It’s been a tough few years for Vietnam. Hanoi has felt increasingly abandoned by its Southeast Asian counterparts and outside powers alike in its dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea. Meanwhile, a rare bout of political instability in the senior ranks of the ruling Communist Party, along with a proliferation of protest movements over a range of issues, have unnerved the government and speak to rising social and economic pressures at home. But in the Trump administration’s trade war, Vietnam might get a timely gift – one that will offer the country a more prominent, if awkward, role in the growing U.S.-Sino competition.
For more than a decade, China has been gradually losing foreign manufacturers to its neighbors due to rising wages. Southeast Asian states have been natural beneficiaries, having invested heavily in manufacturing and export infrastructure since putting the regionwide chaos wrought by the Cold War largely behind them. In northern Vietnam, wages are litt