Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: “Building a Strong U.S.-Vietnam Partnership in an Uncertain World”

Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam (DAV), Hanoi

Vice President Bình, distinguished guests of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, friends of the U.S.-Vietnam partnership, good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me here today. It is wonderful to be back!

It seems like it was just yesterday when I had the privilege to address many of you in September.

Knowing the good folks at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), I trust those of you who went to Ninh Binh had a successful workshop and returned with ideas for how to advance the strategic interests inherent in our shared vision.

My speech today is titled, “Building a Strong U.S.-Vietnam Partnership in an Uncertain World.” My focus will be to explain how our shared relationship fits within broader U.S. engagement in the region.

However, before I begin, on behalf of the U.S. Mission in Vietnam, I would like to express our sincere condolences on the passing of President Trần Đại Quang, General Secretary Đỗ Mười.

President Quang was a friend of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. His hosting of President Trump’s historic state visit to Hanoi in November 2017 helped advance the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership to new heights.

Moreover, we honor the legacy of Đỗ Mười. He oversaw the normalization of bilateral relations between our two countries, leading to the deep partnership and friendship that our two nations enjoy today. We send our sympathies to their families, loved ones, and the people of Vietnam.

I am also reminded of the sacrifice of our great friend, the late Senator John McCain.

His own life was emblematic of much of the history of U.S.-Vietnam relations—from conflict and tragedy to trust-building and reconciliation—and finally, to friendship.

When we pay tribute to these leaders, I am reminded of something that my dear friend and predecessor, Ambassador Pete Peterson, once told me:

Many people look at the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and call our progress a miracle! This is false. While what we continue to accomplish is nothing short of amazing, it is not by accident.

Everything we have achieved has been built on the painstaking work of those who came before.

And so while we reflect on the pioneers of this great relationship, we must honor the foundation that they have laid by committing ourselves to achieving new milestones once thought unthinkable.

Our bilateral relationship is stronger than it has ever been. In every field, our two countries are working together for our mutual benefit – the definition of a comprehensive partnership. If my Vietnamese friends describe our relationship as one with strategic substance, I certainly agree.

Our nations share a remarkable history: after years of war and hardship, together we have forged a Comprehensive Partnership that covers every aspect of the relationship, from defense, to trade, to health, to people-to-people ties – all of which benefit our two countries and the entire Indo-Pacific region.

As President Trump said during his November 2017 State visit to Hanoi, “We have achieved a deep friendship and partnership, bound by mutual respect and common experience.”

This includes an understanding of, and mutual respect for, our two political systems. While differences remain in our political philosophies, we continue to build a constructive relationship and deepen cooperation.

We are invested in Vietnam’s future.

Our mission statement, our fundamental goal, is for the United States to be a vital partner in supporting the development of a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam that contributes to international security, engages in free, fair, and reciprocal trade, and respects human rights and the rule of law.

I believe whole-heartedly that your government shares these same goals, though we do have very real – and sometimes spirited – differences of opinion on how best to achieve these objectives.

Candor and trust allow our relationship to move forward unabated.

Candor, meaning that, when we disagree with actions of the Vietnamese government, we will express ourselves from a position of a friend that wants to see the relationship reach its fullest potential.

And Trust, meaning that you can count on the United States. Our capabilities have never been greater.

Our commitment to Vietnam and to this region has never been stronger.

When we say we will do something, we mean it.

Our continued commitment to addressing the legacies of war is a testament to this as well.

When Secretary of State Pompeo traveled to Vietnam last July, he said such success was a “true testament to our nations’ common interests, our mutual respect, and bold resolve, despite great difficulties, to overcome the past and look forward to the future.”

The United States continues to believe that Asia – the Indo-Pacific – is a vitally important region that will, to a large extent, shape America’s security and prosperity for the coming century.

In this context, our partnership with Vietnam is absolutely critical.

I would like to share with you a vision for how we can work together.

Security Cooperation: The United States intends to promote regional peace and stability in part by enhancing Vietnam’s capacity to cooperate on a broad range of security and law enforcement activities. We have recently passed the $100 million mark in our bilateral security cooperation. We look forward to advancing our security cooperation in accordance with our agreed-to three-year plan of action. We will continue expanding cooperation on shared security interests, including upholding international law and resisting coercion in the South China Sea, and preventing North Korea from threatening the region through its illicit nuclear weapons program. We have helped Vietnam prepare for natural disasters, and supported Vietnams participation in its first-ever peacekeeping deployment.

Humanitarian and War Legacy Issues: This area is critical because it is the foundation for the broader relationship. It is the result of a mutual commitment to reconciliation based on two principles: being honest about the past and looking toward the future. And today, we remain firmly committed to addressing war legacies issues. We are proud of our work together to clean up dioxin in Danang, and we look forward to supporting your efforts in Bien Hoa. We are also continuing our close cooperation to account for our missing personnel, to remove unexploded ordnance, and to assist Vietnamese with support to people with disabilities.

Trade: Bilateral trade and investment increases every year. Despite being one of America’s fastest growing export markets, the United States continues to run a substantial and growing trade deficit with Vietnam. We are committed to achieving free, fair, and reciprocal trade and investment with Vietnam by reducing barriers to trade and advancing market-oriented reforms.

People-to-People: People-to-people ties strengthen the bonds between our nations on a personal and lasting basis. More than 120,000 Vietnamese visited the United States in 2016 as tourists, and over 27,000 Vietnamese students are currently studying in the United States. Earlier this month, we were pleased to welcome the first cohort of undergraduate students at Fulbright University Vietnam. This is a remarkable example of the hard work and commitment from both the U.S. and Vietnamese governments.

Human Rights and Rule of Law: The United States respects Vietnam’s system of government, but we will continue to speak out in defense of human rights and religious freedom. We raise these issues because we feel the most successful nations are those that promote and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. I know the U.S.-Vietnam partnership can achieve its full potential if Vietnamese workers and civil society can peacefully organize, freely express and exchange views in person and online, and participate in policy-making.

These priorities, along with efforts in the fields of public health, environmental protection, and energy security – meaning that we seek to assist Vietnam in ensuring you all have access to stable, diverse sources of energy that are also environmentally sustainable – are our goals for the relationship over the next several years. I am confident through hard work, flexibility, and mutual trust, we can make these goals a reality.

Now turning our approach to the region,

The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific region with strong, independent nations who respect each other’s sovereignty, uphold the rule-of-law, and advance responsible commerce.

The United States is committed to the economic well-being of the region. To achieve thriving economic growth, we must adhere to global norms that allow for an equitable playing field and encourage prosperity for all.

Annually, the United States conducts $1.4 trillion in two-way trade with the Indo-Pacific region, and over the past decade, foreign direct investment by American companies has doubled to almost $940 billion.

As part of our Indo-Pacific Strategy, Secretary Pompeo recently announced $113 million in new projects to develop greater digital connectivity, enhance strategic energy infrastructure, and make the U.S. more efficient in meeting the infrastructure needs of the region. This is just the start.

However, the Asia Development Bank estimates that developing countries in this region will need $26 billion in new infrastructure investment by 2030. No country can meet this need through government-directed spending. Only the private sector has these kinds of resources.

That’s why President Trump signed the BUILD act earlier this month, a law that will retool and expand the U.S. government’s approach to development finance. It will more than double existing portfolio capacity to $60 billion and enable the newly established U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to offer more support for private-sector investment in developing countries.

Our intent is to provide strong alternatives to state-directed initiatives that limit sovereignty of countries.

In additional to economic growth goals, we must also address the security threats we face together. Our security cooperation and engagement continues to expand; in August Secretary Pompeo announced an additional $300 million in security cooperation funding for this region.

Lastly, I want to touch on an issue that weighs heavily on the minds of many of you strategic thinkers:

What is the U.S. Policy toward China?

As Vice President Pence articulated earlier this month, we have taken decisive action to respond to China with American leadership, applying the principles of fairness, reciprocity, and respect for sovereignty.

In the “National Security Strategy” that President Trump released last December, he described a new era of “great power competition.”

However, competition does not mean hostility. As President Trump has made clear, we want a constructive relationship with Beijing, where our prosperity and security grow together, not apart.

As we respond to China’s unfair trade practices, we will continue to demand an economic relationship with China that is free, fair, and reciprocal, insist that Beijing break down its trade barriers, fulfill its trade obligations, and fully open its economy, just as we have opened ours.

I would like to emphasize that this is not containment. We want a productive, cooperative, and results-oriented relationship with Beijing. We do not want conflict. However, we will be clear and candid about areas of Chinese behavior that directly challenges the rules-based international order, or compromises the interests of the United States and our like-minded partners.

As the President said last year during his visit to China, “we have an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between our two countries and improve the lives of our citizens.” That remains our goal, but no one should doubt America’s resolve to stand up for our vital interests and those of our partners.

And so in closing I would like to re-emphasize a few points.

Regarding the U.S.-Vietnam partnership, I’m quite optimistic about our shared future together – particularly when you think about how far we’ve come already.

We realize that, whenever there are challenges, it is fundamental that we face them head on, in a spirit of both candor and mutual respect.

The history of our two nations reveals the possibilities for peace and progress in our world. Moving forward as partners, we will achieve great prosperity and success for the American people and for the Vietnamese people.

Finally, I want to underscore that, as Secretary Pompeo said, “Where America goes, we seek partnership, not dominion.” We want to work bilaterally and multilaterally, in particular through ASEAN, with countries throughout this region to ensure a peaceful, stable region in which countries follow a rules-based order, have open access to air and sea lanes, and in which disputes are resolved without coercion.

Again, we are invested in Vietnam’s success. We are intend to work with you all to taking our partnership to new heights in the years ahead.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to our discussion.