President Barack Obama’s Visit to Vietnam: A New Era in U.S.-Vietnam Relations

Ambassador Osius at the CSIS discussing President Barack Obama’s Visit to Vietnam

Wednesday, June 8, 2016 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
CSIS Headquarters

Amy Searight: Good afternoon, welcome everybody! I’m Amy Searight. I’m the new director for Southeast Asia here at CSIS so this is my first official function and it’s a real pleasure for me to be able to introduce Ambassador Ted Osius, who is here with us from Hanoi and he’s going to talk with us today about the very historic visit that President Obama just concluded in Vietnam.

Ambassador Osius is a longtime friend of CSIS. He was sworn in as U.S Ambassador in Vietnam in December 2014. He served previously as associate professor at the National War College from 2013 to 2014 and as a senior State Department visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here from 2012 to 2013. He’s a career diplomat and has served as Deputy Chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia and he also has had previous postings in India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

So with that, I will turn things over to Ambassador Osius, who will give some remarks and then Murray Hiebert will moderate the following discussion. Thank you!

Ambassador Osius: Amy, congratulation on your new position. I want to also say “thank you” to Murray. This is my vacation and only Murray could have pulled me away from my vacation

Murray: Sorry about that!

Ambassador Osius: No! Because you are who you are. I’m really happy to be here.

I’m going to tell you about something that is actually usually very turgid and bureaucratic and boring which is a joint statement. And we don’t tend to like joint statements because they are bureaucratic and boring but let me tell you two reasons why I think it’s worth taking a look at the joint statement that are two presidents issued during the visit that was just completed. One is that in the Vietnamese system, it’s very important. It was read aloud word for word on national television. When I have travelled throughout Vietnam after the General Secretary, a very important visit here last year, I have had a joint statement quoted back at me work line by line by provincial officials in Vietnam. They are taken very seriously in Vietnam, those are people’s marching orders going forward when they think about what the relationship is supposed to encompass. And on our side, I think it’s a really good catalog of what we were able to accomplish in recent times in the relationship since the comprehensive partnership was established. It demonstrates that the relationship is very quickly broadening and deepening so I’m going to walk you through it just a little bit and then very happy to take questions on whatever you like.

We started out by noting that we had come to agreement on a package of assistance that will enable to help Vietnam fulfill all of these commitments under TPP and that is…we didn’t actually attach a number to it because TPP has not yet been ratified by Vietnam National Assembly. But Vietnamese told us in every single meeting that they are committed to ratifying TPP quickly and then implementing all of their commitments completely.

We’re also under the rubric of economic collaboration. We were able to sign a number of commercial agreements, three were signed in the presence of the President, they totaled sixteen billion dollars, one of them a sale of a hundred Boeing airplanes to VietJet, it’s the equivalent of 601,000 jobs in the United States. They were quite a number of other commercial deals that were signed at a separate event. We were able in the realm of people-to-people ties to establish Fulbright University Vietnam, the first independent, not-for-profit American-style University in Vietnam. We were able after 12 years of negotiations to agree to send a Peace Corp to Vietnam and we were able to get an agreement to extend visas for Americans to one year, multiple entry which, I hope, will make a lot of people’s lives a lot simpler.

The President has got a lot of attention as the president announced full lift of the lethal weapons ban which removed and historic obstacle to full normalization of the relationship and also announced our commitment to stepping up security collaboration especially in the maritime realm under the maritime security initiative. We also were able to announce an agreement with the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Transportation on how we could collaborate when it came to natural disasters in the region repositioning supplies in a place where they can be used by anyone in the region to deal with a natural disaster but in Vietnam at a place where port and an airport come close together and we agreed on a process for training Vietnamese peacekeepers and inaugurated a peacekeeping training center. We also agreed to follow up on the collaboration we’ve had in Da Nang and dioxin clean up and to partner on cleaning up a bigger hotspot which is the Bien Hoa airbase.

We’re also in the joint statement itself. We received the commitment from the Vietnamese to do what they have already stated they would… they’re committed to doing which is bring their laws into sync with the 2013 Constitution when it comes to certain elements of public engagement so the law and religion belief and the lawn association in particular the Vietnamese made public commitments to pursue the rewriting of those laws in a way that is transparent and consultative. And we were able to sign a letter of agreement with the Ministry of Public Security on collaboration in the judicial sector and in law enforcement. We were also able to agree on a partnership on climate change, how we were going to work together in climate change and that builds on a lot of collaboration that we’ve had in both the Mekong and the Red River Deltas on adaptation mitigation of climate change effects and we were able to provide support to Vietnam which is dealing with an historic drought particularly in the Mekong Delta. We were able to achieve two accomplishments in the area of non-proliferation. One is administrative arrangements under the 123 Agreement on peaceful uses of nuclear energy and then establishing a U.S-Vietnam joint commission on civil nuclear cooperation.

And then also in the field of global collaboration we were able to very much enhance our collaboration under the global health security agenda. We achieved agreement with Vietnamese on combating wildlife trafficking. There’s a new, we have a new U.S.-Vietnam partnership on wildlife trafficking and actually a couple of other agreements as well. The factor for an accounting tax compliance act and we have after 20 years of trying, we finally have a site to build a new Embassy. So I had told the staff about a year ago that if we were really ambitious and we went full out for 12 what I like to call joint endeavors, this is an idea that I learned from a great mentor Cameron Hill, very happy he is here today, that if we went full out we were absolutely directed and ambitious and we had good strategies and we followed, we pursued 12 different joint endeavors. If we were really lucky we might be able to get seven or maybe eight across the finish line in time for the President’s visit and we got 20. So what that tells me is that the Vietnamese were ready, they’re ready to collaborate with us across the board in all of these different areas. They wanted the President to come and visit, they ensured that the visit was successful and they made some difficult decisions when it came to some of these agreements. Some of these agreements were challenging for the Vietnamese and they went ahead with them and this is a fairly new government but they went ahead. We drag some of these agreements right over the finish line just in time for the visit and what it tells me is that we have a really solid foundation for the next 50, 60 years the relationship before able to successfully implement all of these decisions that were made. So it gives me great optimism for the relationship I believe there’s lots more that we can do in the next…in the next few years while I’m there and then I hope in the next 50, 60, 70 years in the relationship and with that I am very happy to take whatever questions you might like to propose.

Murray: Great! Thanks, Ambassador Osius. I think everybody probably agrees that you had a…you managed a very successful trip so congratulation. I think yeah a lot of people thought you get part of it but to get all of that, that’s great. Now there are three, two or three things happened that weren’t in the communique that I just want to ask you better probably. One is you know the President wanted to see some…some Human Rights democracy activist , whatever you want to call them and some of them didn’t show up for the meeting. Can you tell us a little bit what happened?  Secondly with regard to Fulbright University, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over senator Bob Kerrey and his role as the chairman of the fundraising board for Fulbright University which I think everybody would agree is a great is a great opportunity for Vietnam and then the third thing which I saw some chatter about on the Vietnamese social media is the temple that the President visited. They have…people say it was a Chinese temple, not of the Vietnamese temple. What…what was the deal with that? Thank you.

Ambassador Osius: First on this. Thank you, thank you, Murray! Very first on the civil society event, no sitting on the U.S. President or any other world leader for as far as I know has a while making an official trip to Vietnam sat down with representatives of civil society and in the end he didn’t sit down with as many representatives as I had recommended. But in the end the meeting happened and the President was very clear in his public remarks about the fact that he was disappointed that he didn’t get to meet with everybody but it was very happy to meet with those he did get to talk to and it was a very… for me, a very real revealing discussion the members of civil society with whom we met had some really concrete proposals for things that we could do going forward and we have our work cut out for us to see what we can…what we can implement in terms of their recommendations. The President is very committed to engaging with members of civil society wherever he goes and we had made the point to Vietnamese leadership. This is not different from other countries. This is what he does in every country and it’s too bad that they didn’t see it as in their interest to have a meet with everybody. It would have been… It would have been a non-event if you’ve met with everybody but they didn’t and in the end it is their country and their decisions and so he met with most of the people intended to meet with but not everybody.

The second one was Fulbright University. Well Kerrey! That I will…I think I’d like to share with you a fact and a couple of opinions. The fact is that Fulbright University Vietnam is independent. Its board is not shown chosen by United States government. It is not chosen by the government of Vietnam and that’s a good thing. The second that opinion I’d like to offer is that the debate that has taken place since the license was granted and former senator Kerrey went to Ho Chi Minh City to receive the license. The debate that has taken place is a healthy one. It’s the reason we want to have a Fulbright University so that there can be healthy debates like that about the past, about what kind of a future Vietnam wants to have, so I look at that vibrant debate on over this issue as a really positive sign. I’m glad to see that kind of a debate. And then I’m going to offer one other opinion I have been engaging with the government and the people of Vietnam for over 20 years now and nowhere in the world are people more forward-looking and more forgiving than in Vietnam. They are extraordinary when you think about the past relationship we’ve had and that the kind of commitment that there is to building this new partnership. Vietnamese people are incredibly forward-looking and incredibly forgiving and I think that will be in the end what will happen. It’s the Vietnamese people will look forward and they will be forgiving.

The last one was temple, the Chinese temple. Yes! Temple. Yes! Because a lot of noise about the temple just before the visit and as far as I’m concerned I didn’t hear any noise after he went. It was a very, it was a very nice touristic visit to a beautiful traditional temple where many Vietnamese go to worship everyday. It’s a hundred year old temple, beautiful place. The President liked it. Those who explained the history of the temple enjoyed meeting with the president showing him around and something interesting happened that I don’t think was ever reported in the press after the President’s visit to the temple and I was with him and we went out and got into the motorcade afterwards. Right after the President visited the abbot of the temple took the big gates of the temple and closed them and the reason he did that and this is I think this is sort of Taoist philosophy. He wanted the energy, the positive energy that the President had brought to the temple to stay there and to mingle with the spirits that were in the temple and that…and this is a rare and unusual and kind of a beautiful thing he wanted that powerful good energy to remain there in the temple after he closed the gates, citizens from the neighborhood came to the temple and they prostrate themselves in front of those gates that is also a rare thing. It might happen when an emperor visit a temple, might happen when a holy man like the Dalai Lama visit the temple. It happened after Barack Obama visited the temple so to me there was…this was a good visit. It was respected by people in the neighborhood and this came in the context of I will never forget riding in that motorcade because everywhere we went in Ho Chi Minh City, if you turn the corner that the crowds would be 30 people deep all the way out to the airport they were at least a dozen people deep and the President said he, you know, with the possible exception of Tanzania he had never seen a bigger crowds turn out for his motorcade. He was really struck by the warmth that…the warm welcome that he received in Ho Chi Minh City and I was too and I was with Bill Clinton when he went to Ho Chi Minh City almost 20 years ago. I’ve never seen anything like this. It was it was really phenomenal.

Murray: So we’ll open it up to questions. So wait for a microphone, please introduce yourself and try to ask a question, please!  Over here, please!

Question: Hi, I’m Angelina Hooden from the Vietnamese Pro-democracy Organization called Viet Tan. So well the trip was such a so much inspiration to the Vietnamese people and thank you so much. So I have a question, Ambassador, of moving forward, what leverage do you see the U.S have to press the more on human rights improvement?

Ambassador Osius: I think we have about the same as we did before the visit which is quite a lot and more when we engage them if we don’t engage. That does not mean that we can dictate decisions that are made by the Vietnamese government. What it means is that on issues where we disagree and the in the area of human rights is where we have the biggest most open disagreements that we can have a respectful dialogue and sometimes we can come to a meeting of the minds. The president raised in every single meeting, human rights and the importance of addressing concerns about human rights if our partnership is to reach its fullest potential and if Vietnam is to reach its fullest potential, every meeting and every meeting we had a respectful and good dialogue and in every meeting he raised the issue of systemic change, not just letting a prisoner of concern out of jail but the kind of changes that I was talking about that are enshrined in the in the joint statement, legal change, changes to the law and religion and belief, changes to the law and association to reflect a forward-looking new constitution because with those kinds of systemic changes, it won’t be one person that comes out another one goes in right behind him or her. So on the…I think, part of what you’re alluding to is the fact that the lethal weapons ban was lifted and the decision to lift the lethal weapons ban, … pull back for a moment, when we had a contentious relationship with India, we had to do something hard, which had to come to agreement over a civil nuclear issues that had divided us for a long time. It’s difficult but it allowed our relationship to move forward. In Indonesia, we had to come to agreement over the role of composite. That was difficult, took a long time that allowed our relationships go forward. This was the last big obstacle to a normalized relationship. It was a kind of a stigma was discrimination that had been enshrined in the 1960s. Things were quite different and the President made a decision to take away that obstacle to fully normalize the relationship not because that would suddenly transform the human rights since it won’t but because we still have tools, we still have leverage when it comes to human rights including case-by-case decision-making over weapon systems and we have, I think even more importantly, this broad and increasingly deep partnership where we are engaging with the Vietnamese on everything across the board and where we have respectful dialogue on everything including human rights. So I think we have just as much as we did before probably more because we have a deeper and stronger partnership.

Murray: Ted, going on!

Ambassador Osius: Oh yeah. Thanks! Thank you!

Murray: Please, sir. This gentleman, here!

Question: I’m Joe Barber from the World Resources Institute, good to see you! A question about the trans-pacific partnership and illegal logging. As you know one of the environmental criticisms about the ratification has been about that and a lot about Peru but a lot about Vietnam as well because of all the timber coming from Laos and Cambodia. Can we use this opportunity of both the TPP and what came out of this visit to work with the Vietnamese to try and close down that big highway of rows with another one that’s going through Vietnam into China? Thank you!

Ambassador Osius:  Well I think we can for a couple of reasons. For one TPP has the strongest environmental provisions ever in an international agreement that but if the environmental chapter alone was considered it would be one of the strongest environmental agreements ever reached. So the TPP helps but we’ve also got this new climate change partnership and we also have a much deeper relationship as a result of this visit with the Ministry of Public Security on law enforcement and this is a law enforcement issue as well as an environmental issue so I think we have the basis on which to work much more closely with the Vietnamese on this challenge.

Murray: Please!

Question: Hi, Madisa Linno with Northrop Grumman, good to see you again! I wonder if you would address the topic that is on the minds of most US companies looking at Vietnam and that is risk. Whether it’s the risk of not being paid, whether it’s a rule of law, corruption, all of these questions that revolve around the basic question of risk of doing business in Vietnam. Thank you!

Ambassador Osius: Well, one thing you have in Vietnam is stability and government. It wasn’t transition but it’s, you know, pretty predictable. So if you’re looking first stability as a hedge against risk, I would say: “Check!” but the other thing you have is a deepening commitment to rule of law. Our mantra, and I say it all the time is we support a strong, prosperous, independent Vietnam that respects human rights and the rule of law and we have a very good response to that mantra, always. There are two halves of it and the response is good to both halves of it. The commitment now is to enhancing rule of law, the National Assembly which when I first went to Vietnam 20 years ago was a rubber stamp is not a guarantee. It is not a rubber stamp any more. Ministries are afraid they know they’re going to be called up there and called to account before the National Assembly, the new chair of the National Assembly is very dynamic, very committed to strengthening rule of law, strengthening the role of the judiciary making sure that the judiciary is more independent and so I think that trends are good.

It doesn’t mean that every individual company is going to have immediately a good experience and their companies that do their investments out of Singapore because they know that rule off stronger in Singapore that’s a reasonable business decision. But I think the Vietnamese look at those decisions and realize there are great advantages if you want to boost investment, if you want to enhance trade, their great advantages to strengthening rule of law and so that’s what they’re busily doing it’s just… It’s systematic process that they’re rewriting their laws in order to reflect their 2013 Constitution. So the commitment is there, it’s deep and the role of business is very important and as these laws are being rewritten and developed, the role of business is important and there and businesses listen to. This is a the new government as well as the previous government are both committed to hearing business, hearing out the business community and their concerns and they certainly make it clear to me every time I go in an advocate for position or for something that U.S ABC or AmCham or Chamber here have advocated that they’re listening, doesn’t mean we always win the battles right away, sometimes it takes time and patience but I think the trends are all good.

Murray: Please! You Edgar!

Question: I’m Edgar went on the senior trade fellow with the progressive Policy Institute. We hear a lot in Washington about labor rights in Vietnam generally and in the context of TPP. You’re very well known for traveling around the country and really connecting with Vietnam and its people. Could you give us a sense of what is happening with labor and labor rights in Vietnam now and what you anticipate to happen if TPP were to come into force?

Ambassador Osius: One of the things that’s happening now is that there are a lot of wildcat strikes. I think they were in one year there were 10,000 and wildcat strikes are hard to deal with because if you’re a business manager you, you know, if you’re working with a union then you have somebody across the table with whom you can resolve challenges so when we started in a TPP negotiations of pushing for independent unions. There are a lot of people within the party and the government, who saw this is advantageous, saw it is a good idea. Now we were hard bargainers and I think we’ve got a very good deal on, in the labor compliance labor consistency plan which is a side letter to the TPP but that is fully enforceable. We got a good agreement and now the new government and the new head of the VGCL are coming to grips with what they’ve committed to and I don’t think it’s the process will be easy but I think the political will is absolutely there to comply fully with what Vietnam agreed to in TPP especially on the labor provisions. One of the things that’s happening right now is that there’s this program called “Better work Vietnam”. It is really fantastic. It’s in more and more factories each year and it’s auditing, it’s sharing of best practices. It is a terrific program and I visited number of these Better Work Vietnam factories and you can see the impact that program is having and I want to…I think in the lead-up to implementation of TPP that boosting the role of Better Work Vietnam, it would be really advantageous to everybody and everybody’s comfortable with it.

The other institution with which everybody’s comfortable is the ILO and the standards that were that TPP asks Vietnam to adhere to or not American standards or TPP standards, there ILO standards and the ILO has tremendous credibility and Vietnam so we work very closely with the ILO and have done so as we design our technical assistance program. So what I think will happen is that we’ll see either in July or in October ratification of TPP by the National Assembly and then they’re going to start systematically and occasionally slowly moving towards implementation but they’ll do that in partnership with us, with other TPP members and with the private sector because the private sector has lots to gain from full implementation of the committee…of all of the TPP commitments and particularly the labor commitments.

Murray: Elizabeth!

Question: Thank You! Elizabeth Becker, author and journalist. You mentioned that Vietnam is forward-looking and also forgiving and you also mention that you’re cleaning up the President agreed to clean up Da Nang and other hot spots. Are there any other areas that you consider important for the United States to consider in cleaning up any of the remaining more damaged?

Ambassador Osius: Yes! We started 20 years ago, we were able to 20… really starting 25 years ago. We were able to build trust by working together on the MIA issue and when I first went to Vietnam and worked with Mike and others there, we were able to go anywhere we asked on a moment’s notice to follow up any lead that was the kind of transparency that the Vietnamese provided so that we could achieve the fullest possible accounting of those whom we lost and now that collaboration has gone further and we are able to share information with the Vietnamese that we have that helps them to do a fuller accounting of those whom they have lost and were able to share expertise and so that has been…That is….It was also discussed at some length during the President’s visit and it’s an area of collaboration that we are going to continue that is going to keep going forward until we have the fullest possible accounting of those who we lost. We’ve been we’ve spent about 92 million dollars in the last decade on cleaning up unexploded ordnance and we’ve had some great successes, people may not know that 10 times more ordinance was dropped on Vietnam during the war than on all of Europe during the World War II and that small country so there’s a lot of ordinance to be cleaned up.

The worst the province that was the worst hit was Quang Tri. I’ve spent a lot of time in Quang Tri both biking and walking and meeting with people and we are having some extraordinary successes in cleaning up unexploded ordnance in Quang Tri and I predicted it will be impact-free, no more kids will lose their limbs, no more farmers will lose their lives by 2020 or 2022. That’s what we’re headed for because we have been able to bring all the civil society organizations together to work with Ministry of National Defense and to work with provincial officials in a completely transparent fashion to clean up Quang Tri so that no one has to fear the unexploded ordnance there and what we’re going to do is replicate that model in neighboring provinces so that we…I believe the next one that could be Ha Tinh or Thua Thien Hue those officials have told me that they are very anxious to replicate the Quang Tri model and they like to work with us. So that’s another area where I think we have really good collaboration.

The toughest one is cleaning up Bien Hoa because it’s such a big challenge it’s five times larger than the hot spot Da Nang. It will be more expensive but we’ve committed to a partnership we’re going to work with the Vietnamese to figure out what is the best way to do it. It will be a Vietnamese led operation. I’m certain of that and we will contribute as best as we can. We have a the highest level commitment to contribute to that process and then there’s the final…of final issue and not a small one is what about the victims of Agent Orange and what we do now already is we provide assistance to persons with disabilities in 10 provinces. They happen to be the 10 provinces that were most affected by dioxin regardless of cause and so we’re doing a lot of work in the area of disabilities. I think ultimately will need to do more.

Murray: Sir, frontier!

Question: I’m coming from Fukushima, the Center for American Progress. Good to see you again!  I’m very pleased to learn about the joint statement and all the progress that you’ve made but obviously in any kind of a joint statement there’s a negotiation that leads to the joint statement so I like to know if you could let us know maybe three or four areas in which the U.S wanted to achieve but was not able to achieve in this particular joint statement which you know areas that we might expect in the future there might be additional progress on. Thanks!

Ambassador Osius: Well, I think we’ve got everything we needed to get out of the joint statement. I was very happy with the results. One of the negotiators in the room and we were prepared if we didn’t weren’t able to get the kind of statement that we wanted not to have a joint statement but we have one. The area that still divides us is the area of human rights. We…I think Murray invited investor Vien to come today. We’ve we have appeared together before a couple of times in Washington and I love it when we appear together because so very often we can finish each other’s sentences. We’re on the same page when it comes to most of what we’re doing we’re not on the same page when it comes to human rights. We still have work to do in that area but the trends are good. The trends continue to be good when it comes to religious freedom, treatment of persons with disabilities, LGBT persons. The trends are good and I think those trends will continue in a positive direction.

Murray: Please, over here!

Question: Hi, I’m just being an undergraduate student at the other school international affairs. Based on President Obama’s recent trip to Vietnam, he remarked that the lifting of the arms embargo was not based on China but based on your experiences in Vietnam, how does the Vietnamese government and the people feel about China’s recent actions in the South China Sea? Thank you!

Ambassador Osius: Well the people of Vietnam are not happy with the actions that the Chinese are taking in the South China Sea. They see them belligerent, unilateral and disrespectful of international law and this is an area where we and Vietnam, where of user pretty damn close on respect for international law, on the importance of not using force. You’ll see in the joint statement commitment to non-militarization of the features in the South China Sea and I think there’s very little question that Chinese actions have pushed some of the southeast Asian nations closer to the United States. So it’s up to the Chinese to, you know, continue making a calculus about whether this, the actions that they’ve taken in the South China Sea are wise or in their long-term interest. That’s not a decision that we can make. It’s a decision that Chinese have to make. In my view, we shouldn’t make it easy for the Chinese to behave unilaterally and it with disregard for international law in the state of South China Sea.

Murray: Sorry, we haven’t really recognized people on this side. Linda!

Question: I’m Linda Yarra George, Washington University. Mr. Ambassador, would you kindly elaborate a little bit more on the U.S on the joint commission on nuclear cooperation. What will be its brief membership and what can we look forward to about it. Thank you!

Ambassador Osius: Thank you! You know I was asked this question yesterday and I should have done some research because I didn’t know the answer yesterday and I don’t know it today. I apologize for not going to make it up. What it was one of the achievements that was sort of at the last minute, we were able to come to agreement on this joint commission. I know that it was it was prompted by our determination, the determination of both sides to collaborate much more on civil nuclear energy but yesterday I was asked but whether it will have public members or members of the business community and I actually don’t know the answer and I apologize. It is…There is a fact sheet that’s on the White House website that will explain its makeup and I have not yet read that fact sheet. My fault, I should have but it’s an indication of how serious we are about developing that collaboration. President the Prime Minister talked about civil nuclear cooperation and I think the President and President Quang also talked about civil nuclear cooperation. President Obama wrote a letter before the visit to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister was able to answer when they met the…what the answer the question that the President had raised in that letter so I see we have a very good dialogue and it’ll only be a better dialogue with the established this commission and I wish I knew that was made up and I don’t. Sorry!

Murray: Alright see, Jackie!

Question: My name is Jackie Chanel and I’m with war legacies project. I’m particularly working in Laos and what effects Vietnam also often affects Laos as well as Cambodia as did the Vietnam War. My question is in relationship to what Elizabeth was talking about the post-war consequences are still being lived with in all three of those countries and I think you’ve made some very good moves in Vietnam recently with the cleanups but the Ho Chi Minh trails ran also through Laos and Vietnam and Cambodia and that was heavily sprayed as well as bombed. I haven’t seen any action by the U.S government on that yet and I’m wondering if somehow with your influence in Vietnam, you could persuade our government to do a little bit more to help the victims inside Laos who are experiencing very similar problems with diseases congenital diseases so give me… give me your ideas, please!

Ambassador Osius: Well I’m not the Ambassador Laos but what I would say is the President’s going to Laos in September so stay tuned. There will…there will…There’s been no hesitancy on the part of this President to face our past squarely and I don’t see any reason that would be suddenly in the next couple of months a reversal of that approach. He has been very direct about facing the consequences of our past in Indochina and I would expect the same during this trip to Laos.

Murray: Question over here!

Question: Hello, Mr. Ambassador. My name is[unclear] CSIS intern with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and I’m also Vietnam citizen as well so my question is so recently our secretary Carter visited India and he said that Indian and the United States was joint…have a joint… patrolling Southeast Asia but then after that India said no we’re not going to do it and then at the same time, China is doing the same thing similarly trying to get to the same position by other countries from Africa to Eastern Europe supporting deposition in South China Sea. So as we can see this further internationalization of this conflict so if you can talk a little bit on the downside of this and what the United States can do to help Vietnam walk on this further dedicated line between Vietnam-China, Vietnam-the United States and how to reintegrate ASEAN in this particular conflict. Thank you!

Ambassador Osius:  Well Vietnam has a challenge which is how do you balance relations with the great powers. Vietnam has a very powerful nation on its northern border with which it wants to have the best relations possible and we’re very respectful of that. India has an interest in keeping the peace on the seeds whether it’s the Indian Ocean or Further East. It’s…it’s an India’s interest and I like it. Like in many nations, Navy’s tend to be kind of more forward-looking, more outward looking than other parts of military and so the Indian Navy has shown an interest in greater collaboration with us. When that, you know, how that will be implemented, I would defer to the our Ambassador to India now but what I would say is that when it comes to Southeast Asia and it comes to dealing with the challenges in the South China Sea. What’s really good for us is to have strong respectful and powerful partnerships and India’s one and Indonesia’s another and Vietnam is at third. These are partnerships where it’s in our interest that our partners have the capability to know what’s happening in their waters, have the best possible capacity to be able to deal with the challenge and that we look at the diplomatic aspects of the challenge in similar ways. We have had a lot of discussions with Vietnam about how to maintain a united ASEAN and how to maintain an ASEAN that focuses in a constructive way on this issue and, you know, chata test will come when the arbitral tribunal finally releases its decision on the case of the Philippines sent to the Hague and it would be best if ASEAN was to respond in a unified fashion to that decision and that is certainly what Vietnam would like to see, it’s what we’d like to see but in the end it will be up to the ASEAN members how they react but that is a very important part of the strategy it can’t be just a security strategy, it can’t be just a legal strategy, it also needs to be very strong diplomatic strategy and in my view that must have ASEAN at its center. So the President hosted members of ASEAN at Sunnylands this spring. He’s about to make his 11th trip to the region for on his presidency. When he goes to Laos, he has shown his commitment to strengthening ASEAN and strengthening our relations within ASEAN and I think that’s a good way to go if you want to have an effective diplomatic strategy.

Question (Murray): Mr. Ambassador, I’m going to jump in here and ask you a question that we got asked a lot during the President’s visit here at CSIS and one was: So now that the ban has been lifted…what Vietnam is going to buy? Do you have any hunches and because they did their ban partially lifted two years ago and not there’s some been some window shopping but not a lot of hard buying. Secondly, what the heck is going to happen at Cam Ranh Bay. There’s a lot of speculation that the President was going to get some agreement to have basing rights and we all know that’s a bit far-fetched but what do you think is the possibility in Cam Ranh Bay? Thanks.

Ambassador Osius: First on what Vietnam is going to buy, I would imagine that the first items that Vietnam should will seek from us will be those that will help it in the realm of maritime security so we received a couple of letters of request from the Vietnamese military, there may be more coming they’re not going to suddenly come rushing in, there’s not going to be a sudden turn so all we want to go buy out the store. It’s not going to happen. This will be slow and deliberate and the Vietnamese, I’m certain, we’ll make their decisions based on what they what they consider from a strategic standpoint to be their best of the best options that they can choose and it won’t be sudden, it won’t be any…anybody who thinks that that there will certainly be an outpouring of spending is wrong. It’s going to take a while and our systems for procurement are complicated. The Vietnamese are still learning how those systems work. We’ve had two defense industry symposia in Vietnam, the first one we hosted the second we co-hosted with Ministry of National Defense so the process of learning is going on; and there’s interest in co-production as we put in the joint vision statement that secretary Carter and his then counterpart issued, I think last June, and so I think they’re going to be…there is going to be a systematic approach to weapons procurement and it’s going to be a slow, patient, step-by-step approach and so we ought to be patient and work step by step through that. On Cam Ranh Bay, there’s been a lot of fulminating in the press about Cam Ranh Bay and some of the formulating has absolutely no basis in reality and some of the articles I looked at. Have you had to wonder, you know, what planet are our people living on? We respect the announced policy of “three Nos” that’s no basing, no alliances, no use of our territory to go after somebody else. The deputy secretary Blinken when he went to Vietnam just before the President put it said in his speech. We do not seek bases in Vietnam, we don’t want bases in Vietnam. Maybe it will be helpful if I were clear about what there is in Cam Ranh Bay. There are a couple of different facilities there. There’s one…that’s an international port. It’s a fee for service facility. Anybody can use that facility, I think it to this point there were only been to countries that have taken advantage of Singapore and Japan who brought their ships in. It’s a place where you can have your ships are fueled, they can be repaired. It’s fee for service and I would expect that we will take advantage of that facility if the terms are good for, you know, the cost is right, we can get the services that we want when that…when that facility is more ready than it is right now. There’s the second facility which is a restricted naval base and there is zero expectation that we would have access to that restricted Naval Base. Zero expectation that we would have a rotating presence in Cam Ranh Bay or a base in Cam Ranh Bay. Zero! And so I think that’s to put the sum of the fulminating to rest because it’s not based in reality.

Murray: A question there, ma’am!

Question: Good afternoon! My name is Jasmine Shie and in May 2014, because of the anti-China activities, a lot of people who own factory in Taiwan had to be rescued because they’re lumped into the whole anti-china activity and personally I think that Taiwan should be a really good alley to Vietnam for trades and for border security if you will and to maybe secure or defense against China. Because it is a very interesting that relationship over there, I would just say that what is your view on, what is the U.S is planned to support China and Taiwan especially with a new President there in relationship with Vietnam because it’s actually very critical growing relationship, you know, and then of course I step into Cambodia but I know that’s not your…embassy though.

Ambassador Osius: Thank you! Though the riots that took place and the burning of vehicles and the burning of factories that took place occurred right after China placed an oil rig in Vietnam exclusive economic zone; and so they were the sort of spontaneous outbursts or anti-Chinese and they did not distinguish between Taiwanese-Chinese and mainland Chinese and they did distinguish between American companies and Chinese companies in any car that drove through with the American flag was untouched and so there was a there was an entire Chinese outpouring that was not contained and it’s actually one of the reasons I think that Vietnam became more receptive to this idea of independent Trade Unions because if you have trade unions that actually do collective bargaining and that deal with the concerns that workers have then when you have something unexpected that happens, you have leaders you can go to who can talk to the members of their trade unions and calm them down and say here’s how we will address your concerns or hear the limits that we have but you have empowered leaders that can help avoid violence so I would say the best thing to do is to implement the commitment, the labor commitments that were made under TPP if you want to avoid repeated something like that.

Murray: Phuong!

Question: This is Phuong, I’m from Group Asia. So on the topic of riots and protest, you must have been aware that on because of the fish kill in the central region of Vietnam, there have been street protests which are uncommon in Vietnam so did the US Embassy has any conversation with the Vietnamese government about this? And so what does the Vietnamese government had to say and also about just your opinion about the risk for U.S business?

Ambassador Osius: About what?

Question: The risk for U.S businesses operating in Vietnam, about this situation.

Ambassador Osius: Thanks! Well on the fish kill protests and what we did is pretty much right away. I offered technical assistance from the United States if the government of Vietnam wanted it for figuring out what had happened and what the source, what was the reason that so many fish had died along the central coast and that sort of immediate offer of assistance was not accepted but there has been some collaboration between American scientists and Vietnamese scientists on trying to sort out the causes of the fish kill. It just wasn’t as a result of our official offer. When it came to the protests, you know, it’s our…it’s our view that there’s nothing that peaceful protests are a good thing but we are not engaged in this issue in any way. We’re not…this is an internal issue to Vietnam. We can encourage the Vietnamese government to deal with protests in a certain way but it’s not our call in the end. It’s the decision, it will be decisions made by the Vietnamese government in the Vietnamese people about how to deal with protests when they occur. The law and Association and the future…In the future, the law and assembly will be the laws that determine, best determine how those challenges are dealt with in the future and we do have views on how those laws are written in formula will make our views known to the Vietnamese government on how we think it would be best for Vietnam to rewrite those laws. When it comes to risk, I mean, there’s no…there is nowhere in the world where you can invest in will be zero risk but when I think of …I’ve traveled around the country fair amount thanks to Alex and U.S ABC. I had a chance to travel around the United States a lot and talk to business leaders about their interests in Southeast Asia and, you know, when you look at a country that’s got a fast-growing economy, literate population, wages are lower than in some of the neighboring countries. It’s a member…it will be a member of TPP. That becomes a pretty attractive option for a lot of companies so I had…When we went around to those cities a lot… I have a lot of questions and I think it was really…Because Vietnam has made the courageous decision to join TPP and some of its neighbors had not made that greatest decision and it was a hard decision to make. There were the negotiations that were tough. There were some aspects of the agreement that were hard for the Vietnamese to take during the negotiations and will be hard to implement but I think they the Vietnam leaders made a really courageous decision when they decided to use TPP to propel their economy forward to encourage reform and encourage the continuation of reform. So again I’m an optimist but again I think the trends are very good and the opportunities for American businesses, I think in general, are quite good.

Murray: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much! It was gave us a lot of granularity on the President’s visit and thank you very much for interrupting your vacation to come talk to us. Really appreciated!

Ambassador Osius: Thank you!