On the Future of U.S.-Vietnam Relations

May 23, 2016
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting “Vietnam Silicon Valley” to meet with Vietnamese innovators and entrepreneurs. [State Department Photo]

President Obama is currently in Hanoi at the beginning of a trip to Vietnam and Japan that will underscore the vibrancy and strength of our growing strategic, economic, and diplomatic ties with the region.

Today, the United States and Vietnam are deepening and broadening our engagement in areas that we couldn’t even talk about, much less do together, a decade ago. Regional security. Military cooperation. Trade and business. Human rights. Education. Climate change. Global health. Energy security. Disaster response. Peacekeeping.

The rising pace, strength, and reach of our cooperation is not about forgetting our history. It’s about learning from it.

When President Obama came into office seven years ago, he made it clear that he would not let the conflicts and animosities of the past dictate our future. He believes that no two nations are fated to be adversaries, and our purposeful, principled diplomacy could open new avenues for engagement. That is exactly what has happened.

Last month, at Vietnam National University, I had the opportunity to speak to a rising generation of bright, curious young scholars about what it takes for any nation -- including Vietnam and the United States -- to unleash the talent of its people and give all its citizens the opportunity to pursue their aspirations and excel.

It takes an education system grounded in critical thinking and inspired by the free exchange of ideas. It takes a rules-based economic and trading architecture that is built on transparency and competition. It takes respect for the rights, freedom, and dignity of all people. And it takes a society invested in maintaining the peace and stability throughout the world.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Graphic. [USTR]

Today, that future feels closer than it’s ever been in part because of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The result of more than five years of negotiations among a dozen Pacific-rim countries, this historic partnership -- of which Vietnam is an original signatory -- will bring 40 percent of the global economy and nearly half of ASEAN together behind the highest labor, environment, and intellectual property protections in the world.

A vibrant culture of entrepreneurship is also almost unimaginable without a foundation of rights and freedoms upon which citizens feel able to pursue their ambitions, express their opinions, and bring their ideas to life.

In response to demands from the Vietnamese people, the government of Vietnam has taken positive and laudable steps, but work remains for the government to fulfill its commitments to bring its domestic laws into sync with international human rights obligations and with Vietnam’s own constitution.

Vietnam’s transformation -- like that of so many nations -- has been supported and even accelerated by an international, rules-based order dedicated to the progress of every nation.

The opportunities that this order provides — indeed the very prosperity and stability that our economies and societies enjoy -- confer upon each of us an obligation to uphold its principles, defend its norms, and ensure its standards are not diluted.

That’s why the United States and Vietnam are increasingly collaborating on a range of issues of global importance from international peacekeeping to wildlife trafficking to maritime security, from climate change to civil nuclear energy to global health.

Our vision for the future of the region is clear -- one where disputes are settled openly and in accordance with the rule of law, businesses excel, innovation thrives, and opportunities abound especially for young people.

We can imagine -- twenty years from now -- a partnership between Vietnam and the United States that is as self-evident as our common interests and values.

Deputy Secretary Blinken with US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius at the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City with students participating in a design competition, May 19, 2015. [State Department Photo]

Where there are not just 19,000 Vietnamese studying in the United States — but 90,000, or even more. Where our economies are interwoven and our cities directly connected. Where we work together to pioneer new solutions to age-old challenges like poverty and pandemics. And where we stand together to uphold peace and a well-established rules-based order.

About the Author: Antony "Tony" Blinken serves as Deputy Secretary of State.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared in the Department's Foggy Bottom Publication on Medium.com.

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