US and Vietnam Should Boost Defense, Economic Ties, Says Communist Party Leader

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US and Vietnam Should Boost Defense, Economic Ties, Says Communist Party Leader

General Secretary urges both sides to advance their relationship in a major policy speech.

US and Vietnam Should Boost Defense, Economic Ties, Says Communist Party Leader
Credit: Flickr/Ash Carter

The United States and Vietnam should look to boost their defense and economic ties, the leader of the Vietnamese Communist Party said today in a policy speech delivered in Washington, D.C.

Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that he hoped that Washington and Hanoi could advance their relationship further as they commemorate the 20th anniversary of the normalization of their ties.

“We have much to do,” Trong said in an address as part of his historic visit to the United States – the first of its kind since normalization – which included a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday.

On defense and security, Trong called on the United States and Vietnam to expand their cooperation on law enforcement, counterterrorism and maritime security. He also urged Washington to help address Vietnam’s large defense needs by deepening collaboration in the areas of oil and gas exploration and providing vessels for maritime security.

“I think the needs are huge,” he said.

Vietnam’s extensive coast line, Trong said, meant that the maritime domain was not only important in terms of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but preserving its blue economy which was vital to advance its socioeconomic development.

In that vein, he said Vietnam appreciated the United States’ active role in and support for Vietnam in the South China Sea, which Hanoi calls the East Sea.

“Vietnam welcomes countries including the United States to play an active and responsible role in maintaining peace, security and stability, maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight and promoting development cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.

On economics, while he praised the progress that had been achieved in this dimension of ties thus far, he called for greater advances to be made.

“Economic, trade and investment cooperation remains the focus of bilateral ties and must be advanced further,” Trong said.

Trong said he hoped that with the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which both countries are part of, U.S. investment in Vietnam, which he characterized as “modest” at present, would increase. Washington is currently ranked the 7th largest investor in Vietnam, and Trong said that this was “quite low” for a major economic power like the United States.

He also called for the United States to recognize Vietnam as a market economy and to open up its markets to more Vietnamese goods. Hanoi, Trong added, would also appreciate greater assistance from Washington in areas like human resource development given the United States’ experience.

Beyond this, Trong stressed that other areas as well, including science and technology, health, the environment, offered great promise for future cooperation. He also touched on other important dimensions of the relationship such as war legacy issues and people to people ties, paying tribute to the role of the large and active Vietnamese-American community in the United States, which is the Southeast Asian state’s largest overseas group of its kind.

While Trong acknowledged the importance of human rights and admitted that differences remain between the two sides on this question, he was adamant that the issue not obstruct future cooperation between the United States and Vietnam.

“This issue should not be allowed to become an obstacle to the growing momentum of our bilateral ties,” he said.

Part of overcoming these differences, Trong said, involves building trust between the two sides, including through high-level exchanges like his historic visit to the United States. He said that Vietnam was looking forward to welcoming Obama in the near future following his acceptance of an official invitation during their meeting yesterday.

“We are looking forward to welcoming President Barack Obama in Vietnam in the time to come,” Trong said.