Vietnam's White House lobbying coup secures strategic gains
By Mai Nguyen
HANOI (Reuters) - When Vietnam's prime minister sat down with President Donald Trump at the White House last week, it reflected a concerted Vietnamese lobbying effort unmatched by most Asian peers.
It also underlined the strategic importance the one-time enemy has secured under Trump in the face of China's increasing regional weight and despite a growing surplus that frustrates U.S. trade hawks.
Among Asian leaders, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc's reception followed only those for his Japanese and Chinese counterparts.
Fearful it would lose security and business gains made under the Obama administration, Vietnam's lobbying began as soon as Trump was elected.
"We were already calculating options," said Tran Viet Thai, vice head of the communist state's Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.
Vietnam got a call set up between Phuc and Trump more than a month before he took office.
Helping to spearhead contacts was Vietnam's ambassador in Washington, Pham Quang Vinh, a veteran of successful efforts under the Obama administration to lift an embargo on arms sales. Pham was also instrumental in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which Trump ditched - to Vietnam's consternation.
Unlike most Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam retains a Washington lobbying firm - the Podesta Group - which it pays $30,000 a month, according to Justice Department documents. Continued...