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Good Morning, Vietnam

10:52 AM, Mar 2, 2007 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
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More encouraging news from a former U.S. enemy. For many years now political reform has lagged woefully behind Vietnam's vaunted "doi moi" agenda of economic liberalization. But in late January, the Vietnamese prime minister met with Pope Benedict, which the Vatican called an "important step towards the normalization of bilateral relations." Apparently a Vatican delegation is heading to Hanoi next week.

Of course, Vietnam remains a one-party state, but these are all positive signs that the government is ever so gradually loosening its grip over basic civil and religious liberties. Hopefully the loosening will not be ephemeral.

Meanwhile, Vietnam's economy is red hot. In 2005 it grew faster than every other Asian economy save China's. The surge of foreign investment is especially striking; ditto the high-tech sector. As former U.S. ambassador Raymond Burghardt has written, "Young Vietnamese idolize Bill Gates and aspire to study at our universities." Indeed, the Microsoft founder got quite a welcome during his visit to Hanoi last April. Earlier this year, Vietnam officially joined the World Trade Organization.

We often hear about a "global tide" of anti-Americanism. Well, Vietnam is one country that has resisted this tide. Small wonder that the updated version of the Armitage-Nye Report, which focuses on the U.S.-Japan alliance, argues that Vietnam represents "perhaps the greatest opportunity over the next 15 years" for American and Japanese diplomacy in Southeast Asia.