VietnamNet’s Webchat with Ambassador Ted Osius

Photo of Ambassador Ted Osius talking
Ambassador Ted Osius at VietNamNet Office

VietnamNet: Good morning, VietnamNet readers! Welcome to the roundtable discussion with the new U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Mr. Ted Osius. We have received a lot of questions from readers for Mr. Ambassador.

Ambassador Ted Osius: Thank you, VietnamNet. I am very honored to join this roundtable discussion. I will try to answer in Vietnamese. If that gets too difficult, I will ask a friend who can help, but I will try to speak Vietnamese. Thank you very much!

VietnamNet: You arrived in Vietnam to assume office at a quite special time, i.e. the Christmas holiday and you have experienced the holiday with your family in Vietnam. Could you share with VietnamNet readers about this holiday?

Ambassador Ted Osius: First of all, to me and my family, celebrating the Christmas holiday here is very enjoyable. Here, there are almost all members of my family: my mother – Mrs. Nancy, my spouse – Clayton and our son – Tabo, my elder sister – May, my younger sister – Lucy, and my nephew – Sam have all arrived in Hanoi. We are happy to celebrate the Christmas holiday here. One day before the holiday, 50 children arrived at our residence to celebrate the holiday with us. They sang very well and we were happy and honored to celebrate the Christmas holiday with them.

VietnamNet: I guess you experienced many Christmas holidays in Vietnam almost two decades ago when you were one of the first U.S. diplomats to come to Vietnam. Through your observation, is there any difference between the Christmas holiday nearly 20 years ago and now?

Ambassador Ted Osius: Many things have changed! This is the second time I have celebrated the Christmas holiday in Hanoi. This is the first time my family has come to Vietnam (for Christmas). My mother and sisters came to Vietnam before and visited Hanoi. This time, my whole family all agreed that there have been a lot of changes here. At present, Hanoi is different in comparison with the past. Hanoi is very modern; it’s more prosperous and bigger, with many areas. In comparison with the past, the inner area now has a lot of high-rise buildings. There is a new airport with modern airplanes. But the Hoan Kiem Lake remains unchanged. When visiting the Hoan Kiem Lake (aka Guom Lake), we were happy because it remains undamaged.

VietnamNet: Many readers would like you to share your most unforgettable memory during your three-year assignment in Vietnam?

Ambassador Ted Osius: First of all, I have a special love for Vietnam, and to explain why I have to turn toward the land and people of Vietnam. In my opinion, when I was in Vietnam in the past and also currently, Vietnamese people are always very hospitable. In the past, when in Vietnam, I visited a lot of places where local people were very hospitable to me and my family and I still have many friends from that time. I have visited different places such as Ha Long Bay, Thai Nguyen, Sapa, and many other places in the North, the Central, the South, and the Mekong delta. The landscapes are beautiful; the food is good, and the people are hospitable!

VietnamNet: Vietnamese people feel pleased when they watch your clip on Youtube, especially your pictures 20 years ago when you were a young diplomat cycling along Vietnam. At that time, what was the driving force for you to decide to carry out such a long trans-Vietnam cycling? And what impressions did you have from that cycling when you traveled along Vietnam from cities to rural areas?

Ambassador Ted Osius: The truth is I had three trips. The first one was very long. One of my friends loves cycling a lot and we decided to go to Vietnam to cycle instead of other places. We knew that Vietnam is a great country for cycling. We saw a very beautiful Vietnam. Wherever we arrived people were very hospitable and food was very good. We cycled from the North to the South and I will never forget the trip with so many good memories.

The second trip occurred when another group went to Vietnam, including some disabled people and many war veterans from both countries cycled from the North to the South. When the group arrived in Vung Tau, Mr. John Kerry, the then-U.S. Senator, and Mr. Pete Peterson, the then-first U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, and I arrived in Vung Tau to join the group and we cycled together to Ho Chi Minh City. I was happy because a lot of people welcomed the group. I was very happy and honored to cycle with Mr. John Kerry and Mr. Peterson to Ho Chi Minh City.

For the third trip, I cycled from Danang to Vientiane, Laos through Road No. 9. We cycled through underdeveloped mountainous areas where the landscapes were beautiful. I will never forget them. When cycling in Vietnam, we talked to local people, exchanged ideas and had meals together. Vietnamese friends are always hospitable to us.

VietnamNet: I remember that at your hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you told moving stories about your trans-Vietnam cycling. Regarding this trip, reader Ngo Xuan Trinh, 26, asked: “I know that during your trans-Vietnam tour, you arrived at an old demilitarized zone and met a woman who told you that ‘we are now brothers and sisters.” What do you think of this brother-sister relationship from the woman’s words in the context of the current U.S.-Vietnam relations?

Ambassador Ted Osius: In my opinion, when she said we are now brothers and sisters, she was truthful. The unforgettable reason is because earlier I thought maybe a lot of people did not like Americans, but it turned out that it was not true. Many Vietnamese people are hospitable, friendly. When she said we are brothers and sisters, I thought Vietnamese is very special. In the special relationship like a family we are always brothers and sisters, not I and You. In a family, there is always a special relationship, and between Americans and Vietnamese there is a very special relationship like a family.

VietnamNet: That’s also the reason why many people were impressed with your first images when you arrived at the airport; that’s the image of a warm family. Maybe you have been in Vietnam and Asia for quite a long time, I am sure you are well aware of family and family values are special ones in the culture of Vietnamese people?

Ambassador Ted Osius: My family is a three-generation one: my mother, me and my spouse, and my son. I think it’s an American value and it’s also a Vietnamese one. Last night, we celebrated the Christmas holiday with a very special Vietnamese family. They are a four-generation family: grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren. The four-generation family members meet one another every week, on every important holiday, and they return to their native village to see one another. It’s Vietnam’s very important value. In my opinion, we share this value: the values of family, ancestors, grandparents, parents are important to Vietnamese people, and also important to Americans, including my family.

VietnamNet: Vietnamese people are very interested in you probably because you have such special attachment to Vietnam. Returning to the moment when you first heard that you may be appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, how did you feel personally?

Ambassador Ted Osius: The fact that President Obama appointed me to be the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is a dream come true when I return to Vietnam at a time when we are going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-Vietnam friendship relations. An opportunity that I had thought would not come true, especially when I was assigned to a country that I have a deep love for. I love this country very much and I love the opportunity to promote a closer relationship between the two countries.

VietnamNet: Many readers have asked you a question: Each ambassador has left their own stamps during their assignment. Which stamps are you planning to set on your own in the next three years in Vietnam?

Ambassador Ted Osius: A very important thing is that I want to contribute to promoting many fields in the U.S.-Vietnam relations. I hope, in the future, we will have an independent and effective Fulbright University, a direct flight between the two countries, the TPP, and a long-term relationship between the two countries. I hope I will contribute to promoting the comprehensive and long-term partnership between the two countries. It’s my dream.

VietnamNet: Your answer probably relates to many readers’ question that at your swearing-in ceremony to become the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, you said “I will support Vietnam – the country of the children of two winged creatures: the dragon from the sea and the fairy from the mountains – to fly further and higher.” Readers want to ask what specific measures should be taken to realize your ideas, to help Vietnam fly further and higher.

Ambassador Ted Osius: As John Kerry said, the United States supports a Vietnam that is strong, prosperous, and independent, and that respects human rights and the rule of law. I think the way we can continue together as partners to support each other is by deepening our comprehensive partnership. There are at least five ways that we can deepen our comprehensive partnership:

The first is the economic and commercial fields. I want to promote closer ties between the two countries in these field, and we have a very important tool in the TPP agreement. I am very optimistic about the TPP and I think TPP will help Vietnam succeed and grow faster. As I said, a direct flight route between the two countries is also a way of promoting the important relationship between the two countries.

My second priority is to support Vietnam in strengthening the effectiveness of state governance, i.e. transparency, respect for the law and human rights. TPP also contributes to transparency and several other fields in which ideas can be exchanged between the two countries regarding state governance. We will exchange ideas in a very respectful and straightforward manner. I will always talk straight and respect the leadership of Vietnam.

The third priority is to promote a closer security relationship. Particularly, further strengthening in the fields of navigation and maritime security. We have started to develop relations between the coast guard forces of the two countries.

The fourth priority is to promote education, as I said That is, to build the Fulbright University. Previously, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP) in Ho Chi Minh City was very effective, contributing to the economic development of Vietnam. In the future, I hope the Fulbright University will contribute to Vietnam’s educational development. I (also) think when more students study abroad, they will learn a lot about that country. It is very important to help us understand each other better. For example, when you go to Georgetown University, you understand the United States better than before, and I think the exchange of students is very good for the long-term relationship.

The fifth priority is to promote scientific, health, andenvironmental cooperation, especially climate change. The two countries have had a lot of cooperation (in this area) and I would like to further (such) cooperation.

VietnamNet: Regarding your priority in education, you were in Asia and Vietnam for a long time; you may have known that the belief of the Vietnamese people is education can change the destiny of a people, even the destiny of a nation. Now, a lot of Vietnamese families believe that education is the important path to prosperity, not just for the individual, but for the whole country. We have over 16 thousand Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., making Vietnam one of the top countries in the number of students in the U.S. However, not all Vietnamese students have access to advanced education in the United States. What will you tell to the families that are very hungry for having their children access U.S.’s advanced education of high quality?

Ambassador Ted Osius: There are several scholarship programs, such as Fulbright, but I agree that it is not sufficient. That’s why it is important for Vietnam’s education system to gain more progress. The United States wants to contribute to this process. USAID has many supportive programs, focusing on primary, secondary and higher education. When we have a Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City, this would serve as a bridge to connect with many universities in Vietnam. For example, there is a famous University located in Can Tho; certainly, the Fulbright University will have exchanges with Can Tho University and with the University of Hanoi. In addition, there will be more exchanges between U.S. and Vietnamese students and teachers. I believe that is how we achieve more progress in the educational field.

VietnamNet: I believe that if your five priorities are realized, certainly, it will make Vietnam-U.S. relations closer and deeper as well as more effectively support the development process of Vietnam. Many readers have asked if Vietnam and the U.S. have any opportunities to become strategic partners during your term.

Ambassador Ted Osius: In my opinion, the partnership’s scope is more important than the partnership’s name. In my previous assignments, I contributed to promoting the comprehensive partnership between India and the U.S., and the comprehensive partnership between Indonesia and the U.S. I have gained experience via such work, so I think it is most important to have a respectful partnership. If we have a respectful partnership with depth and breadth in various areas, that is a beneficial partnership for both sides. The U.S. view is that when we have several such partners in this region, it would be very good for Asia and the whole world as well.

VietnamNet: This is Nguyen Hong Ha’s question: What core interests does the United States have in Vietnam and the Southeast Asia and what are the U.S.’s interests in the East Sea?

Ambassador Ted Osius: There are two very important aspects (to this issue) in the East Sea. The first is freedom of navigation and aviation in Southeast Asia and, historically, the United States promotes freedom of navigation and aviation. The second is how to solve the problem. The United States supports a peaceful settlement, with respect for international law. The United States does not support the use of force or intimidation to resolve a problem.

VietnamNet: Thank you the Ambassador. Reader Nguyen Trong Nghia asked: can you please tell if America has national spirit? How do American people show that spirit to contribute to the United States? Is the spirit of Vietnam through the observation of the Ambassador different from the one of the American people? If there is a difference, is it a driving force for the development of the two countries?

Ambassador Ted Osius: In my opinion, the American people are very patriotic. I have the flag of the United States here and most of the American people love the country and respect the flag. In my opinion, the people of Vietnam are also very patriotic and respect the flag of their country. The difference lies in the history. Historically, the United States had two big revolutions to cope with threats. Vietnam also had a lot of big revolutions to fight against menace. Historically, Vietnam has undergone many wars, and understanding Vietnam history is very important. To understand Vietnam, it is necessary to be well-informed about the culture, the history, and the value of the people of Vietnam. Back to the question regarding economic development, my point is that patriotism is the driving force to economic development. The notion that patriotism has helped the Vietnamese people develop the economy faster is laudable and the entire world can respect that.

VietnamNet: As what the Ambassador shared, I understand that, if there are proper ways, the patriotism and nationalism themselves will become strengths for a country which is on its path of development.

Reader Thao Griffiths ask questions: In 2015, we will celebrate 20 years of normalization of diplomatic relations between the two sides, what are the focal activities to celebrate the event? We also wish You a wonderful and memorable term in Vietnam. Hopefully one day we’ll be cycling with You.

Ambassador Ted Osius: I also hope to have opportunities to ride a bicycle to speak to local people, exchange ideas, and enjoy food and beautiful scenery of Vietnam. Back to the question just now, I hope we will have many achievements in the cooperation between the two countries. That is the way to celebrate a very important relationship in the world. An important achievement which is not unilateral, but bilateral. Next year, we’re aiming at the 20th anniversary of normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations; we should focus to be able to work together effectively.

VietnamNet: The Vietnamese public is looking forward to a time when the two countries celebrate 20 years of normalization of relations. President Obama may visit Vietnam. Vietnam has welcomed President Bill Clinton and President George Bush. People were impressed by the warm welcome that each visit received from the Vietnamese public. A reader asked why recently U.S. Presidents made visits to Vietnam towards the end of their terms? Hhas this made any impact on promoting bilateral relations?

Ambassador Ted Osius: First of all, I joined President Bill Clinton’s visit. I remember a lot of people were out on the street to talk to Clinton. I have never forgotten this visit – a great visit for both countries. I did not have an opportunity to participate in President Bush’s trip to Vietnam, but I hope President Obama will have a chance to come here. I think it will be very suitable if President Obama is able to visit Vietnam during the 20th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. I think if President Obama has a chance to come over here, you will see that President Obama is very respectful to the Vietnamese people, Vietnamese leaders, and the culture and history of Vietnam. He has highly respected Vietnam and appreciated the relations between the two countries. President Obama has signed and promoted comprehensive partnership relations between the two countries and he’d love the relationship between the two countries to be closer.

VietnamNet: One of the important steps in recent years is the U.S.’s partial lifting of a ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam. Reader Nguyen Van Nhung asked that, according to the Ambassador, when will the U.S. completely lift the ban on weapons sale to Vietnam?

Ambassador Ted Osius: In the future, I hope so, but it depends on the choice of the Vietnamese Government. If Vietnam has more progress in human rights and security areas, I am quite optimistic. Compared to a time when I was here, Vietnam has made lots of progress in many areas, especially in human rights. I hope in the future, Vietnam will have much further progress.

VietnamNet: Reader Tran Van Mai asked: Dear Mr. Ted Osius, I like Mr. Pete Peterson, the first U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. After the two countries normalized relations, especially after Mr. Pete Peterson arrived in Vietnam for a few weeks, he came to Hai Duong to meet and talk to the farmer and the guerrilla who arrested him when his plane was shot down. Two people were incredibly friendly as they had never been enemies and rivals. What do you think of Vietnamese farmers? In addition to political duties, have you made any plans for Vietnam’s rural areas and farmers? My hometown is in the Central of Vietnam, the area which used to be seriously affected by the war, it is still very poor, will you visit my hometown by invitation?

Ambassador Ted Osius: First of all, I would like to say Ambassador Pete Peterson was my boss and he was a great boss. Mr. Pete Peterson respected people and leaders of Vietnam. I highly respect him. When I worked for him in the past, I enjoyed and had never forgotten that he was my friend. Mr. Pete Peterson visited a lot of places and provinces in Vietnam, and I also plan to visit many places and provinces in Vietnam. I would like to follow the path of Mr. Pete Peterson when he was here.

To help Vietnamese farmers, in my view, we should promote free trade relations. If there is a freer trade relationship, it can help the market to be more open and transparent, and it also helps Vietnamese farmers when they want to export agricultural products. I think we will have a lot of progress in this area while I serve as Ambassador.

VietnamNet: The Vietnamese public does look forwards to this. Many readers expect that you will have opportunities to visit their home country. Many readers put questions saying that they greatly admire you as you are an Ambassador who have disclosed your sexual orientation and has been supported by the world community. Welcome to Vietnam! Coming to work in Vietnam, have you thought of making contributions to promoting the acceptance of gay-marriage or the rights of the LGBT community in Vietnam? And please share your secrets to maintain a happy family?

Ambassador Ted Osius: I think there are two very important things in life. One is love and being loved. Two is live meaningfully. In my opinion, they are two important things for everyone, whether he is homosexual or not. My advice for homosexual people is live with honesty and dedication. I think when we live honestly and wholeheartedly, we will have a happy life.

VietnamNet: Thank you Ambassador Ted Osius for your advices to the LGBT community in Vietnam. Many readers have submitted questions related to the procedures for visa issuance to the United States, but we think that information on visa grants has been published on the website of the U.S. Embassy; readers who have any questions regarding this can access the Embassy’s website to find out more information.

Here, we have picked out a case so that the Ambassador can speak to the readers because they earnestly want to know the Ambassador’s opinion. Reader Boa Chua: Hello Ambassador. As far as I know, the United States is a very humane and civilized country. May I ask the Ambassador for help in this special case? My father suffered an accident while he was on the way to work in Honolulu, Hawaii on the night of August 21, 2014 and he has been comatose. My brother, sister and I all have profiles for settlement. However, when we applied for tourist visas to visit my father, I failed while my brother and sister-in-law were granted visas. I intend to apply for a tourist visa for the second time in Vietnam. I have property, income, and a good job, my husband has been granted a visa to the U.S., and we have a three year old son. I have no reason to remain in the United States illegally. I very much look forward to receiving the Ambassador’s advice and support.

Ambassador Ted Osius: Very complex. The choice for each visa depends on each case, and each case is different. It is difficult to address this in today’s chat. I can’t do it. I can’t give specific advice in this case, but we always try to resolve visa issues and ensure fairness.

VietnamNet: From my personal experience, I also have many friends who have filed visas to the U.S. Tthey were unsuccessful once or twice but then they submitted again, and finally they were successful. Perhaps the only advice for this case is be confident to apply for a visa again.

May I continue asking the Ambassador? You also know Vietnam’s lunar new year is coming, do you and your family have any special plans for the lunar new year in Vietnam?

Ambassador Ted Osius: I enjoyed the lunar new year in Vietnam. I know Vietnam’s traditions are: The 1st day of the lunar new year is Tet for Fathers, the 2nd day is Tet for Mothers, and the 3rd day is Tet for Teachers. Previously, I taught English to a group of students and they presented a gift to me on the 3rd day of the lunar new year. I loved this occasion! I would love Chung (Green square) cake because it is very tasty and has a very important symbol. I’ve heard the story about the Hung King who called all the 18 princes to take part in a contest among 18 of them. One of them chose Chung cake whose ingredients include rice, green beans and pork. The stuff is wrapped in banana leaves symbolizing relations among people-Sun-land. It is very smart to choose such a special dish. When celebrating Tet, people enjoy and offer Chung cakes as gifts to show his reverence of grandparents, parents, and ancestors. I appreciate the lunar new year and respect the traditional food and the tradition to respect the ancestors.

VietnamNet: We have one last question for the Ambassador. The Vietnamese public is interested in every step of yours, from when you were nominated as Ambassador to your hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the inauguration in Washington DC. They also enjoy watching the video clips published before your arrival in Vietnam. What do you think of this special care given to you by the Vietnamese public?

Ambassador Ted Osius: I am honored and pleased to be here. I would like to say the most important thing is that I very much respect Vietnam. I very much respect the history, the culture, and the hospitable people of Vietnam. I think the people of Vietnam highly appreciate Vietnam-U.S. relations and have great expectations of this relationship. I will try to promote effective comprehensive partnership for both countries. For sure, I will love to be here because I have chances to talk to a lot of the Vietnamese people, exchange ideas, and enjoy Vietnamese food and visit many places. I am very happy to be here, and I am honored to work as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam.

Thank you very much, the Ambassador! I believe that with the return of an old friend who has been deeply sticking with Vietnam as Mr. Ted Osius – U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, the relations between the two countries will have more opportunities to further develop in the future. VietNamNet readers would like to wish the Ambassador to have a term of great success in Vietnam as well as your partner and your family to have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery and delicious food in Vietnam.