Ambassador Kritenbrink Remarks: “U.S.-Vietnam Relationship, Looking Ahead to 2020”

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics (HCMA), Ho Chi Minh

President Thắng, distinguished faculty and students of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, good morning.

It is an honor to be here at the premier training institution for Vietnam’s leaders and strategic thinkers of the party and government.

Before I begin, on behalf of the U.S. Mission in Vietnam, I would like to express our sincere condolences of the passing of President Trần Đại Quang.

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. We honor his legacy and our sympathies go out to his family and the people of Vietnam.

I thank President Thắng for both his time and this remarkable opportunity.

I remember my first visit to the Academy, after I just arrived as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. President Thắng gave me a tour of the library and founders’ hall, right outside of this room. This institution holds historic value and trained past and current generations of Vietnam’s leaders. I knew immediately I wanted to return and speak with you all today.

I want to talk about our shared vision between the United States and Vietnam, looking ahead to 2020.

I welcome your thoughts. And I hope this dialogue builds more trust and mutual understanding between our two sides.

As I prepared this speech, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the recent passing of 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.

He, along with many other Americans and Vietnamese sought the path of peace and diplomacy to overcome our differences. It is upon their shoulders we stand today, and we owe these soldier-peacemakers our strongest commitment to further deepen U.S.-Vietnam relations.

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, which benefits 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 our two political systems. While differences remain in our political philosophies, we continue to build a constructive relationship and deepen cooperation.

In 1995, our two countries made a bold choice to begin a new journey together and over the past two decades, we have grown closer to advance shared interests.

In 2020, we will commemorate the 25th anniversary of normalized U.S.-Vietnam relations. I was present, in Washington, during General Secretary Trọng’s visit to the White House in 2015 and look forward to a year’s worth of events to honor 25 years of diplomatic ties.

As we look ahead, I believe our bilateral relationship is perhaps stronger than it has ever been.

From the historic visit of General Secretary Trọng to the back-to-back visits of President Obama and Trump in 2016 and 2017, our top leaders are engaging like never before.

When Secretary of State Pompeo traveled to Vietnam, 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.

Our mission statement, our fundamental goal, is for the United States to be a key 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.

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 to date. 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 nuclear and missile programs. We have helped Vietnam prepare for natural disasters, and supported Vietnam’s planned participation in its first-ever unit-sized 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 landmines and unexploded bombs, 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 nearly 30,000 Vietnamese students are studying in the United States. Earlier this month, we were pleased to welcome the first cohort of undergraduate students from Fulbright University Vietnam. A remarkable example of the hard work and commitment from both the Vietnamese and U.S. government.

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 right 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 health and the environment, are our goals for the relationship in the next several years. And I hope through hard work, flexibility, and mutual trust, we can make these goals a reality.

On the Indo-Pacific strategy, 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.

However the ADB 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 our Congress is currently considering the BUILD act, a bill that would double to $60 billion our government’s ability to provide guarantees to private-sector development financing.

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.

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.

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’s 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.

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