In the United States, if we look at Mr. Obama’s Presidential Job Approval Ratings, we see that in May this year, only 51% of Americans were satisfied with his work. His approval ratings from January 2009 till now have an average rating of only 47%. Where can Mr. Obama get an approval rating of 100%? He just needs to come to Vietnam. That was obvious last week from the cheering crowds that greeted the President everywhere he went in Hanoi and Saigon. This was remarkable because in Asia it is not customary for visiting heads of state to receive such a warm welcome from the ordinary citizens.
In general, the relationship between the US and Vietnam is certainly not ordinary. It is complex and it is special in so many ways.
One Saigon resident thought that Mr. Obama was welcomed so warmly because he represents a rich country that offers tremendous freedom to its citizens. People outside the US admire and envy that.
Mr. Obama’s visit included announcements of the lifting of the US arms embargo on Vietnam, various trade agreements, the creation of a one-year multiple entry visa for American visitors to Vietnam, and the establishment of a US Peace Corps Program in Vietnam.
Just a few days before Mr. Obama’s arrival, VietJet announced that it will buy 11.1 billion dollars worth of air craft from the American company, Boeing. Why Boeing instead of Airbus? Some people speculate that this is connected with Mr. Obama’s announcements during his visit.
Human Rights: President Barack Obama expressed disapproval of Vietnam’s handling of political freedoms after Vietnamese rights activists were prevented from meeting him in Hanoi. Vietnam's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment on this. Mr. Obama noted that several activists had been blocked from meeting him and said there are still areas of significant concern in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and accountability with respect to government.
There are unique and enduring connections between the US and Vietnam. This is not in spite of the war, but because of it, because of the diaspora that followed the war. And this in turn is connected to the desire of overseas Vietnamese to support their relatives in Vietnam and their desire to remain emotionally and economically tied to the motherland.
Viet overseas are the key. They enjoy the material benefits of life outside of Vietnam, but most of them have never lost sight of who they are, and what they are. Given the opportunity and the right finances, even some who left Vietnam 30 or 40 years ago would gladly resettle in their homeland.
An estimated 1.5 million Vietnamese fled to the U.S. after April 1975, seeking a better life for their families. But as memories of the war fade, and as business opportunities expand in Vietnam’s market economy, some children of those first immigrants are moving back, drawn by Vietnam’s new economy and old culture.
The younger generation of Vietnamese-Americans has little reference to the war or the communist takeover. The attraction of the new economy and the old culture is creating a reverse diaspora, even though it is a small one. Opinions about this are certainly mixed. Vietnamese parents in the US are often completely against the idea of their child returning to live in Vietnam.
What reasons do these Viet overseas children give for returning to Vietnam? One said that “the government and people in Vietnam see that we Viet overseas have been educated abroad. We have a more international, more global vision. We are able to bring these resources, these networks, and this knowledge into this country. And they see that it’s contributing to economic growth, and so there’s support for what the returned Vietnamese are doing”.
The question remains - are the Viet overseas who resettle in Vietnam motivated by humanitarian or financial factors, or both? Or, are they simply motivated by a desire to connect with their roots and to be in a country where they are fully accepted as Vietnamese, without some of the prejudices they experienced outside of Vietnam? Maybe the answer is not relevant if their return benefits the country.
If any Viet overseas in the US are interested in really humanitarian work in Vietnam, they should look into joining the US Peace Corps. That can be the best two years of their lives.
In other news: A company in South Korea sold a disinfectant that caused dozens of people to die and hundreds of others to suffer lung damage. Last month, an executive of the company said that the company accepts full responsibility for these health issues, including the deaths. The company has promised to compensate all those who died as well as hundreds of others injured, setting up a multimillion dollar "humanitarian fund".
Now compare that with the statement by the Taiwanese official from the company in Vietnam where millions of fish have been killed by toxic waste. He said that “Vietnam may have to accept environmental trade-offs for industrial growth—perhaps a choice between steel or fish.”
Researchers hired by Vietnam’s government have concluded that “toxic elements” are the cause of the deaths of the fish, shell fish and even a whale, but that’s where the answers stop. The government is reluctant to point any fingers. There’s a $10-billion dollar foreign investment that is involved. Locals, particularly fishermen, blame the environmental catastrophe on Formosa, a steel plant from Taiwan that pumped untreated steel wastewater into the ecosystem. The environmental consequences could be devastating.
Vietnam's environment minister admitted that the company had an illegal waste pipe at one of its steel plants, and was ordered to dig it up. He said the pipe hasn't definitely been linked to the fish deaths, but local fishermen are certain about the source of the contamination. The government has strongly discouraged public demonstrations in this matter.
Although the government banned the use of the dead fish for food or animal feed, many locals are worried that the dead fish will be processed into fish sauce. One housewife at a supermarket in Hanoi was seen filling her shopping cart with bottles of fish sauce. She said she was stocking enough sauce for a year, to avoid sauce made out of dead fish. Obviously there will now be a big demand for fish sauce from Phu Quoc, and also there will be a need to avoid “counterfeit” Phu Quoc fish sauce.
Q.1. What will the US Peace Corps do in Vietnam?
A.1. Peace Corps Volunteers will teach English and train English teachers in Hanoi and Saigon. To join the Peace Corps, you must be a US citizen and a college graduate. Volunteers receive a small but adequate salary and a housing allowance. They serve for two years.
Q.2. What about retirement visas for Americans in Vietnam?
A.2. Vietnam does not issue retirement visas. Currently they are issuing non-immigrant visas to visitors, good for 6 to 12 months. Americans who are married to Vietnamese ladies may apply for a five year multiple entry visa.
Q.3. Has the Vietnamese government started issuing one-year multiple entry visas for American visitors?
A.3. Officially, these visas are available, but when someone applied for a one year visa this week, he only got six months, with no explanation available.
Last week, Democratic legislative leaders proposed a package of bills that would greatly expand protections for California’s 1.8 million illegal immigrants. This is far beyond what's offered by any other state.