Overcoming War Legacies: The Road to Reconciliation and Future Cooperation Between the United States and Vietnam

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Deputy Secretary Sullivan delivers remarks on U.S.-Vietnam relations at the U.S. Institute for Peace. (USIP photo)
Deputy Secretary Sullivan delivers remarks on U.S.-Vietnam relations at the U.S. Institute for Peace. (USIP photo)

Overcoming War Legacies: The Road to Reconciliation and Future Cooperation Between the United States and Vietnam

This week, I had the opportunity to discuss the U.S.-Vietnam relationship at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. Our two countries share a unique history, particularly the recent history. The gulf that the United States and Vietnam have bridged over the last two decades is nothing short of remarkable, and a testament to our common interests, mutual respect, and bold resolve to overcome a very difficult past and look toward the future.

This subject is also personal to me. My uncle, a career Foreign Service Officer for 32 years, focused a lot of his attention on Southeast Asia. He served as a Political Officer and later the Deputy Chief of Mission at our embassy in Saigon before serving as our Ambassador to Laos from 1964 to 1969. When he returned to Washington, he served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the East Asia Bureau, eventually working to establish the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council in 1989 -- an early vehicle for establishing momentum ultimately leading to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 1995.

Over the last two decades, the development of our relationship has been extraordinary -- our bilateral trade has grown to a level that would have been unthinkable to the foreign minister and my uncle in 1988. Trade and goods between the United States and Vietnam in the last two decades has increased by 8,000 percent. In the last decade alone, U.S. exports to Vietnam have increased by over 300 percent and American companies have invested billions in Vietnam to our mutual benefit. And of course, the growth between our two countries encompasses a great deal more than trade and investment. Politically, our engagement with Vietnam continues to reach new heights—just last month, President Trump made his second visit to Hanoi in less than two years, this for his second summit with Kim Jong Un.

Both President Trump’s and Secretary Pompeo’s engagements with Vietnam are emblematic of the tremendous progress we’ve achieved since normalizing our diplomatic relations 24 years ago. We’ve moved past conflict and division toward a flourishing partnership that spans political, security, economic and people-to-people ties.

Today, Vietnam is an increasingly close friend and partner of the United States. We share a range of strategic issues and a common desire to promote peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. We work side-by-side to tackle some of the world’s most pressing security challenges, from the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea to peacefully resolving tensions in the South China Sea. Our defense cooperation has grown significantly.

Our people-to-people ties are stronger than ever. In the past two decades, American tourists to Vietnam has increased from fewer than 60,00 to over half a million. Furthermore, the number of Vietnamese students in the United States — has jumped from fewer than 800 to over 31,000, putting Vietnam in the top five countries in the entire world sending students to the United States — a remarkable and quite wonderful achievement.

None of this would be possible, of course, without work to build a foundation of trust to expand our relationship. The humanitarian mission to identify and bring home American soldiers Missing in Action was instrumental to establishing this trust and remains our sacred and solemn duty. We will not rest until we have achieved the fullest possible accounting of those missing from the war, and we will continue to work hand-in-hand to remove unexploded ordnance and clean up dioxin in Vietnam, which has been a priority of this administration.

The United States views the Indo-Pacific as vital to our interest in ensuring global peace, stability and prosperity. Southeast Asia and Vietnam in particular has emerged as a central partner in these endeavors. We look forward to working with Vietnam to build a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region and reach new milestones in the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.

About the Author: John J. Sullivan serves as the Deputy Secretary of State.