The U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, but the economic war has dragged on for the past 18 years. Recently, President Clinton announced that Washington will stop blocking international efforts to help Vietnam pay off its debts to the International Monetary Fund, thereby allowing Vietnam to tap the IMF and the World Bank, as well as international commercial banks, for new development loans. Now, Clinton should go further and let the trade embargo expire in September, as it is set to do. It's time to declare an end to America's economic war with Vietnam.
For some years, the embargo on U.S. trade with Vietnam made sense. Vietnam had been an enemy, it occupied neighboring Cambodia for 11 years, and its government was not helpful in responding to inquiries about the fate of more than 2,000 American GIs listed as missing in action.
But with time, the hardened attitudes have eased on both sides. U.S. investigators say Vietnamese officials have cooperated fully in resolving MIA cases, Vietnam signed the 1991 Cambodia peace accord, and the Vietnamese clearly welcome the prospect of foreign, especially U.S., investment. So far, only a trickle of foreign investment has flowed into the country of 70 million--a country that many believe is poised to become the next Asian tiger.
It would be a shame if the U.S., whose history has been so intimately, if disturbingly, entwined with Vietnam's, failed to seize this opportunity to help remake Vietnam into a modern and market-oriented economy. Already numerous U.S. companies are in Vietnam, but they are allowed to operate only small representative offices.
Leases on choice offshore oil fields have already been awarded to consortia from Australia, France, and Japan, and many Japanese companies are reportedly gearing up to go into Vietnam in a big way. Telecommunications and infrastructure projects will require large investments and the participation of major multinational equipment suppliers. American business is ready to pitch in. President Clinton should resist political pressure from the MIA lobby and let the trade embargo against Vietnam expire.