Remarks by Ambassador Ted Osius at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam Conference “70 Years of Vietnam’s Diplomacy: The Way Forward”

Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to attend this very important conference. I am gratified to be sitting here alongside my colleagues, with whom I share my enthusiasm for this event, and for the important issues it allows us to consider.

I have been asked to speak a little about the way forward, and how Vietnam is becoming a reliable partner and responsible member of the international community. Before I do that, I would like to take a step back, and give you my perspective on the last 20 years. As my Secretary of State has said, “no two countries have worked as hard to overcome the past and build a new future.” The process of moving on, healing and restoring our ties is not about forgetting, because if we forget, we cease to learn. While our two countries have suffered through a difficult history, we have also learned many hard and valuable lessons, including that we cannot dwell on the past. We understand that our relationship is not dictated by what was, but by what can be. Our two countries have reconciled, and that should give us all tremendous hope for the future.

What do we have to show for all of our efforts? Twenty years ago only 60,000 Americans were visiting Vietnam annually. Today nearly half a million do. Twenty years ago fewer than 800 Vietnamese students were studying in the United States. Today, 17,000 bright Vietnamese students 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 and on.

But here is what gives me the most hope, and this is why I am so pleased to speak today on this panel. The success of our bilateral relationship is now beginning to have an impact on the regional and international stage. We can now begin to contribute to regional and international peace, health and prosperity together. I’d like to focus on three examples of regional and international cooperation which I think demonstrate three key principles in Vietnamese diplomacy. I am sure there will be differing and additional points of view, and so I very much hope to hear from my colleagues and the audience, and I hope this spurs conversation.

Principle 1: International rules and norms are to be respected, and championed.

At first blush, it seems like a truism – that a country would uphold international law, rules and norms. But, unfortunately, recent developments around the world show that some countries still believe that they are not subjects of the existing international order, and that they have no responsibility to uphold it. So they defy the international community by illegally occupying disputed territory. They engage in terrible abuses of civilians in areas of conflict. Vietnam clearly sees the world differently: it sees a world where international law must be respected. More than that, it must be championed. Vietnam has joined ASEAN, the WTO, and has played a leadership role on the UN Security Council. Vietnam has joined the Proliferation Security Initiative to prevent nuclear proliferation. We are in the final stages of TPP negotiations, which will enshrine economic, environmental and labor norms into the most ambitious trade agreement the world has ever known. Within ASEAN, Vietnam is seen as a defender of basic rules of peaceful resolution of disputes and adherence to international law in resolving tensions in the South China Sea.

Now, some will point out that the United States and Vietnam still disagree about some areas of human rights, and it is true that there is still much to be done. But, we are both signatories to the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Vietnam recently ratified two important UN conventions—the UN Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. We look forward to Vietnam’s full implementation of these commitments and stand ready to assist if requested. And we are already working together on shared priorities even in this area. Last year, we saw Vietnam join with the United States and others on an important Human Rights Council resolution on LGBT and gender-based violence.

I am determined that we can make even greater improvements on human rights cooperation. In the Joint Statement that arose from General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s historic visit to the United States in July, our countries pledged continued support for the promotion and protection of human rights and for the maintenance of positive, frank, and constructive dialogue on human rights. And we welcome Vietnam’s ongoing efforts to harmonize its laws with its 2013 Constitution and international commitments, which Vietnam undertakes for its comprehensive development, including the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Indeed, there is much we agree on and I am optimistic about the possibilities for future cooperation.

Principle 2: Vietnam’s national interests are affected by regional and international developments—therefore Vietnam must evaluate and consider the interests of others.

Vietnam recognizes that what happens beyond its borders matters a great deal to its own survival. Whether it’s the threat of global climate change, the spread of pandemic disease, the encroachment of transnational organized crime and terrorism, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, we live in a world where transnational issues directly affect stability and prosperity at home.

I can clearly see Vietnam’s desire to actively confront these threats. One example is Vietnam’s partnership in the President’s Global Health Security Agenda, which is designed to check the rise of epidemic disease. Disease does not recognize man-made borders. And so 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.

Another example is Vietnam’s decision to join the Proliferation Security Initiative in 2014. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a concern for every responsible member of the international community. Today, more than 100 partners in every region of the world are committed to stopping WMD trafficking, dismantling their delivery systems and preventing the spread of related materials to and from actors of concern. Committing to close international cooperation, the PSI is a testament to what is possible when nations come together to confront a shared challenge and move toward a safer, more peaceful world. I applaud Vietnam’s decision to join, and we are looking forward to even deeper cooperation on countering the danger of WMD proliferation in the future.

Principle 3: Regional and international peace and stability require proactive contributions from all nations.

The final principle I have observed in Vietnamese diplomacy is that regional and international peace and stability requires proactive contributions from all nations. We live in an increasingly complicated and multipolar world, where different issues require different actors. And while the United States will always seek to be a constructive partner and leader in building and maintaining peace and stability, every country has a responsibility and a role to play. 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 proactive efforts in this regard, especially as it seeks a peaceful solution to SCS tensions in line with international law.

Similarly, Vietnam’s decision to participate in UN Global Peacekeeping efforts is a landmark moment, and demonstrates that Vietnam is ready and willing to play its part in the international order. We have already been cooperating to build Vietnam’s PKO capacity for the past few years, and I was delighted to see our two countries sign an MOU on peacekeeping to do even more together. The agreement will accelerate cooperation in training, technical assistance, equipment and infrastructure support – all in an effort to assist Vietnam in deploying forces to UN peacekeeping missions in the near future. For a country that experienced so much conflict and war over the past 100 years, it gives me great confidence and optimism that Vietnam is becoming a net contributor to global peace.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that Vietnam will play an increasingly important role in regional and international diplomacy in the coming century, For Vietnam, the way ahead is clear; successful global integration, increasing prosperity for its citizens, and a more responsible role in promoting peace and stability for this region and beyond. A strong, prosperous and independent Vietnam that respects human rights and the rule of law will be more confident, more active, and more influential in helping the international community solve our greatest challenges. Thank you.