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Obama touches down in Hanoi

Released at: 08:15, 23/05/2016 Vietnam-US relations

Obama touches down in Hanoi

Photo: Reuters

Three-day visit to Vietnam expected to push bilateral ties forward beyond President's term.

by Sy Nguyen

US President Barack Obama arrives in Hanoi today, beginning his official three-day visit to Vietnam to strengthen the countries’ growing bilateral relationship and the US’s Asia-Pacific rebalancing policy.

The visit, the first by the President, comes at a time when Vietnam-US ties are seeing progress in key areas such as politics, national defense and security, trade and investment, and in regional and global issues of mutual concern.

He is expected to hold talks with senior Vietnamese leaders, including Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, State President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.

High on the agenda is discussing means to further deepen the Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership the two sides signed in 2013 and the TPP and how the US can support Vietnam in its implementation.

Both sides have high hopes that the visit - the third by a US President to Vietnam - will deepen Vietnam-US bilateral relations in the years to come, given the fact that President Obama’s second term is to end next January. “President Obama hopes to lay a firm foundation for the development of relations with Vietnam in the years after he steps down from office by promoting initiatives to implement the Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership,” Emeritus Professor Carl Thayer from the Australian Defence Force Academy told VET.

“He would also like to take the opportunity of his last months in office to clear away legacies of the past with Vietnam, as he did with Iran and Cuba. Vietnam-US relations are much further advanced.”

During President Obama’s tenure both countries signed a comprehensive partnership framework in 2013 and adopted the Vietnam-US Joint Vision Statement in 2015, when Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong paid his historic visit to the US. Two-way trade has been growing quickly, reaching $45 billion in 2015 from $18.5 billion in 2010, according to official figures.

Such a positive situation should also serve the President well when he travels to Ho Chi Minh City to meet with young Vietnamese entrepreneurs and attend a meeting with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).

Despite some observers doubting the future of the TPP, given the growing opposition in the US, the two countries are expected to hold wide-ranging discussions on the agreement and how it can be implemented quickly and effectively, analysts said.

“Trade and investment will be an important component of the discussions,” Mr. Murray Hiebert, Senior Adviser and Deputy Director of Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), told VET shortly before the President’s visit.

“It might not be as dramatic at the moment because both countries, plus the ten others, have just completed negotiating the agreement, but the leaders will no doubt spend a bit of time talking about what they have left to do to implement the TPP.”

Analysts warn that failure to implement the TPP would impact on both Vietnam and the US. “Failure to pass the TPP would limit the US’s economic influence in Asia and damage its credibility in the region,” said Mr. Hiebert. “Vietnam, which is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the TPP, would be severely hurt by the failure of the US to ratify the agreement.”

President Obama’s visit to Vietnam is the first since President George W. Bush visited in 2006. After his three days in Vietnam he will head to Japan for the G7 Summit.  

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