President Trump has announced Vietnam will be the site of his next historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Today, we take our own fascinating advance trip to Vietnam where the US once fought and lost an unpopular war. The winners were communists allied with China. Now, Scott Thuman discovered, our former enemy is playing a central role in an economic war between the U-S and China --to their own benefit.
Flying into Hanoi, the city has all the appearance of any other urban landscape on approach: bright lights and friendly skies. But to another generation of Americans, the flight over Hanoi was a totally different experience. That was 47 years ago - the so-called Christmas Bombing - part of the last major air offensive of the Vietnam War. For many Americans, the city's name is forever linked with the Hanoi Hilton, the notorious building that housed POWs like John McCain. But this capitol, and this country have changed dramatically. Vietnam has become something of an odd ally of the United States.
Dan Kritenbrink: I would argue our partnership with Vietnam has never been stronger, and the fact that we can talk about a partnership with Vietnam, given our complex and tragic history, is quite meaningful and even emotional.
Dan Kritenbrink is the US ambassador to Vietnam, who has spent years representing the United States interests in Asia.
Dan Kritenbrink: One of my predecessors in this job made that point to me a couple months back, in which he said, It's close to miraculous what we've achieved here with the Vietnamese, but it is by no means an accident. Again, people work very hard, taking risks and showing courage to overcome our past, and now build this partnership and this friendship.
One that appears much friendlier since the US engaged in what many call a trade war with China. The US imposed tariffs last year on Chinese goods. China retaliated, raising the cost on American companies, sending products its way. Some American businesses are considering moving out of China, others bypassing it altogether, setting up shop right here.
Scott: To many, this is the sound of growth. In 2000, US-Vietnamese trade was just over a billion dollars, now it’s about 40 times that, making American, Vietnam’s single largest trading partner.
Adriaan Kwon understands the new dynamic well. He owns a factory assembling high-end photography bags for Peak Design, an American company based in San Francisco.
Adriaan Kwon: I was living here like 12 years. In the beginning, it was very hard to see American brand. There are some Starbucks. There's no Burger King, there's no McDonald's. But since like five years, American brand come in and they become like one part of Vietnamese brand.
Scott: It sounds like it's a great idea for American companies to set up here.
Adriaan Kwon: It is.
Scott: Do you think you're going to see more of them?
Adriaan Kwon: I think so, and I hope so.
Scott: How much of your product that you make here for an American company gets send back to America?
Adriaan Kwon: It's about like 70%
Scott: 70% ?
Adriaan Kwon: Yes.
Scott: It's a big number.
Adriaan Kwon: It is.
The labor here is even cheaper in Vietnam than in China. So much so, the idea of making those same bags in America is laughable.
Adriaan Kwon: Let's say there's one bag selling at $250, $250. That cost might be like $400?
Scott: If it were made in the United States-
Adriaan Kwon: Yes.
Scott: It would cost up to 400?
Adriaan Kwon: Yes.
This economic boom, growing out of a movement of the 1980s - Doi Moi - Economic reforms that helped grow Vietnam dramatically. Its Gross Domestic Product jumping from the equivalent of 36 billion dollars in 1987, to $223 billion in just over 20 years. Another critical number is Vietnam's average age: Just 30, meaning 70 percent of people were born after the fall of Saigon. So to many here, the United States was never an enemy - Just an economic opportunity.
Dat Tien Vu is a young artist in Saigon who says his people are embracing this new era.
Scott: Why do you think there has been that change?
Dat: I think they want to embrace a new peace era or they live comfortably. They want their family to be well-fed and safe. And I think therefore, everybody's more open to outside, foreigners.
Scott: You talk about foreign investment, last year we saw about 35 billion dollars in foreign investment from the U.S. Is that the tip of the iceberg?
Dan Kritenbrink: I think there's tremendous potential here.
But it's not all factories and fashion. American movies have also made a home in Vietnam. Kong: Skull Island grossed more than 500 million dollars and sparked a desire among US directors.
Mai Suong is a Vietnamese producer who worked on Skull Island and says the industry has surged over the last three years.
Scott: How busy is it? How much work is out there right now?
Mai: If you want to just be constantly working and never stop. You can take up job as much as you want. Of course, if you have skills and every thing.
Scott: What's the future?
Mai: Very bright, I would say. There's a lot of like big Hollywood production that looking into years a lot of them got a permit already, a lot of them like quite a few are in prep. It's really looking really good I will say.
The byproduct of all that Hollywood hype, more American tourists fascinated by its beauty, and then there's war tourism - Americans coming to see and understand how this once contentious relationship has transformed. How old enemies, have become new friends.
Vietnam would love to get more international support as they move toward becoming bigger trading partners with the US and othersand this summit with President Trump and Kim Jong-un, may put a spotlight on that problem.