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Twenty years of US-Vietnam relations in retrospect

Party General Secretary of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong hosted a reception in Hanoi on July 2 for former US President Bill Clinton

It took twenty years for Washington and Hanoi to normalize diplomatic relations in a historic announcement on July 11, 1995 by the then US President Bill Clinton. Another twenty years have lapsed with both sides making great strides to nurture and achieve a comprehensive partnership that promises much further.

From normalized diplomatic relations…
As soon as diplomatic relations were formally established, the liaison offices opened in January 1995 were upgraded to embassy status in August. As bilateral ties grew, consulate general offices were also inaugurated in Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco.

Since then, US-Vietnam cooperative ties have been growing strong with a series of bilateral summits. President George W. Bush was the second US President to visit Vietnam in November 2006, followed by the US visits by Vietnamese State President Nguyen Minh Triet in June 2007, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung in June 2008 and President Truong Tan Sang in 2013. Each of these visits marked a higher level in bilateral ties between Hanoi and Washington. But the momentum has become particularly strong since 2014 with a large number of meetings and visits at all levels, notably the summit meetings between US President Barack Obama with Vietnamese State President Sang and Prime Minister Dzung on the sidelines of 2014 APEC and EAS. Among more than a dozen visits by US Congress leaders to Vietnam last year were those of US Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy, Senator Benjamin Cardin, Senator John McCain and Senator Bob Corker, reciprocated by US visits by Vietnamese leaders including Hanoi’s Party chief Pham Quang Nghi, deputy premier Vu Van Ninh, and deputy premier cum foreign minister Pham Binh Minh, among others. Hosts of ministerial and working level visits were exchanged in the framework of eleven dialogue mechanisms that established cooperation and progress in all fields including politics, economy and trade, security and defence, democracy, human rights and labour between the two countries.

When he was in Vietnam in 2013, Secretary Kerry stated: “no two countries have worked harder, done more, and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history and change the future”. And Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh further added that “no two countries have worked harder” to fix their relationship than Vietnam and the United States on October 1, 2014 in US.

… to Comprehensive Partnership
Another cornerstone in US-Vietnam relations came on July 25, 2013 when US President Barack Obama and Vietnamese State President Truong Tan Sang jointly announced US-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. In a joint statement, both sides “agreed to work more closely to counter terrorism; enhance maritime law enforcement cooperation; combat transnational crime including piracy, and narcotics, human and wildlife trafficking; and address high-tech crime and cyber security”.

Both have travelled a long journey to this stage. Earlier, the historic US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) was signed on July 13, 2000 and took effect on December 10, 2001. In 2003, the two countries signed Counter Narcotics Letter of Agreement (amended in 2006), Civil Aviation Agreement, and Textile Agreement. In January 2007, the US Congress approved to extend the Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to Vietnam, replacing the Jackson-Vanik regulations that guided trade relations with Vietnam since 1974. PNTR for Vietnam marked the full normalization of the bilateral relationship. As of October 2008, the U.S. and Vietnam started to hold annual political-security-military dialogue and policy-planning talks to consult on regional security and strategic issues. Bilateral engagements continued to expand at international forum of ASEAN, East Asia,Pacific Asia and the United Nations, especially when Vietnam for the first time assumed the UNSC chairmanship for a month in 2008.

Tangible results …
Since entry into force of BTA in 2001, economic and trade progress has been the bright spot in bilateral ties. As the leading economic partner and export market for Vietnamese products, the US is also the seventh biggest investor in Vietnam with over 700 projects and combined value of nearly US$10.7 billion, not to mention indirect investments via third countries. Two-way trade revenue in 2014 was estimated at US$ 36 billion, of which US$28 billion was Vietnam’s export to the US, a 19% increase from the previous year. Surging trend of trade and investment has been a vivid evidence of the expanding ties and also increased the demand for further connections between the two countries. The signing of Bilateral Air Transport Agreement in December 2003 and Bilateral Maritime Agreement in March 2007 have further opened up Vietnam to the world. Direct flights between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco started in December 2004.The national carrier Vietnam Airlines has entered into code-share agreements with several U.S. carriers since 2001, while this Southeast Asian country opened its maritime transport and service industry to U.S. firms.

The signing of US-Vietnam 123 Agreement on October 10, 2013 opened huge opportunities for co-operation in civil nuclear energy and scientific research. The US side remains committed to remediation projects worth millions of US dollars to clean up Orange Agent/dioxin-contaminated soil and support the disabled victims in Vietnam.
Cooperation in defense, law enforcement and nonproliferation has seen steady progress. As a partner country of Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), Vietnam has received training assistance from the US through GPOI in its initial peacekeeping efforts. USNS Mercy hospital ship made its first port call in Nha Trang in June 2008 to provide charity medical and dental treatment to over 11,000 Vietnamese patients, following an earlier port call to Danang in 2007 by the humanitarian supply ship USS Peleliu also on charity medical mission. On several occasions, Vietnamese civilian and military officials were invited to make a tour aboard USS George Washington in international waters off the Vietnamese coast in a show of goodwill and friendship.

… To bighter future
The twentieth anniversary of US-Vietnam relations in 2015 is marked with a plethora of activities, with former President Bill Clinton’s fifth visit to Vietnam on 2 July and the historic visit by Vietnam’s top leader Nguyen Phu Trong, marking the first visit by a Vietnamese Party chief to Washington.

The visit is at the invitation of the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2012 when she came to Hanoi and met with Communist Party chief Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong. The symbolic of all these gestures was that Washington accepted the ideological differences with the Vietnamese regime and regarded Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party as a partner, and the leaders of Hanoi also endorsed this partnership.

After several up – heavens in the history, Communist Party leader Mr. Trong and other Vietnam’s leaders together with the U.S counterparts are paving the way to strengthen and bringing the U.S- Vietnam relationship to a higher level. The visit has shown an active – role Vietnam, a comprehensive counterpart of the U.S and a Vietnam’s striving for confidence building to better the relationship between the-used-to-be-enemy-countries.

US Ambassador Ted Osius had every reason to be optimistic when he addressed the media on future projection: Looking back on how far the two countries have progressed in the last twenty years, one can imagine how far the two will go in twenty years to come. He and many others also believe that this milestone anniversary urges both sides to move beyond bilateral realm to regional and global vision.

by K.B-Jenny



March 2018






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