For this refugee of the US war in Vietnam, Obama's visit to Hanoi is a huge deal

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U.S. President Barack Obama attends a press conference at the International Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, 23 May 2016.

Luong Thai Linh/Reuters

Miki Nguyen fled Vietnam as a child with his family during the last chaotic days of the Vietnam War. He grew up in the United States and recently moved back to his birth country. For him, this week's visit by US President Barack Obama — the president's first to the country — is a very big deal.

“Seeing Obama here is so extremely promising,” says Nguyen, who describes himself as a tech professional and entrepreneur. “It gives the people here another choice besides just trading with China and at the same time resenting many of the things that China has done" — like a recent, massive fish die-off on the central coast of Vietnam, blamed in part on a chemical spill by factories run by Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics.

“It’s critical that this country maintain a balance of power. China has been creeping closer and closer in terms of the sensitive South China Seas, and the oil and the fishing activities out there,” Nguyen argues.

More from PRI's Global Nation: A Facebook friend request brought my mom back to Vietnam after 35 years

Vietnam has a history of invasions, from the French to the Chinese and the Japanese. And though Nguyen was young at the time, he still remembers the US war in Vietnam. His late father served as a helicopter pilot for the South Vietnamese Army during that war. Today, Nguyen sees the US lifting the arms embargo as a positive step toward allowing Vietnam to defend its place in the region — and he thinks his father would have agreed.

“I think my Dad would like to see a little more strengthening of this country to see that his family members are protected here from any sort of insurgence that China might contemplate,” Nguyen says.

Nguyen is encouraged by the general change and development he's witnessed in Vietnam. 

“[There are] new buildings cropping up, there’s a lot of open optimism," Nguyen says. "There’s opportunities in entrepreneurship in this country and if you have a big dream, you can come back here and pursue it."

That said, Nguyen isn’t ignorant of the human rights abuses in Vietnam that have led critics to question whether Obama's decision to lift the arms embargo was the right one.

“I grew up in America enjoying the freedom of religion, freedom of education, freedom to speak my mind in public and would like to see that same freedom for this country as well. I think any healthy country should allow for a healthy means for its people to voice their thoughts and opinions,” Nguyen says.