Former Vietnamese ambassador to the U.S. Pham Quang Vinh has said that relations between the two countries have “ripened” to a degree that they can be deepened for mutual benefit. “The past 10 years was the period of strongest and most substantial development of Vietnam and the U.S.’s relations in all fields,” said Vinh, who assumed office as Vietnam ambassador to Washington in November 2014, more than a year after the countries upgraded ties to a Comprehensive Partnership.
Although Vietnam and the U.S. normalized relations in 1995, they did not have a suitable framework to reach cooperation agreements until they became comprehensive partners. Since ties were upgraded, the two countries have increasingly shown interest in political cooperation, Vinh said, pointing to regular high-level visits from both sides, including by President Barack Obama in 2016, President Donald Trump in 2019, and General Party Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in July 2015.
Vinh said Trong’s visit was the first by a Vietnam’s Communist Party chief to the U.S., and thus it carried the most significant symbolic meaning of the respect for each other’s political systems. Washington had some hesitations at the time, and U.S. leaders were unsure of whether Obama and Trong should meet because Trong was the Party chief but not head of state. “But then the countries agreed that they were both political system leaders and could meet,” Vinh said.
The two leaders agreed to leave the past behind, look forward to the future and respect each other’s political system, he said, adding that they even issued a declaration envisioning the two countries expanding their relationship further in the future. Bilateral economic ties have also been fostered, Vinh said. Trade turnover between the two countries has surged from around US$23 billion a decade ago to $123 billion.
As President Trump pursued “American First” policies, Vietnam also took measures to secure its position in the U.S. trade circle, guaranteeing benefits for both the U.S. and itself. Like many other countries, Vietnam signed the Trade & Investment Framework Agreements with the U.S., buying more liquefied gas and aircraft from the U.S., and initiating large projects with the U.S., to show that it did not aim for the U.S. to suffer a trade deficit in the two countries’ relations, said the former ambassador, who served until the end of June 2018.
Defense cooperation has also grown strongly, with visits by U.S. aircraft carriers to Vietnam, and dioxin clearance projects at former U.S. airbases at Da Nang and Bien Hoa airports. The recovery of the remains of U.S. soldiers missing in action has also been a substantial cooperation project. And U.S. has even assisted Vietnam in identifying the remains of its own martyrs.
As Vietnam and the U.S. have been preparing for the first Vietnam visit by President Joe Biden next week, Vinh said the two countries’ relations have continued to grow stronger. He said both sides shared a respect for peace, stability and order based on international law, including in the East Sea, known internationally as the South China Sea.
Both countries want to boost regional cooperation in dealing with unconventional security challenges, he said. “Climate change, pandemics, water security and rising sea levels are among the priority matters for both the U.S. and Vietnam.” During their phone talk on March 29, Trong and Biden also agreed to expand cooperation between the two countries.
“We can see that the two sides have reached some ripening in the foundation for relation development and also want to work on raising it to a new level in the coming time, especially as they mark 10 years anniversary (of Comprehensive Partnership),” Vinh said.
He said Biden’s upcoming visit will deepen and set the course for the relations to grow further, consolidating cooperation in current fields, and opening up cooperation in new fields, especially in economy, commerce, and investment. “The visit will also help enhance mutual understanding and political trust, helping to boost bilateral and multilateral cooperation.”