|US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday visits Ngoc Hien District in southern Ca Mau Province, where he served on a naval gunboat during the American War. — VNA/VNS Photo Kim Ha
HCM CITY (VNS) — Viet Nam has the potential to become the largest trading partner of the United States in Southeast Asia, visiting Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday in Ho Chi Minh City.
In a meeting with the Vietnamese business community during his four-day (December 14-17) visit, Kerry praised the strides made in US-Viet Nam relations, noting that bilateral trade has grown steadily from US$55,000 in 1995 to the current $25 billion.
He said the dynamism of business communities in both countries have contributed to strengthening bilateral ties.
The two sides are on the right track to bring trade links to a higher level, he said, adding that the US has provided initial funding of $4.2 million to its agencies to work on programmes for building a strategic partnership between the two countries.
Viet Nam has demonstrated sustained growth that will enable it to keep pace with other countries in the world, Kerry said.
During his stay in HCM City, Kerry also met with staff and lecturers of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Programme.
He affirmed that the US is committed to providing higher education support to Viet Nam towards improving the quality of its human resources.
Later, he witnessed the signing of an agreement between the General Electrics (GE) Group and Cong Ly Company for the provision of a $92 million equipment package for the second phase of a wind power plant in Bac Lieu Province.
Earlier, the US diplomat visited the Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica in the city.
Climate change assistance
Kerry also announced yesterday an initial commitment of US$17 million for the USAID-supported Viet Nam Forest and Delta Programme to help Viet Nam cope with climate change challenges.
He made the announcement during a visit to the southernmost province of Ca Mau in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, where he served on a naval gunboat during the American War.
Speaking to local and international reporters yesterday at a small port in Kien Vang Hamlet, Rach Goc Town, Kerry said, "It is obviously amazing for me to be here today.
"Decades ago on these very waters, I was one of many who witnessed the difficult period of our shared history.
"Today on these waters I am bearing witness to how far our two nations have come together, and we are talking about the future and that's that way it ought to be."
He then cautioned that the future is threatened by the negative impacts of global warming, and that the Mekong Delta was at the forefront of this threat.
Scientists have predicted that by the end of this century, the sea levels could rise by almost one metre on average, he noted, adding that this has great implications at a time when "millions of people work, live and supply food for millions of other people around the world."
He said Viet Nam was one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change, and that failure to act immediately will see it suffer serious impacts.
Kerry expressed his concern about the livelihoods of around 70 million people who rely on the Mekong River, saying they were facing the twin threats of rising sea levels and upstream construction of dams in other countries, especially China.
He said it is not fair that any country which shares the Mekong River exploits it at the expense of populations in other riparian nations.
He would discuss this issue during his next trip to China and at international forums, Kerry added.
He said the US and Viet Nam are already co-operating in combating climate change at many levels in order to strengthen the latter's resilience and coping capacity.
Kerry later met with officials of the Ca Mau Department of Natural Resources and Environment as well as students of the Ca Mau Community College.
Kerry first set foot in Viet Nam as a US Navy officer 44 years ago. The current trip to Viet Nam is his 14th since the end of the American War.
After two tours of duty he became a fierce campaigner against the war that ended in 1975.
Today, Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in Ha Noi to discuss deepening trade and security ties.
US officials said Kerry's trip aims to shore up ties with Southeast Asia as also mitigate tensions over the East Sea dispute between China and the rest of the region, including Viet Nam. — VNS