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Trump Wins Fans in Vietnam

FILE - Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Madison, Ala., Feb. 28, 2016. The Republican front-runner has staked out uncompromising positions on Asia policy, yet he has admirers in Vietnam who oppose Chinese "expansionism."

Despite his blunt criticism of Vietnam for taking American jobs, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is nonetheless sowing inspiration half a world away.

Trump’s unexpected Southeast Asian fan base reckons his anti-China rhetoric would somehow stop "Beijing expansionism" in the South China Sea, where Vietnam has overlapping territorial claims with the world's most populous nation.

Listener Nguyen Dinh Thieu told VOA’s Vietnamese service that he hoped the billionaire would take military and economic measures to weaken China, "calm the disputed waters" and "bring back islands" allegedly taken from Vietnam.

Many Vietnamese nationals are interested in the U.S. foreign policy position regarding the disputed, resource-rich sea lanes, according to Nguyen Manh Hung, a George Mason University professor of international affairs.

“The majority of Vietnamese are frustrated with China’s aggressive moves, so it is not surprising to see they support a U.S. presidential candidate who takes a harsh and intolerant stance against China,” said Hung, an expert on U.S.-Vietnamese relations.

While the New York real estate mogul's notoriously controversial campaign rhetoric might appeal to some Vietnamese citizens, it has ruffled feathers in Beijing.

China’s Foreign Ministry called the reality television star’s opinions about Sino-U.S. relations "disturbances," shortly after Trump told CNN that China had "gotten rich off" the U.S. and rebuilt itself with the money and "jobs it sucked out of the United States."

'Shocking' comments

Hanoi hasn't commented on Trump’s vows to “bring jobs back” from China and other Asian nations, including Vietnam, but the state-controlled Thanh Nien daily newspaper called his comments “shocking.”

In a country where a majority of people traditionally back Democratic candidates, whom they view as more left-leaning, Nguyen Manh Ha, an independent parliamentary candidate, said the broad spectrum of views about Trump bode well for increased pluralization in a single-party system.

"Those who detest China support Trump," said the social activist. "But there are others who think it would be a disaster if he becomes U.S. president because of his appalling statements."

Ha hoped future Vietnamese candidates would similarly have a chance for open and live debates to outline social and economic policies, engaging voters in the electoral process.

Professor Nguyen Ngoc Bich, chairman of the National Congress of Vietnamese in the United States, said the current American presidential election campaign grabs the attention of some parts of society in Vietnam where selection of officials has been criticized by rights groups.

“Some understand that democracy should bring the country forward, just like what happened in Myanmar,” Bich said.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese service.