TOKYO – For 30 years after World War II’s end, Vietnam claimed the global spotlight. Its victories over France and the United States were the defining wars of independence of the post-colonial era. But ever since those immortal scenes of US army helicopters hovering above the abandoned US embassy in Saigon in 1975, Vietnam has mostly slipped from the world’s consciousness.
No longer. Vietnam’s strategic position – as a neighbor of China, situated parallel to the great sea trade routes of Asia – always made the country tremendously important, which may be one reason why its anti-colonial wars lasted so long. In recent years, however, Vietnam’s strategic significance has increased dramatically, owing to huge – and not always widely recognized – transformations in its economic performance and foreign-policy orientation.