Remarks by Ambassador Ted Osius at Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

Photo of Ambassador Ted Osius speaking
Ambassador Ted Osius delivers remarks at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, at the conference in honor of the 70th anniversary of Independence of Vietnam.

Chào tất cả các bạn. Xin chúc mừng Quốc khánh lần thứ 70 của Việt Nam. Tôi rất ấn tượng về lễ diễu binh – diễu hành hôm qua tại Quảng trường Ba Đình. Tôi hân hạnh có được cơ hội này để chia sẻ suy nghĩ của mình với các bạn về tương lai quan hệ Việt Nam-Hoa Kỳ. Tôi muốn cảm ơn lãnh đạo Học viện đã cho tôi cơ hội để nói chuyện với các bạn hôm nay. Tôi đặc biệt cảm ơn Phó Giám đốc Học viện Nguyễn Tất Giáp đã cùng tôi chủ trì sự kiện này. Cuối cùng, tôi muốn cảm ơn các cán bộ xuất sắc của Vụ Hợp tác Quốc tế đã cùng phối hợp tổ chức một cơ hội tuyệt vời như vậy.

First, I would like to emphasize that I view this event as a conversation among friends. General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to Washington in July showed the world that our two countries are friends, that we respect each other’s systems, and that we are moving forward in a positive direction.

This was not easy, or inevitable. But, over the past 20 years, we have demonstrated to the entire world what it means to overcome a painful past and forge a new future. We have learned many hard and valuable lessons. And as friends we know that when we treat each other with respect, we can meet any challenge. So, we must continue to talk to each other with respect, not only on where our interests overlap, but where we still have differences.

Respecting each other’s political systems doesn’t mean we agree on everything. But it does mean we will approach every issue with any eye to how we can find common ground. As Secretary of State John Kerry – a long-time friend to Vietnam – emphasized during his visit to Hanoi last month, “the United States recognizes that only the Vietnamese people can determine their political system. And we speak with some humility on these matters, because as you can read and see, we are working hard to perfect our own system.” Through hard work, strategic vision and the inspiration of many individuals in government and in the private sector, we have come to realize that what unites us far outweighs that which divides us.

So, what unites us?

Twenty years ago, fewer than 800 Vietnamese students were studying in the United States. Today, over 17,000 bright students from your country fill the halls of our schools and universities.

Twenty years ago, bilateral trade amounted to $450 million. Today, it has grown to more than $36 billion.

The list goes on.

This year Vietnam’s leaders defined our task as transforming our partnership from bilateral cooperation to regional and global collaboration. We can begin to see the success of that effort. Such an endeavor is only possible because of the vision of Vietnam’s leaders, who chose to pursue a farsighted strategy of comprehensive international integration. Since 2013, this strategy has enabled Vietnam to play an ever larger role in the region and globally. This strategy recognizes that Vietnam’s future depends on being a proactive and productive member of an international order that champions peaceful and legal means over the arbitrary use of coercion and military might to resolve territorial disputes such as in the East Sea. An order that encourages multilateral cooperation over unilateral action to solve complex global threats that do not recognize man made borders, such as climate change and epidemic disease. An order that enshrines trade rules that promise to unleash a wave of prosperity and innovation that will benefit the globe, such as the Transpacific Partnership. Finally, Vietnam has shown that it wants to be a member of an international order that values the rule of law as the necessary foundation for a just and equitable society.

Vietnam recognizes that what happens beyond its borders matters a great deal to its own survival and that we live in a world where transnational issues directly affect stability and prosperity at home. Today I will touch on five areas where our partnership has moved beyond bilateral to regional and global collaboration, and discuss Vietnam’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law at home. These five areas are:

  1. stopping the spread of pandemic disease;
  2. building a stronger ASEAN;
  3. halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction;
  4. International peacekeeping; and
  5. Trans-Pacific Trade.

First, Vietnam is a leader in the Global Health Security Agenda, designed to check the spread of epidemic disease. Vietnam’s partnership demonstrates a recognition that countries need to work together through a comprehensive and sustainable plan to safeguard the well-being of our citizens. So I was very pleased that General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong signed an MOU during his visit to Washington to build capacity to prevent and respond to the spread of epidemic disease. Confronting this challenge will require close cooperation and a multilateral effort.

Second, Vietnam is already playing a proactive role within ASEAN to strengthen that institution’s ability to promote preventative diplomacy, and to build confidence within the region. The United States supports Vietnam’s strong efforts in this regard, especially as it seeks a peaceful solution to East Sea tensions in line with international law.

Third, Vietnam’s decision to join the Proliferation Security Initiative in 2014 demonstrates its desire to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a concern for every responsible member of the international community. Today, more than 100 nations have committed to stopping trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, dismantling their delivery systems and preventing the spread of related materials to and from actors of concern.

Fourth, after serving ably as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Vietnam has become a partner in UN Peacekeeping. Last year, it began contributing to UN peacekeeping operations, with plans to send engineering, medical, and other specialized units in the near future. Together with a number of other countries the United States is helping personnel from Vietnam to be able to prepare for those specialized kinds of deployments.

Fifth, in the area of trade, Vietnam is demonstrating its desire to continue its economic integration. Twelve nations are negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that represents nearly 40 percent of global economic output. When we complete the TPP, we will have built an unprecedented regional platform on which to support innovation and create jobs, enhance the environment, improve working conditions, and strengthen commercial ties from Hanoi and Tokyo to Santiago and Washington D.C. It’s no wonder that surveys show strong support for this landmark agreement in both our countries. More trade with higher standards – including the right to form independent labor unions – is a critical milestone on the path to a shared and sustainable future. The U.S. and other partners will support Vietnam’s work to implement its TPP commitments.

The breadth of Vietnam’s international commitments is impressive. Even more impressive are the significant efforts Vietnam is undertaking to reform its own legal system to implement these international commitments and to conform its laws to the 2013 Constitution.

Vietnam has already ratified seven major international human rights treaties and instruments, including recentlythe UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Since 2013, your government has been harmonizing Vietnam’s civil code, penal code, and criminal procedure code with your new Constitution. Together, these international and domestic commitments guarantee your citizens fundamental rights and freedoms. The United States and other partners are ready to support Vietnam’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law.

Throughout the world—but especially in Asia, we see that countries with high levels of economic and social development prioritized having strong and independent judiciaries. For example, in recent years South Korea’s independent Constitutional Court has struck down laws restricting the freedom of assembly and citizens’ right to vote. Rather than causing political instability, these decisions have increased the Korean people’s trust in their court system and their government. When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in Hanoi last month she met with senior officials from the Supreme People’s Court. They discussed the new structure of Vietnam’s judiciary and how the 2013 Constitution requires the courts to protect the principles of human rights, the rule of law, and judicial independence. We support these goals because we all know that an independent and empowered judiciary that protects the rights of its citizens increases the people’s confidence in their government.

Vietnam’s entry into TPP will help you achieve your own goals of greater transparency and more open governance across a range of issues, from competition to customs to government procurement. The National Assembly will also consider laws that bring Vietnam in line with International Labor Organization provisions on the establishment of trade unions. These commitments will promote greater transparency, participation, and accountability in the development of a strong regulatory environment. Of equal importance is the draft Law on Religions and Beliefs scheduled to be submitted to the National Assembly. While it is still a work in progress, the draft law is an important opportunity for Vietnam to demonstrate it wants to foster a law-based society that also allows individuals and groups to freely profess the faith of one’s choice.

When I met with President Tạ Ngọc Tấn in May, we agreed that U.S. collaboration with the Hồ Chí Minh Academy demonstrated the extraordinary nature of our reconciliation over the past 20 years. I have seen firsthand the progress made between our countries. With every high-level visit and exchange I see a foundation of trust that becomes more stable and upon which we can build a stronger relationship. And I recognize the important role the Academy has played in this relationship as it trains the next generation of Vietnam’s leaders.

We have sent Vietnamese government and Party officials to participate in courses at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, which provides substantive training on non-traditional security threats. We want to host even more promising Vietnamese leaders at APCSS and other educational institutions.

We hope to help prepare Vietnamese officials to manage climate change and health security threats. The United States Agency for International Development’s Vietnam Forests and Deltas Program is supporting development of a curriculum and training program at the Academy focused on climate change. This support entails development of a climate change textbook, a training manual and workbook, and training of trainers. We have begun discussing assistance to support the Academy’s role in preparing officials for health security threats, just as we have done previously in health policy areas such as HIV/AIDS.

This cooperation ensures that the next generation of Vietnamese leaders will remain aware of the impacts of climate change and provide leadership at the global level, just as Vietnam is expecting to do at UN climate change talks in Paris later this year.

In the area of politics, the Academy hosted U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman for a candid discussion on TPP; Ambassador Thomas Shannon, Counselor of the State Department; Ambassador Nina Hachigian, U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN; and a group of 17 one-star generals from our National Defense University who constitute our next generation of military leaders. These exchanges provided vital channels to enhance trust and understanding between our two countries.

In that spirit of trust and understanding, I am happy to announce that we will conclude this 20th anniversary year with a joint conference with the Ho Chi Minh Academy in December. I hope that this event will contribute to jointly charting the path before us. And I can think of no better institution to highlight the future than your Academy.

Một lần nữa cảm ơn các bạn đã giành thời gian lắng nghe tôi hôm nay. Tôi xin chúc các bạn không gì khác hơn là thành công và hạnh phúc. Bây giờ tôi rất vui mừng được trả lời các câu hỏi của các bạn.