Assistant Secretary Stilwell Remarks For 25th Anniversary Of Diplomatic Relations

Xin chào các ban!  Xin chào, Vietnam!  It’s an honor to be here today.  I would particularly like to thank Vice Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn and the people of Vietnam for this very warm welcome and the hospitality that you have shown to me on this visit.  I am extremely honored to be here, and I am thrilled that next year we will mark a major milestone on our journey as we celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations.

To arrive at this landmark moment, we first had to face the legacies of war and their impact on our people.  We have moved so far beyond that now.  Today, our nations are trusted partners with a friendship anchored in mutual respect.  This process wasn’t easy.  It didn’t just happen.  It is the result of hard work and the vision of many people on both sides who believed in the possibility of peace.  These people were firmly committed to the belief that both the United States and Vietnam could work together in learning from and putting aside the past, even as we honor it.

In 1995, our two countries made a bold decision to chart a new course together along a path toward the robust and constructive relationship that we enjoy today.  The fruits of the tireless dedication that went into nurturing our friendship are apparent everywhere I look in here in Vietnam.

Let me cite just a few figures that illustrate this point.  Recently, our governments reached a ground-breaking milestone in signing a land handover memorandum to initiate dioxin remediation at Bien Hoa Airbase.  Last year, in conjunction with the Vietnamese Government, we were able to successfully remediate approximately 90,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil at Danang Airport.  As a result, over 30 hectares of airport land has been made safe for use in ongoing airport expansion.

Efforts like these highlight our countries’ shared vision to be honest about the past, deal responsibly with remaining legacy issues, and turn a point of contention into one of collaboration.  Working together to resolve issues of the past builds strategic trust, and enables us to further strengthen our forward-looking partnership that advances shared interests and strong people-to-people ties.

Our rapidly growing trade relationship and the investment of American companies in Vietnam has intertwined our economic success.  U.S. businesses are investing more and more capital in Vietnam while Vietnamese producers are sending more of their goods to enthusiastic American consumers.  Twenty-five years ago, our bilateral trade in goods was only $450 million; today, we share $60 billion in bilateral trade.

Our people-to-people ties have formed the bedrock of our increasingly vital relationship.  In 1995, fewer than 60,000 Americans visited Vietnam each year.  Today, nearly 700,000 Americans travel to Vietnam annually.

In 1995, there were fewer than 800 Vietnamese studying at universities in the United States.  Today, approximately 30,000 young Vietnamese are pursuing studies at all levels all across the United States.  In Southeast Asia, no country sends more students to the United States than Vietnam.  Vietnamese students currently constitute the 6th largest group of international students enrolled in American universities.

The world-class education that Vietnamese students receive at American institutions is bolstering Vietnam’s competitiveness and contributing immensely to Vietnam’s thriving economy.

Not only that, Vietnemese students now have the opportunity to get a U.S.-quality education right here in Vietnam.  Fulbright University Vietnam is the first independent, not-for-profit, U.S.-affiliated university in Vietnam.  In 2019, Fulbright University Vietnam broke ground on its permanent campus, celebrated the graduation of its first cohort of Master’s in Public Policy students, gained U.S. accreditation for this Master’s program, and welcomed 113 talented freshman students to the inaugural year of its undergraduate program.

Building on the Framework Agreement signed in 2016 between our two countries, we look forward to the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arriving in Vietnam in mid-2021.  After undergoing three months of comprehensive cross-cultural, language and technical training, the first class of Peace Corps Volunteers will teach English at secondary schools within districts of Hanoi.

Peace Corps Volunteers will greatly contribute to Vietnam’s English language learning goals, a crucial skill for any globally connected economy.  They will also learn Vietnamese culture and language and share knowledge about the United States and strengthen their connections with their students and host communities. The success of Peace Corps is built on people-to-people ties at the grassroots.  I have no doubt that the partnership between the Ministry of Education and Training and the Peace Corps will serve to promote mutual understanding between Americans and Vietnamese citizens, while further strengthening our bilateral partnership as we look to the future.

We have also built trust between our two militaries.  We have lifted the arms embargo, and the USS CARL VINSON was welcomed to Danang – the first U.S. aircraft carrier to visit the country since the end of the War.  This cooperation contributes to a free and open Indo-Pacific characterized by respect for the sovereignty and independence of all nations, regardless of size, and cooperation and respect for rules, not by hegemony and might-makes-right.

The health of our bilateral relationship can also be measured by the frequent exchange of our leaders.  There is no doubt, the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship is enjoying a rising tide, advanced by five Presidential or Prime Ministerial visits in the span of just four years.  You need look no further than the Hanoi Summit in February, President Trump’s second visit to Vietnam, for proof of that fact.  In fact, President Trump’s visit to Hanoi and Danang in November 2017 was his very first visit to Southeast Asia as President.

Prime Minister Phuc was the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House in May 2017.  And in May, Secretary Pompeo welcomed Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in Washington.

That we are standing here today celebrating 25 years of normalized relations is proof that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  We have the ability to overcome resentment, distrust, and bitterness and replace them with trust, respect, and cooperation.  The United States and Vietnam have again proven that former adversaries can become trusted partners.  And as much as that achievement matters to us, it is also a profound and timely lesson to the rest of the world.

The time has come to look ahead, and to understand that our friendship is no longer shaped by what was.  Rather, it is shaped by what can be and our shared future together, rooted in mutual respect and cooperation.

Today, we are working hand-in-hand to address a range of challenges in the Mekong region, ASEAN, and the Indo-Pacific writ large — including regional security, wildlife and drug trafficking, and transnational crime.

We are eager to support Vietnam as it assumes positions of global leadership next year, from joining the United Nations Security Council for a two-year non-permanent term to chairing ASEAN during a pivotal time in the organization’s history.

I think of a new generation of Vietnamese who are ready to make their marks on the world.  And, I want to say to all the young people listening: In your dynamism, talent, drive, and aspiration – Vietnam has everything it needs to thrive and succeed.  Your destiny is in your hands.  This is your moment.  And, as you pursue the future that you want, I want you to know that the United States will be right there with you as your partner and as your friend. We stand unwaveringly committed to supporting a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam.

As we celebrate a quarter century of partnership in 2020, let us renew our commitment to work together to ensure a bright future full of peace and prosperity for the American and Vietnamese people.  Our future is linked.  Your success is our success.  Your prosperity is our prosperity. Because we know: As trusted partners, we prosper together!

And now I’m very pleased to share with you a very special message from Secretary Pompeo.

Thank you and congratulations!