President Clinton’s announcement Tuesday of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam drew both fear and optimism on Wednesday from Spokane’s Vietnamese community.
One man’s fear of communism is so strong that even after living 20 years in the United States, he still won’t publicly criticize the Vietnamese government.
“The Communists say one thing, do another,” said the 42-year-old resident, who declined to be named, citing fear of retaliation against his family in Vietnam. “I don’t really know if Americans learned a lesson from the Vietnam War.”
He said the new political climate will help American companies exploit cheap labor in Vietnam.
Many Vietnamese immigrants to the United States - especially those who suffered political persecution under the Communist government - believe that normalized relations with Vietnam will bring little help to the Vietnamese people and prove extremely frustrating for the U.S. government.
Some in Spokane’s Vietnamese community felt that resuming diplomatic relations was a positive step for both countries.
Philip Tran, 28, the owner of the Lotus Seed Restaurant in Spokane, favors resuming diplomatic relations.
Tran fled from Vietnam with his parents at the age of 8.
“I think it will be wonderful,” he said. “My dad was really excited.”
For older Vietnamese immigrants the reopening of diplomatic relations could lead to trips back home, Tran said.
But he also knows of Vietnamese immigrants who still fear the Communist government there.
“It depends on who you talk to,” Tran said. “A lot of people who were political prisoners might not like it.”
Tran said improving relations may help him receive products from Vietnam for his restaurant business.
“Before, we couldn’t,” Tran said.
Clinton’s announcement came 20 years after the end of the Vietnam War. Despite painful memories from the war, a growing number of Vietnamese are renewing ties with their homeland.
Lai Lung, 45, who served in the South Vietnamese Army, said he doesn’t agree with supporting a communist country.
“But normalization doesn’t mean we’re supporting the Communists,” he said.
Lung, who works as an assembler for Columbia Lighting, said he also knows some Vietnamese who don’t believe resuming relations is a good thing.
“I know a lot of people who have been in prison and they’re hard to convince,” he said.
Both Lung and Tran said the time is right for change.
“The war’s over,” Lung said.