It’s Not Your Father’s Vietnam

I have a good friend who is a venture capitalist and travels frequently to Asia. We had lunch together a week or two ago, when he had just returned from a trip to Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam. What he wanted to talk about was Vietnam. He is excited about its prospects: the population is remarkably young (unlike China’s and Japan’s) and the country is wide open to development, as long as you steer clear of the industries that are reserved for the country’s “communist” rulers. My friend intends to invest in businesses there. He was struck, too, by the luxury that has come with Vietnam’s capitalist development. The Metropole Hotel in Hanoi–Hanoi!–is, he told me, perhaps the finest hotel he has ever stayed in, anywhere in the world.

Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Hotel Metropole Hanoi

Most remarkable of all, my friend said that the Vietnamese people love Americans. They can’t stand the Chinese, but they love Americans.

So today, via InstaPundit, we see reports of anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam:

Dozens of foreign-owned factories near Ho Chi Minh City lay in charred ruins early Thursday after thousands of Vietnamese workers rampaged over China’s latest efforts to control the South China Sea, this time off Vietnam’s coast.

The riots marked a rare outpouring of popular outrage over China’s increasingly insistent claims to strategically important, resource-rich seas. …

The explosion of violence reflected growing animosity in the region as China works to solidify its claims over vast parts of two seas that other nations have long considered their own.

Aftermath of an anti-Chinese riot

Aftermath of an anti-Chinese riot

The feel-good aspect of this story is that the Vietnamese rioters reportedly spared factories that flew the American flag. But the story’s geopolitical context is sinister.

Something similar is happening in the Philippines:

On Wednesday, the conflict played out not only in Vietnam, but also in the Philippines, which said it lodged a formal protest with China over signs that it is reclaiming land at a contested coral reef.

The New York Times explains China’s new aggressiveness:

The recent moves by China — covering an area that stretches from Indonesia north to Japan — are part of what analysts see as an effort to create “facts” in the waters that leave China’s less powerful neighbors with few good options for pushing back.

Yes. Just like Putin is creating “facts” in Ukraine that leave its “less powerful neighbors with few good options.” The Times takes a stab at explaining the relevance of alliances with the U.S.:

The country’s leaders face difficult choices in how to respond to China’s latest challenge. Unlike Japan and the Philippines, Vietnam does not have a defense treaty with the United States, which has said it will stand by its allies.

That last observation will be greeted with hollow laughter around the world. What the Obama administration says is believed by no one. As the U.S. retreats and downsizes its military, regional powers like Russia and China hurry to fill the vacuum before we get a new administration.

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