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The West needn’t worry about Putin’s visit to Hanoi

Shortly after his trip to North Korea last week, Russian president Vladimir Putin was greeted in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, as an old friend. His 22-hour state visit received the highest level of reception and resulted in a number of agreements on energy and science and technology. There was also talk of the once-close allies collaborating on defense and security.

In many ways, this display of affection comes as no surprise. After all, it was the communists in North Vietnam who won the war in 1975 with Soviet support and then proceeded to unify with Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and the south.

Many of Vietnam’s current political, business and academic elite also worked or studied in the Soviet Union over the following decade and are viscerally aware of the close relationship between it and the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).

Yet the greeting of old comrades and the litany of gestures to a growing cooperation sparked questions and concerns. After years of cooperation and booming integration with the US and western markets, should Putin’s warm welcome in Hanoi worry the West?

We think not. While the current leaders of the CPV, as well as other elites, were shaped by the zenith of the Soviet-Vietnamese affinity, Vietnam’s younger generations are not.

The country’s 100 million population displays a very different – and more Western – orientation. The leaders of Vietnam’s booming digital economy, for example, largely studied in the West and speak English, rather than Russian.

The US exerts substantially more influence on Vietnam than the time-tested Russian friend does. This is especially true for the generations born around or after the time in 1986 when the government introduced a series of free-market reforms known