Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh spoke with VET about the development of Vietnam - US relations 20 years on from normalization.
2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the US. What are your thoughts on the current state of bilateral relations between the two countries?
During the official visit to the US by President Truong Tan Sang in 2013 the two countries established a Comprehensive Partnership. Relations must be of substance and not be in name only. The existing relations demonstrate a comprehensive bilateral partnership in all fields. The two countries are currently focusing on developing comprehensive cooperation in economics, trade, science and technology, education and training, and many other areas with development potential. Areas where Vietnam is cooperating with the US for development will help it achieve the objective of becoming an industrialized country.
The US officially removed parts of the weapons embargo on Vietnam recently. This has significance for strategic relations, representing a further step towards the normalization of relations between the two countries but at the same time reflecting the remaining obstacles. Therefore, there is still more room for the two countries to continue to develop a deep relationship.
Will the partial removal of the weapons embargo promote stronger cooperation regarding politics and security as well as national defense between the two countries?
The Vietnam - US Comprehensive Partnership means comprehensive relations in all fields, and that includes security and national defense. This has been expressed by the recent visit by the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff to Vietnam and previously by the visit of the Vietnamese Chief of Defense to the US. In the future the two countries will continue to conduct more visits relating to defense. It is also important to emphasize that Vietnam’s weapons demand is generally for defensive purposes and it has the right to buy weapons from any nation to serve this purpose. Vietnam does not rely on the US as the sole supplier.
The development of the Comprehensive Partnership is positive but the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations between the two countries seem to be at an impasse. How will this be resolved?
The TPP will open up access for Vietnamese commodities to huge overseas markets but Vietnam must make certain commitments in some regards, just like any other member of the agreement.
With 12 countries participating in the TPP, the important decisions will not come from just one and will depend on the outcome of multilateral negotiations. Joining the TPP requires passing very high standards. Members are still negotiating and making political commitments. The US wants the TPP negotiations to wrap up by the end of this year or early next year, and this is also the wish of other members. This is not just between Vietnam and the US but is between all members.
Vietnam wants to finish the TPP negotiations soon but its position differs to other members. Vietnam would appreciate it if the US and other TPP members could give it a transitional period, just as it received when joining the WTO.
The US has recently taken initiatives to ease the tensions in the East Sea and to help maintain peace and stability. What is your assessment of these initiatives?
One of the most important things that countries concerned about peace and stability in the East Sea continually underline is the strict implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC), especially in the context of the recent illegal placement of Chinese oil rigs in the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf of Vietnam.
The current issue is how to implement the DOC strictly, especially Clause No. 5. Vietnam has called attention to this Clause at recent ASEAN summits and conferences. The US’s “coalescence” proposal is quite similar to this Clause, in placing emphasis on not changing the status quo and increasing tensions. The Philippines’ “three-step initiative” is also similar. Obviously, Vietnam welcomes all initiatives and proposals that are in line with Clause No. 5, which is not to expand settlement or build more military bases and stations in order to turn deserted islands into inhabited islands. The substance of Clause No. 5 is to protect the status quo and not complicate the situation. The strict implementation of the Clause is essential in ensuring there are no more tensions in the region.