Paris-Hanoi -- the ice melts
Franco-Vietnamese relations are thawing out of the freeze that dates from Hanoi's intervention in Kampuchea (Cambodia) three years ago.
Last month, France and Vietnam signed a $35 million financial aid protocol as well as an accord to expand consular responsibilities. France has been notably active since the fall of Saigon as an intermediary between Vietnam and the West in coordinating refugee assistance and emigration.
The two nations, which first began to normalize diplomatic ties in 1973, have not undertaken any bilateral cooperation treaties since Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong visited France in 1977.
''The agreement represents a significant development in relations,'' noted a senior Vietnamese embassy official in Paris.
Socialist France is pursuing a policy of providing developing countries with a ''third way,'' an alternative to superpower dependence. Officials at the Quai d'Orsay, site of the French Ministry Ministry, maintain that in Vietnam as in Ethiopia and Nicaragua, France is only trying to help loosen ties to Moscow.
Vietnam has turned more and more to the Soviet Union for military and economic aid. In 1981, following a 4.4 million-ton rice deficit, Vietnam was unable to provide the basic 15-kilogram (33-pound) monthly ration per head and was forced to import food from the East bloc.
Last November, the World Food Program refused under American pressure to grant $5 million worth of credits for the construction of a canal irrigation system. Furthermore, Vietnam's military occupation of Kampuchea is causing a severe drain on its resources.
Some observers argue that the isolation of Vietnam by the West since 1975 has only forced Hanoi into the hands of the Soviet Union. Following this line of thought, policymakers in Paris feel France can provide a counterbalance.
Similarly, the Mitterrand administration has sought to improve its relations with Laos, where, some 50,000 Vietnamese troops are stationed. France, however, has refused to recognize the Vietnamese-imposed regime in Kampuchea.
The French decision for financial aid to Vietnam has been strongly criticized by China and the five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, out of concern that aid will encourage an agressive Vietnamese policy in Kampuchea and elsewhere. But the Quai d'Orsay is already going ahead with plans to welcome Vietnam's present foreign minister, Nguyen Co Thach, on an official visit to France sometime in April.
Vietnamese embassy officials say this would permit the two countries to consider more cooperation.'
Recently returned French sources from Vietnam say that animosity toward the Soviet Union has been growing in the north and the south. There have been numerous reported incidents of attacks against Soviet advisers and their families as well as several murders. Vietnamese diplomats have hinted that relations with France and other countries would therefore be welcomed.