Some of the duties carried out by the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh are conducting visa interviews, helping Americans or expatriates who have lost important documents or are in trouble with local laws, and mainly keeping a relationship with the government and people of Saigon and the whole southern half of the country. They do this last one by having a strong presence on social media, as well as opening up their doors to Vietnamese who want to watched movies or read literature that is banned by the communist government.
When someone applies for a visa to go to the United States, they must first understand the interview process by attending an informational meeting at the American Center (a building close to the consulate we went to because security was less strict than the actual consulate) or watching a video online. Next the visa seeker must wait outside in a long line in front of the consulate before going to their interview. The representatives who spoke to us said that between 500 and 700 people are interviewed at the consulate in Saigon a day, on top of the 100-200 people there to get help for other reasons. Getting a visa could take months or years.
The consulate provides resources like movies, TV, and literature, as well as other types of information about America, because they want to promote American values in Vietnam. This does not mean that their mission in Saigon is to undermine the government; just to do American things because they are the United States Consulate. One representative described it by saying (paraphrasing here) “we are not challenging the Vietnamese government and instead promoting things the United States stands for.” This hopefully gives Vietnamese people a positive image of America and therefore maintains a constructive relationship, all while keeping Hanoi, the capital, happy or, at least, at ease.
What I will remember most is when the representative described how China currently effects the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam. Vietnam is afraid of China’s strong economy and growing influence in the region, especially their seizure of parts of the South China Sea which Vietnam claims as their own. This is understandable since, historically, China ruled Vietnam for 1000 years, from 111 B.C to around 920 A.D. Vietnam has tightened its relationship with America because it knows it is the only nation stronger than its growing neighbor China. Currently, the Vietnamese have a 94% approval rating of Americans and around a 7% approval rating of the Chinese.
(Cover photo is of my breakfast this morning)