea, tensions over which have pitted Beijing against its smaller neighbors in the region, including Vietnam.


U.S. President Donald Trump (R) welcomes Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 31, 2017. Photo by Reuters

Anticipation has been building for Trump’s upcoming visit to a country where Obama received a boisterous rockstar welcome last year.

“Presidents Obama and Clinton were very popular in Vietnam and thousands of Vietnamese came out to greet them,” Murray Hiebert, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said.

“I'm not sure Trump is equally popular or as well known, but I think many Vietnamese are curious about the new U.S. president,” Hiebert said.

On the diplomatic front, to many analysts, Trump’s agenda seems pretty clear.

“His style of diplomacy is very simple and very transactional,” Abuza said.

“From what we have seen of Trump's international visits so far, it's going to be a lot of ‘what are you going to do for us?’ This is red meat to his base.”

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