US State Department Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken held a roundtable meeting in HCM City on Tuesday where he spoke with Viet Nam News about relations between the two nations.
Could you please tell us the purpose of your visit to Viet Nam?
I'm pleased to have begun this first trip to Southeast Asia here in Viet Nam and to help advance the Comprehensive Partnership that President Obama and President Sang agreed to in 2013. This, of course, is a particularly significant time to be in Viet Nam as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the normalisation of relations.
I've been fortunate now to spend two days here - first in Ha Noi yesterday and then today in HCM City. I've been deeply impressed with the energy, the talent, and the dynamism of Viet Nam's young people, especially as I've had the opportunity to engage with a number of them, as well as the focus and commitment of Viet Nam's leaders.
In Ha Noi, I met with senior government officials, and we talked about the very good work that we're doing together in building this partnership and we discussed the need and the desire that both of us share for a strong, independent and prosperous Viet Nam that respects the rule of law and human rights. And we spoke about deepening and broadening our ties in so many different areas — things that we weren't even talking about, much less doing together, just a few years ago.
Whether it's working together on regional security, military cooperation, trade and business relationships, human rights, dealing with climate change or combating disease, in so many areas, this partnership is growing deeper and stronger every day.
I also visited Hoa Lo Prison, a very stark reminder of our complex history. And I met with representatives of civil society in Ha Noi. Their stories demonstrated that the space for freedom of expression, a value that we share deeply, is growing and opening. And while real challenges remain, we hope to see greater access in the future, and it's very encouraging to know that, today, already, 22 million Vietnamese use Facebook, and even more, well over 30 million, are connected to the Internet.
We just met with a number of US business leaders, who've been working here in Viet Nam, some of them for more than a couple of decades. It was a great opportunity to hear about ways to grow our already significant economic and trade relationship. Of course we discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership and how the high standards it will set will benefit businesses and workers in Viet Nam, in the US, and in all the other countries.
Regarding the upcoming visit of Vietnamese General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, what does the US expect from this trip, and are there any specific results that Washington expects to achieve?
With regard to the visit of the General Secretary, I would say just a few things. First, we very much welcome it, and President Obama looks very much forward to receiving the General Secretary in Washington. This is a historic visit. It will be the first by a General Secretary to Washington and the US.
I think it will send a very powerful message to the world - a message that former adversaries, who fought a very difficult war that caused tremendous suffering, can become friends. That not only have we made peace, but now we're building a real partnership. The co-operation between us is broadening into more and more areas, and it's deepening.
I think that the visit can point to all of those things. And it also presents a shared vision for the future of our partnership. So that's what I would expect and hope from the visit, but I can tell you that we very much look forward to it.
Can you evaluate the relations between Viet Nam and the US after 20 years of normalisation of relations?
First, as I suggested earlier, one of the most powerful things is simply the story of the last 20 years, and the strong message that it sends to the world from moving from war and conflict to peace, but even more than that, building a partnership together. And that's a very powerful message.
I think we see evidence of that partnership in the extraordinary volume of high-level visits between the US and Viet Nam. This year, we've had some very senior members of the government and the Politburo visit the US. We have our Secretary of Defense coming here. In a short time, we'll have the Secretary of State, and then of course, as we discussed, very significantly, we'll have the Vietnamese General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam in Washington.
If you look at so many of the different measures of the relationship, they show the extraordinary growth of the relationship over the last 20 years. Two-way trade is now more than U$$35 billion a year. We have 17,000 Vietnamese students studying in the US, and based on what I've seen here today, many more who hope to do so.
Even as we are working together on these bilateral issues, increasingly, we are seeing opportunities to work together in the region, and even beyond the region. So, for example, we've been doing very good work together on everything from demining to fighting disease, to dealing with the challenges of climate change, cooperating on building up Viet Nam's capacity to engage in peacekeeping. And these are all areas of cooperation and partnership which will not only benefit each of our countries, but have the potential for many other countries in the region and beyond as we bring what we're doing together, and what we've learned together, to the benefit of others.
So I think what you're seeing is a relationship that's become a partnership bilaterally between us, and that as we look to the future we'll be working together even more in the region, and, in fact, around the world.
One of the things that was really gratifying to me was to look at some of the opinions of the Vietnamese people. Based on some of the surveys that have been done, 85 per cent of Vietnamese people under the age of 30 have a positive view of the US. That's a very powerful statistic. I think it underscores that people in both our countries want this partnership, and they want to see it grow and strengthen and that's exactly what our governments have been working on today.
Regarding East Sea tensions, how would the issues be addressed in the Shangri-La Dialogue? Could you tell us about the US plan for patrolling in the East Sea, especially in areas being built up by China?
I think the Shangri-La Dialogue will be an important moment and an important meeting to address some of these concerns, and we'll be represented by our Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter. Again, I would anticipate that the concerns that we're hearing from so many of our partners and friends in the region will be very much on the agenda.
One of the concerns that we have, and that is shared by others, is the potential militarisation of reclamation projects. And that would only add to the potential for instability and increase tensions in the region.
I come back to the declaration that was signed by China and ASEAN some years ago, that said that all of the countries involved would exercise self-restraint in the maritime domain, and that they would not take actions which would complicate or escalate disputes. Again, it is our concern that some of the actions taken by China do exactly that. They are not demonstrating self-restraint, and they are complicating, and potentially escalating, the existing disputes.
What we are doing, and what we'll do, is confer closely with our friends and partners, and particularly within the context of ASEAN, to look at how we can deal with these challenges together.
Again, I think that the most important things would be, with regards to the reclamation projects, for China to stop all of these actions, indeed for all claimants to stop the reclamation activities, and then to work together and to agree together to resolve differences in this area.
An effective vehicle would be an agreement on a Code of Conduct. That would be a very good way forward. And I think that there will be increased energy in trying to bring that to conclusion. — VNS