I have great pleasure to come here and speak to you at the CSIS. In the audience, I am aware of the presence of many renowned scholars. Many of you have maintained long-standing interests in Vietnam. And many of you have made outstanding contributions to the relations between Vietnam and the United States. My compliments and best wishes to you all.
I appreciate the role of the CSIS as a pre-eminent strategic think tank in the United States and the world in fostering dialogue and understanding between the political circles, academics, and the public of the two nations. CSIS also plays a very important role in promoting awareness of issues relating to security, peace, stability and prosperity in the region. These are the concerns and interests that all nations share. And this is a very important and essential factor that helps promote the co-operation between Vietnam and the United States in the coming period.
I wish to raise a few thoughts on the strategic environment of the Asia Pacific, and bilateral relations between Vietnam and America in this context.
Current situation of Asia-Pacific
The profound and unprecedented changes in the world over the last decade have confirmed Asia Pacific as the most dynamic region in the 21st century. Asia Pacific leads the world in economic integration. We have ten out of twenty leading economies here. The flow of trade across the Pacific now accounts for two-thirds of the world’s total. The region also contributes 40% of the world’s total growth.
Today, Asia Pacific stands as a destination of opportunities for all countries in the world: (i) The United States shares its Pacific Rim with us; (ii) Europe enjoys long standing ties with Asia; And (iii) countries on the Indian Ocean are closely tied with the Pacific through the Malacca Straits. Economic prosperity of all countries – be it the United States, China, Japan, Korea or India and ASEAN member states – all contribute to the overall prosperity of the region. A prosperous Asia in its turns serves as a catalyst for the development of each country. The wealth of this region is tied to that of the rest of the world. And therefore, there is little wonder that today’s leading powers all place Asia Pacific at the forefront of their foreign policies.
These enormous opportunities offered by the region are conducive to the trend of co-operation and dynamic connectivity. Regional forums such as APEC and ASEM continue their important role linking Pacific Rim countries with Asia, and Asia with Europe. In the last several years, in addition to bilateral trade agreements, we note the emergence of multilateral trade arrangements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the free trade agreement in Northeast Asia. These linkages will make up a sizable share of world trade & eonomy and create new growth engine for and will lead to changes in the global economy. We can even speak of an eventual Free Trade Agreement that encompasses the entire Asia Pacific (FTAAP). Needless to say, the successful realisation of these linkages is of strategic importance to all of us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our region has vast potentials to offer, but to translate them into reality requires an environment of peace in the region. Therefore, we must safeguard this environment of peace and stability. We must prevent and manage conflicts. This is a shared responsibility of all countries, within and outside the region.
I believe that the key to a secured peace and prosperity is to build and consolidate a regional structure. In this way, we can promote co-operation and create linkages among economies, among societies, in trade, politics, security, and culture. In this connection, ASEAN has an essential role to play. ASEAN countries lie at the crossroad between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. We connect all countries in the region, large and small. ASEAN is at the heart of regionalism in Asia . This is why all countries accept ASEAN centrality in the emerging regional architecture.
To ensure peace and security, ASEAN will bring into full use the established mechanisms and forums, and promote the development and implementation of instruments, norms and rules. To ensure the freedom, safety and security of navigation, ASEAN will promote dialogues, confidence building measures, full implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), and settlement of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the international law and the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Recently, ASEAN and China agreed to open formal consultations toward a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC). This is a positive, yet early sign, and we need to continue to work on it.
To promote its role as the nexus of economic and trade connectivity in Asia, ASEAN will double its efforts to forge linkages among bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements with a view toward a region-wide free trade agreement. The drive toward closer regionalism will serve as the catalyst for economic relations and intertwined interests, which in turn guarantees lasting peace and stability.
Major powers always maintain a grip on international relations, at multilateral forums and in Asia Pacific. To promote relations with external partners is a priority for both ASEAN and Vietnam. In the quest for a solution to regional security issues, what ASEAN wants to see is the maintenance of peace and stability, the effective operation of regional mechanisms, and the strict adherence to the international law. We hope that all powers will constructively engage in and contribute to this common endeavor. ASEAN shall not be a tool for confrontation or division as this will benefit no country, major powers or smaller countries alike.
In this context, the ASEAN Community of 2015 has become the foremost priority for all ASEAN member states. For us in Vietnam, this is a very important component of our foreign policy. We have been engaging ourselves in ASEAN affairs in a proactive, positive and responsible manner. We link our own interests with those of ASEAN. We strive to help enhance ASEAN’s role, stature, unity and consensus. Only by doing so can ASEAN have adequate strength to carry out successfully the Community. We will work with other member states to consolidate the role of the Association as the nucleus of regionalism. We will intensify our interaction in a profound way with our external partners for the common goals and interests.
Vietnam – US Relationship
Within this regional dynamism and prosperity, relations between Vietnam and the United States have broadened and taken off in many areas in depth, in breadth and in the quality of co-operation. If we look back on the long road that we have taken so far historically, we can realize the truly enormous dimensions of those steps and achievements.
You may be aware that President Ho Chi Minh stepped ashore the United States a hundred years ago on his journey for freedom and independence for his nation. He shared the universal aspiration of the mankind as stated by Thomas Jefferson in the 1776 Declaration that established the United States of America: The rights to life, equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In December 1946, not long after the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh wrote to President Harry Truman, in which he expressed the desire for the two nations to establish ‘full co-operation’. History has had many twists and turns. Not until 1995 did the nations establish formal diplomatic relations that opened a new chapter in the ties between Vietnam and the United States .
For Vietnam, a strengthened relationship with the United States is within the context of our foreign policy in which we seek to ensure independence, self-reliance, diversification and multilateralisation of relations, the overall international integration and the deepening of relations with important partners.
I just held talks with President Obama this morning. And I have the pleasure to announce to you: Vietnam and the United States have decided to form a Comprehensive Partnership between the two countries. Accordingly, our bilateral co-operation will expand to include all areas, including political, diplomatic, economic, trade, investment, education, science and technology, defense and security. I also held meetings with the Commerce Secretary, Agriculture Secretary, the US Trade Representative, World Bank President and IMF Executive Director, Senators and Congressmen, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. President Obama and his Cabinet secretaries stressed that our two countries are having great opportunities to move the relationship forward, and that the United States are committed to boost co-operation with Vietnam in many fields, especially in trade, investment, economic ties. We will continue to establish mechanisms for dialogue and cooperation, with concrete plans, in order to deepen and bring substances to the growth of our relationship.
Another important element of this visit is that Vietnam and the United States have reiterated the determination and commitment to work with other partners to bring the TPP negotiations to a conclusion, in accordance with the planned roadmap. We look to a balanced agreement for development. With the eventual joining of this leading economic linkage, Vietnam has taken a giant step in our overall international integration and in the regional dynamism and prosperity. We hope to realize the benefits in trade, investment, technology, access to higher stages of the global and regional value and supply chains. We also look to create more jobs, to ensure social welfare and to bring the living standard of the population to a higher level.
Joining TPP will help accelerate economic restructuring and transformation of our growth model, and also help further improve the business environment. We do not expect this to be an easy process for a developing economy like ours. We will make our utmost effort, yet we also look to see more of the US side’s flexibility and co-operation. This is a very important factor. US business leaders whom I spoke to affirmed their strong support for our overall bilateral ties, especially trade and investment. And they would do their best to support a high-standard, comprehensive trade agreement that addresses the balanced interests of all parties. They would support a transitional period appropriate to Vietnam in the TPP process.
We are conscious that when our bilateral relations develop in a stable, lasting and substantial way, that matters not only to both countries, but also to regional peace, stability and prosperity. We welcome President Obama’s commitment to enhance co-operation with Asia Pacific for peace, stability and co-operation. The United States views ASEAN as the central pillar of this policy and supports ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture. The US also voices support for peace, stability, security and maritime security and safety in the Eastern Sea . Apart from TPP, Vietnam will accelerate cooperation with the United States at various forums, including ASEAN-led mechanisms, Lower Mekong cooperation, the East Asia Summit and APEC.
In the meantime, we need to continue our work on outstanding issues that remain between us. As a nation with a pacific tradition, Vietnam shelves the past and looks to the future. I am of the view that differences and disagreements exist as a matter of course in any international relation. What we need to do is to build confidence, to build our relationship on the respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty, equality, political system and the principle of mutual benefit.
Looking back on the history of Vietnam – US relations, the establishment of the Comprehensive Partnership today is the culmination of a forward-looking co-operation process pursued by both sides. It began with efforts for post-war normalisation of relations, then the establishment of diplomatic ties in July 1995, hence a new era of relations between the two countries and people. In the past 18 years, bilateral relations have made great strides. 2005 marked yet another milestone with the establishment of a friendly, constructive, and multi-faceted cooperative partnership on the basis of equality, mutual respect, and mutual benefit.
With the growth of bilateral ties comes the change in how we work together. The policy of embargo, encirclement, sanction as the modality of relations between the two ex-foes gave way to the policy of reconciliation, multifaceted cooperation and of forging constructive partnership under the principles of respect for each other’s political system, mutual benefit, dialogue and increased exchanges to bridge differences. Bilateral trade and economic ties have been growing fast. The U.S. became Vietnam ’s largest export market in 2005. Then within 18 years, bilateral trade saw a 54-fold increase. By the end of May 2013, US total investment in Vietnam amounted to US$10.5 billion, ranking seventh among countries and territories investing in our country. Co-operation in science, technology, culture, education, tourism, defense, security has all seen substantial growth. A range of activities has been conducted with fruitful results and positive impacts on both sides on such areas as healthcare, humanitarian co-operation like mine clearance, unexploded ordnance, consequences of Agent Orange and dioxin, accounting for missing people in the war.
On the topic of human rights, we accept that there are differences. The most viable way is to continue our dialogue in a frank manner so as to enhance understanding and to narrow differences. It is with that spirit that during the meeting with US Senators and Congressmen, we exchanged views in an open and friendly manner on our bilateral relations, including human rights and religious issues. I also invited several religious clergies from Vietnam to join me on this visit and they had very frank talks with American and international institutions who are interested in these issues.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The message I wish to emphasise is that Vietnam hopes to work with the United States to further this full co-operation in the interests of both nations. We should work together to nurture a peaceful, stable, dynamic and prosperous Asia Pacific. And we strive, we must strive harder in our co-operation for that common objective with the principle of mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit.
I thank you, Dr John Hamre and other participants for your very cordial reception. I hope that CSIS will continue with your many conferences, seminars and roundtables in order to exchange ideas on the cooperation process in Asia Pacific. I hope that you will exchange ideas on how to boost the bilateral relations with Vietnam as well. I hope each of you will continue in your activities to contribute in a significant way toward this process, as you have done so far.
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(*)This speech was delivered by President Truong Tan Sang at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC on July 25, 2013 during an official visit to the US. President highlighted the Vietnam-US relationship in a dynamic and prosperous Asia Pacific