By Cu Chi Loi
The visit of Communist Party general-secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to the United States in early July contributed significantly to trust building between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments, and helped address what many described as the lingering “America syndrome” within Vietnam’s ruling party. At the grassroots level, an overwhelming majority of Vietnamese also support closer relations with the United States.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of normalization of ties between Vietnam and the United States, the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences conducted a quick survey on public opinion about Vietnam–U.S. relations. The main objective of the survey is to evaluate the attitude of Vietnamese toward the United States, and public opinion on the current state of the bilateral relationship.
The survey interviewed more than 300 people in Vietnam’s three largest cities: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Danang with sample distribution for these cities of 47.3 percent, 45.4 percent and 7.3 percent, respectively. People born before 1975, when the Vietnam War came to an end, accounted for 43 percent, and those born after 1975 represented 57 percent of respondents.
The results of the survey show that Vietnamese are very sympathetic toward the United States. Nearly 92 percent of respondents said they are in favor of the United States, and there is little variation between respondents in the north (91 percent) and those in the south (93 percent). Over 92 percent of people surveyed said that they desire promoting close relations between Vietnam and the United States, with the breakdown being, once again, 91 percent in the north and 93 percent in the south. In comparison, the latest Pew Global Attitudes surveyed released last month show that 78 percent of Vietnamese surveyed said they have a favorable view of the United States.
The priority areas in which respondents want to see closer relations with the United States are, in descending order: trade and investment (46 percent), defense and security (25 percent), education (22 percent), and lastly, culture (7 percent). In comparison, 69 percent of Vietnamese surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they prefer strong economic ties with the United States, while 89 percent think that the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will be good for Vietnam.
Given the increasing importance of Vietnam – U.S. relations, nowadays, many Vietnamese wish that the bilateral relations had improved faster. More than half of those interviewed – 54 percent – said that the pace at which the two countries have advanced their bilateral ties in recent years is “reasonable or acceptable,” while 30 percent said that progress in U.S-Vietnam relations has been slower than expected. Sixteen percent said that the improvement in bilateral ties has been rapid.
The survey also collected public opinion on which foreign partners Vietnam should prioritize strengthening relations with. The choices included were China, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Nearly 47 percent of respondents chose the United States, followed by Japan at approximately 30 percent. The figures for Russia and China were 17 percent and 6 percent, respectively. There were no substantial differences between those born before or after 1975, or between respondents in the north and south. Russia and China were seen as Vietnam’s traditional partners before Hanoi embarked on the process of economic reforms, known as doi moi, in 1986.
In conclusion, the survey results show that:
1) The people of Vietnam respect and are very sympathetic toward the United States;
2) Ordinary Vietnamese think that economic and security cooperation are key areas in Vietnam–U.S. relations; and
3) The United States is seen as the leading international partner with which Vietnam needs to have good relations.
Dr. Cu Chi Loi is director of the Institute of American Studies at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences based in Hanoi.