About the Author: Robert D. Hormats serves as Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs.
A short visit in Hanoi followed my travel to the Bo'ao Forum in China. While in Hanoi, I had bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Khiem and my counterparts in the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Investment and Planning. Our relationship with Vietnam is a pillar of our presence in Asia, and we encourage Vietnam to continue on the path of economic reform. We don't agree on everything. Obviously in areas such as human rights and labor practices, we don't see eye to eye. But we want to work out our disagreements in a constructive manner. We also want to collaborate with Vietnam in strengthening our relations with ASEAN, of which Vietnam is a key member and chairs this year. As part of our re-energized Asia policy, we see ties with Vietnam as vital to a robust economic, political and defense role in the region. During my meetings, I thanked the Vietnamese government for their recent decision to sign several contracts involving U.S. firms that will expand trade between our two countries and create jobs back here in the United States.
A highlight of my visit to Hanoi was a speech I gave to about 300 students at the Foreign Trade University. I spoke about the importance of cooperation and expanding trade and economic ties in our overall bilateral relationship. The students were engaging and asked some insightful questions that make me confident that the future of Vietnam is in good hands.
All told, a strong American focus on Asia is of enormous geopolitical importance to the United States and vital to our future prosperity. Throughout the region trade agreements are being reached -- including most recently a Chinese-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. We are beginning work on a Trans Pacific Partnership -- which will be of major importance -- but stepped up American engagement is critical across the board. Most Asians think we have been sitting on the sidelines for too long and are still uncertain about the level of our commitment or our staying power in light of domestic financial problems, a large federal debt burden and negative public sentiment toward new trade agreements. So we have two jobs ahead. The first is to demonstrate to America that greater engagement with Asia is in our national economic, political and security interest. The second is to demonstrate to Asians that we will re-energize our economic leadership commitment in the region, working with other major economies -- and that we will listen carefully to Asian views as we shape our new policies and the emerging global economic architecture in which these countries are playing a greater role, and for which we want them to assume greater responsibility in such areas as financial policies and support for open trade and investment rules.