Vietnam, Relations with

views updated May 23 2018


The Soviet Union began its relationship with Vietnam through the Communist International (Comintern), one of whose purposes was to support the liberation of colonized peoples from Western colonial powers. From the last half of the nineteenth century until 1954, the formerly unified nation of Vietnam was divided into three segments (Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina), along with Cambodia and Laos, within the French colony Indochine (Indochina).

Prior to 1930 some politicized members of Vietnamese society had a connection to the Soviet Union through membership in the French Communist Party or its political fronts. During the 1920s the Comintern invited several radical Vietnamese political activists to Moscow for political education and training. The most prominent of these was a man of many aliases whose most frequent alias prior to World War II was Nguyen Ai Quoc, a founding member of the French Communist Party who later became better known through his final alias, Ho Chi Minh. Quoc became a full-time functionary of the Comintern and, on their instructions, founded the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) in 1930. Although most of its members were Vietnamese, the ICP staked a claim to succeed France politically in all of its Southeast Asian colonies. The idea of an Indochinese Federation, modeled on the Soviet Unionwith the Vietnamese playing the same dominant role vis-a-vis the Cambodians and Laotians as the Russians did with the other nationalities and republics within the USSRwas a Comintern political concept that was to both guide and bedevil the politics of the Southeast Asian region for much of the twentieth century.

From 1930 until 1950 the Soviet Union's relations with the Vietnamese revolutionaries in French Indochina were limited mainly to training and political advice. At the end of World War II, during the brief power vacuum that followed Japan's surrender and withdrawal from the region, Ho Chi Minh led a small band of ICP controlled guerrillas, though under the guise of its political front, the Viet Minh, to seize power in a Bolshevik-style coup d'état. He proclaimed the independence of the so-called Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) in September 1945. The DRV was not recognized by any nation, and France's return to reclaim its former Asian colonies led to the outbreak of war between France and the DRV/Viet Minh at the end of 1946.

Geography prevented the Soviet Union from effectively aiding Ho Chi Minh until 1950, when the victory of the Chinese communists in the Chinese civil war changed the balance of power in Asia. In January 1950 Josef Stalin agreed to Ho's request for increased aid. Thus in early 1950 all of the Soviet bloc nations recognized the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and China undertook the Soviet Bloc's task of direct military, economic, and political assistance to the Vietnamese communists.

Following the Geneva Conference of 1954, of which the Soviet Union was cochair, France agreed to abandon its former colonies, and Indochina was divided into the independent nations of Cambodia and Laos, with Vietnam temporarily divided at the seventeenth parallel into the communist controlled DRV (North) and the noncommunist Republic of Vietnam (South). The United States replaced the French as the patrons of the noncommunist Vietnamese in South Vietnam, and the Soviet Union along with its then-ally China, maintained substantial political, economic, military, and diplomatic support to North Vietnam. During the late 1950s the Vietnamese communists in Hanoi began an uprising against the government in South Vietnam. The Soviet Union supported the DRV against the American-backed South. This Soviet commitment to the Vietnam War increased during the era of Brezhnev and Kosygin, as China's split with the Soviet Union, which had emerged publicly in 1963, caused a competition between Moscow and Beijing for influence in Hanoi. Thousands of Soviet citizens were sent to Vietnam as military and economic advisers during the 1960s. After 1968 Hanoi turned more toward Moscow as its principle source of aid and advice. Yet the USSR, fearing that it would be dragged by the Vietnamese into a direct confrontation with the United States, wanted to find a political rather than a military settlement to the Vietnam War. However, the domestic opposition to the war within the United States caused a cutback of American aid to South Vietnam during 19741975, and a precipitate military collapse of South Vietnam to the North Vietnamese army in April 1975.

During the 1970s Moscow and Hanoi increased their ties, at Beijing's expense. The Soviet Union acquired access to the former U.S. military base at Cam Ranh Bay, and thus was able to project its naval and air power into Asia on a scale never before realized. A Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between the USSR and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) was signed in November 1978. When the SRV came into conflict with the China-backed Cambodian communists (known in the West as the Khmer Rouge), Soviet arms facilitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December 1978. Moscow and its allies supported Vietnam's subsequent decade-long occupation of Cambodia, but the rest of the members of the United Nations condemned the occupation. Vietnam became a diplomatic as well as an economic liability for Moscow.

With the transformation of Soviet foreign policy under Mikhail Gorbachev, away from confrontation and toward meaningful cooperation with the West, Vietnam ceased to have much value to the Kremlin. Deciding to reduce its commitments to Hanoi, Moscow encouraged a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, as well as a political settlement under United Nations auspices.

The Russian Federation, founded in 1991, was focused on its own economic transformation, not with subsidizing impoverished Third World clients. Yet it had inherited an unpaid debt of $10 billion from Vietnam. Overcoming the massive debt that had resulted from the failed political-ideological crusades of the twentieth century assumed greater significance than any other goal for Russia in its relations with Vietnam at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


Gaiduk, Ilya. (1996). The Soviet Union and the Vietnam War. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Gaiduk, Ilya. (2003). Confronting Vietnam. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Morris, Stephen J. (1999). Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia: Political Culture and the Causes of War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Quinn-Judge, Sophie. (2003). Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Stephen J. Morris

Vietnam, Relations with

views updated May 08 2018


VIETNAM, RELATIONS WITH. On 25 April 1976 the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; its government controlled both northern and southern parts of the country. After a period of cool diplomatic relations in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the United States and Vietnam established diplomatic relations on 12 July 1995 and exchanged ambassadors in May 1997. President Bill Clinton visited Vietnam in 2000.

By 2002, the United States was fully committed to normalization of diplomatic, political, and economic relations with Vietnam, including accounting for POW/ MIAs, resettlement abroad for Vietnamese refugees, protection of intellectual property rights, economic and commercial cooperation, democratic reforms, and repayment of sovereign debt.

On 10 December 2001 the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement took effect; it established normal trade relations—allowing Vietnam to export products to the United States at standard tariff rates. Vietnam pledged to continue economic reforms that would allow and encourage U.S. companies to invest in the country. Vietnamese exports to the United States totaled more than $1 billion in 2001 and were expected to increase in 2002; concurrently, the two nations were engaging in an unprecedented cultural exchange. As young Vietnamese-Americans returned to rural villages to meet their grandparents for the first time, former American servicemen visited earlier enemies in an attempt to understand the legacy of the war.


Berman, Larry. No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

Sheehan, Neil. After The War Was Over. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.



See alsoSoutheast Asia Treaty Organization ; Southeast Asian Americans .

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