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Sharing in success

Released at: 08:37, 02/05/2015

Sharing in success

Vice Foreign Minister Ha Kim Ngoc shares his thoughts on the bilateral relationship between Vietnam and the US.

How would you assess the relationship between Vietnam and the US over the last 20 years? What have been the highlights of the bilateral relationship?

In the past 20 years the relationship between the two countries has taken significant steps forward, from former enemies to friends, and recently established a comprehensive partnership. I would like to emphasize  three striking points. 

First, over the last 20 years, bilateral relations have been continuously expanded and strengthened in all areas. In particular, for the first time in the relationship between Vietnam and the US, during a visit to the US on July 2013 by President Truong Tan Sang, the two sides issued a Joint Statement establishing a comprehensive partnership that emphasized nine key areas of bilateral relations, including political and diplomatic; economic and trade; science and technology; education; environment and health; settlement of war legacy issues; defense and security; protection and promotion of human rights; and culture, tourism and sports. 

Mr. Ha Kim Ngoc

Besides some of the most important principles, relating to a constructive and multi-sided relationship based on equality, mutual respect and mutual benefits for peace, stability and development in the region and the world at large, for the first time the US confirmed that it “respected the political institutions” of Vietnam. It can be said that the establishment of a comprehensive partnership between the two countries was an important milestone, consolidating the inevitable trend of relations between Vietnam and the US, creating a solid foundation for the development of bilateral relations in the next 20 years to come. With the establishment of a comprehensive partnership we have realized the will of Uncle Ho from nearly 70 years ago regarding a relationship of “full cooperation” between Vietnam and the US.

Second, the cooperation between the two countries today is not only limited to bilateral issues but have also expanded into multilateral and regional issues, thus creating  the posture of a tripartite relationship. This is consistent with Vietnam’s policy of active international integration, to be a responsible member of the international community; and is also consistent with the common interests of both sides and to adapt to the rapidly changing situation in the world and the region, which continues to evolve rapidly and complicately. The two countries are currently strengthening coordination at international and regional forums such as the UN, the Human Rights Council, ASEAN, the East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and others. The issues the two sides  are now coordinating on include non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational crime, ensuring water security and the sustainable development of the Mekong River, building new structures in the political, economic, and security fields, and promoting the resolution of disputes on the basis of respect for international law, including the Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, the Declaration of Conduct (DOC), non-use of force or threaten to use force, ensurance of freedom and safety of navigation, and the right to legal exploitation of natural resources, in order to maintain peace, stability and cooperation in the region.

Third, cooperation between the two countries has increasingly been deeper, more efficient, and substantive. Along with the development of bilateral relations, specific dialogues have also been created, including the Political , Security and Defense dialogue,Defense policy dialogue, Asia-Pacific dialogue, and dialogue on the Law of the Sea…. These dialogues have created opportunities to exchange and consult views on substantive issues in bilateral relations relating to peace, stability and cooperation in the region. The fact that shows growth in the bilateral relationship is party to party cooperation. In some areas the two sides have gradually built confidence in long-term cooperation, creating conditions to further strengthening cooperation between the two countries in all aspects. 

The following areas are considered highlights of the bilateral cooperation.

   (i) Economic and trade cooperation has become the core, the foundation and the impetus for the relationship. Bilateral trade turnover of about $400 million in 1995 has turned into more than $36 billion in 2014; an increase of nearly 90-fold in 20 years. The US has become Vietnam’s largest export market, (standing at more than $30 billion in 2014), with Vietnam continuously recording a trade surplus. Regarding investment, the US is currently the seventh-largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with approximately 700 projects at a total investment value of nearly $11 billion. Notably, the two sides are negotiating with ten other countries over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), targeting an early conclusion to negotiations, which will create opportunities for strengthened trade relations and bilateral investment. We hope, as US Ambassador Ted Osius shared at the “Vietnam – US relations: for another 20 years of success” Workshop in Hanoi on January 26, that the US could become the number one investor in Vietnam in the near future.

   (ii) Cooperation in education and training and science and technology has achieved positive results. There are nearly 17,000 Vietnamese students and interns studying in the US, the highest number among Southeast Asian countries and 8th out of all countries with students studying in the US. The US is also promoting the American model university project with international standards in Vietnam. The Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) has funded hundreds of students from Vietnam to participate in post-graduate programs and PhD studies in the US. Regarding science and technology, the two sides have strengthened cooperation in the fields of environment and climate change, information technology, biotechnology, oceanography, and space technology. The two sides recently signed a Section 123 agreement on cooperation in civil nuclear programs, which has opened up a new field of cooperation and attracted the attention of leading technology companies in the US to develop civil nuclear programs in Vietnam.

   (iii) Cooperation on medical and humanitarian issues has also been a focus. The two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation in health and medical science, in June 2013. The US continues to maintain and commit to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) until 2018, with an average estimated value of nearly $100 million annually over recent years. Vietnam continues to search for US soldiers Missing in Action (MIA). The US has provided information to help us find the remains of over 1,000 troops. It continues to maintain and increase funding for remedial action relating to the war consequences, including projects to detoxify contaminated hotspots and support victims of Agent Orange. In 2014 the US disbursed $29 million out of a total budget of $84 million for the 2014-2016 period for remedial projects at Da Nang International Airport and medical assistance for people with disabilities, including victims of Agent Orange. It has also funded projects in Vietnam for overcoming the consequences of unexploded ordnance, with a total of $94 million in aid through NGOs since 1993.

   (iv) In relation to cooperation in security and defense, the two sides signed an MoU on defense cooperation in September 2011 in five areas: establishing mechanisms for dialogue, maritime security, search and rescue, UN peacekeeping operations, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Both sides are implementing an $18 million package to support Vietnam’s Coast Guard, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Vietnam in February 2013. In October 2014, the US declared a partial lifting of the ban on weapon sales to Vietnam.

   (v) Besides relations  at Governmental level, cooperation between localities and people to people exhange have been also increasingly  promoted, which benefits the local economies and contributes to enhancing mutual understanding between the two countries.

What are the barriers and challenges to overcome so that Vietnam - US relations can achieve even greater results over the next 20 years and beyond?

I would like to mention three challenges as follows:

Firstly, how to fully exploit common points of interest between the two countries, especially in economics, trade and investment, science and technology, as well as education and training. These are areas with much potential for further development. The US needs to further open its market to Vietnamese products, reduce trade barriers, especially in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases. It should soon recognize Vietnam as a market economy and  satisfy Vietnam’s benefits more actively in TPP negotiations. On our side, Vietnam must make efforts to create a more clear and attractive investing environment for US investors.

Secondly, there is a need to find more effective ways for relations to overcome historical difficulties and look forward to the future. To do this, the US should demonstrate due responsibility and provide more active assistance in overcoming the consequences of war  in Vietnam. The initial contribution of the US in demining issues, Agent Orange/Dioxin, and searching for Vietnamese MIAs has been noteworthy but should be further strengthened in the time to come, especially regarding support for victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin.

Thirdly, the two sides should narrow down and overcome their differences and disagreements, especially in matters regarding democracy and human rights. The two sides already have established dialogue on these matters. In joint statements between the two countries, and most recently in the joint statement issued during the visit to the US by President Truong Tan Sang, as well as in statements and contacts between the two countries, the two sides have underlined principles of US – Vietnam relations, including respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of each side, their political institutions, and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, with mutual respect, equality, and benefit. The key matter is the full implementation of these principles and statements is matched with action. Relations between states, especially the relationship that has been through ups and downs in history like between Vietnam and the US, can only be developed to a new level on the basis of mutual understanding and respect, including respect for the choice of political regime and the means of development.

What advantages can the two countries rely on to strengthen economic, trade and investment relations over the next five to ten years?

Besides the challenges mentioned above, I think that opportunities for closer ties and multi-sided cooperation between the two countries, especially in economics and trade, are significant in the years to come. I would like to highlight three points.

Firstly, Vietnam will continue to implement a foreign policy of openness, multilateralization, diversification, and deeper international integration. Vietnam will continue to be an active and responsible member of the ASEAN Economic Community to be formed later this year, as well as many other organizations and forums of cooperation. Vietnam will continue to give priority to further expanding cooperation with the US bilaterally, regionally and globally , viewing the US  as a primary partner, especially in economics and trade. Vietnam supports the elevation of ASEAN – US relations to a strategic partnership. In the context of growing US interest in the Asia-Pacific region and Southeast Asia, the US increasingly places importance in Vietnam’s role in the region, a market of more than 90 million people and an economy with great potential.

Secondly, the framework of the Comprehensive Partnership established in 2013 states nine areas of cooperation between the two countries, of which the development of economic and trade relations is a focus and priority, creating a favorable environment for both economies and business communities. Within this framework, political and diplomatic activities and high-level visits will provide opportunities and impetus to encourage the business communities of both sides to meet and sign economic contracts. Cooperation mechanisms such as APEC, TIFA, and especially the TPP will create  bilateral and multilateral frameworks supporting investment and trade activities, as well as resolve disputes arising during the increasing interaction between the two economies. In the near future Vietnam and the US will have to concentrate on reducing barriers to trade and investment, including the US recognizing Vietnam as a market economy and providing it with universal tariff treatment. This is an opportunity for Vietnamese goods to continue entering the US market with a more diverse commodity structure. In addition, with agreements in the field of science and technology, such as the 123 Agreement, or the strengthening cooperation in the field of education, will also provide opportunities for Vietnam to promote cooperation in science and technology, especially in high technology with the US, so that we can build a knowledge-based economy. Thirdly, the global and regional situation is basically favorable for cooperation between our two countries. Peace, stability and cooperation remain the prevailing trend. Despite the many challenges facing us, the trend towards globalization and regionalization will undoubtedly continue to evolve. The ASEAN community will be formed in the end of 2015. Various forms and levels of free trade areas are being dynamically adopted, including the TPP, creating new and deeper frameworks of cooperation. This also presents good opportunities for US – Vietnam economic cooperation.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is viewed as the new boost for Vietnam – US relations. What is your assessment of the TPP negotiations between Vietnam and the US? Do you believe that the two sides can complete negotiations this year?

With the ceaseless efforts of the negotiating teams from the 12 member states over the last five years, we can say that negotiations are now approaching the final phase. The most recent negotiating session, from March 9 to 15 in Hawaii, has great significance. Its goal was to complete the entire wording of the agreement and address existing problems among members. In order to finish TPP negotiations, members need to show determination and maximum flexibility on the basis of paying adequate attention to the concerns and core interests of each other, to ensure that TPP is a balanced and comprehensive agreement.

For Vietnam, joining the TPP negotiations, along with free trade agreements (FTAs) with other key partners, are steps to implement the policy of  multilateralization and diversification of foreign relations, as well as comprehensive international integration. All of Vietnam’s ongoing FTA negotiations, including the TPP, are expected to wrap up this year. In that spirit, Vietnam is determined to work together with TPP members to complete negotiations in accordance with the agreed roadmap. Vietnam always attaches great importance to relations with the US and appreciates its role in promoting the negotiation process. I believe the TPP will be important in effectively implementing the comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and the US, contributing to the trend of multi-level networking and maintaining an environment of peace, stability and dynamic development in the Asia-Pacific region.

With this major common interest, along with efforts to promote the overall negotiations, Vietnam and the US have conducted numerous bilateral negotiations. With the significant progress achieved we have every reason to believe that negotiations can be completed this year. In the spirit of mutual understanding, adequate attention to each other’s core interests, and a “win-win” outcome being the goal, Vietnam is ready to conclude its bilateral negotiations with the US and we believe that the US will recognize Vietnam as a market economy at the same time as negotiations are completed.We should hope and believe in the efforts of the negotiators and in the benefits that TPP will bring to businesses and people of the TPP member countries, including Vietnam and the US.

What message would you like to send to US businesses operating in Vietnam and those considering investing in Vietnam?

Let me share with them some of the potentials Vietnam could offer:

Firstly, Vietnam has since long been a stable country politically and socially, and continues to record among the highest economic growth in the region. Despite the general difficulties resulting from the global economy, many international organizations forecast that Vietnam’s GDP will grow even stronger in coming years. Vietnam continues to conduct deep renovation and is committed to creating an open, favorable and equal investment environment for foreign investors, and to continuously improve its legal framework to serve business and investment activities.

Secondly, extensive international integration creates a whole new dynamic in Vietnam. With the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community this year, Vietnam has not only become  one of the active nuclei of this  economic development center of great potential but also a bridge linking ASEAN economies together in a united economic area. Vietnam is currently conducting negotiations over FTAs with all leading economies in the world, creating the foundations for equal and long-term partnerships of mutual benefit. With the prospect of completing 14 FTAs between 2015 and 2020, Vietnam will become an important link within the extensive economic chain of 55 countries, including 15 members of the G20.

I would like to convey the following message to US businesses: Please choose Vietnam, the “harmonious convergence of heaven, earth and people” to do business. This is the time to further expand business and long-term investment in Vietnam to take advantage of new opportunities for your global  expansion, and contribute to Vietnam’s participation in global value chains. In Vietnam, we are always aware that your success is also our success. 

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