‘The US wants strategic partnership with Vietnam'

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of normalization of the US – Vietnam ties, VietNamNet talks with former Foreign Deputy Minister Le Cong Phung, who served as Vietnam ambassador to the US in 2007-2011.

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US-VN relations, le cong phung

Mr. Le Cong Phung met with former President Bill Clinton in 2010.

Vietnam and the United States are preparing the 20th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations. How have the relations between the two countries in all fields developed to turn from former enemies into comprehensive partners (2013)?

The Vietnam - US relationship is very special, which has changed from hostile relations into the relationships of cooperation and comprehensive partnership.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the bilateral relations, the US Ambassadors to Vietnam and the Vietnamese Ambassadors to the US had the opportunity to meet each other early this year.

We all agreed that 20 years ago, the two sides had no idea that the relationship would develop to such today’s level. The Vietnamese side also said that the Vietnam - US ties is the fastest-growing bilateral relationship among Vietnam’s foreign relations.

Economically, since the Vietnam-US Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) took in effect in late 2001, the US has always been the largest export market of Vietnam.

Regarding foreign investment, it is said that the US ranks third or fourth among foreign economies investing in Vietnam. But many foreign companies investing in Vietnam, if not from the US, are also US-invested firms in third countries before they come to Vietnam. So I can say that the US is the leading investor in Vietnam.

In the fields of culture and education, Vietnam has strongly advocated exchanges in this field. When I was the ambassador to the US, there were only 6,000 Vietnamese students in this country, but eight years later the figure rose to 16,000 -17,000.

Do you want to ask why? It is because the Vietnamese want to learn the knowledge and culture in the American educational system. Now many wealthy people send their children to study in the US, and basically after graduation, they return home and work very professionally.

In terms of politics and security, the two sides have made a big step forward. The two countries have reached the level of comprehensive partnership. But that's just the name. In essence, the relations between the two sides have developed from opponents to comprehensive partners, and cooperation is becoming more effective.

Regarding defense cooperation, this relationship has developed relatively favorably, but not fast.

On the US side, they want to push it up; for example, they are willing to invite Vietnamese military officers to the US for training, to fund our training. Vietnam welcomes the idea, but only sent some medical military officers to the US.

In summary, in the last 20 years, we have solved the fundamental differences between the US and Vietnam, and the two countries are getting to understand each other very much, very deeply, diversely, on the mutual benefit ground.

The two sides have also identified differences to gradually solve in the future. Especially in the last 20 years the US and Vietnam have not had new differences and that's the point that we highly appreciate.

You’ve talked that the two sides have identified the differences. What are they?

Since the two countries normalized relations, the differences are big. It is the hostility between the two countries as the consequences of the violent war, as well as the confrontation existing in both the US and Vietnam.

Both sides are aware that the implications of the war are preventing the two countries from getting closer and closer, and both parties need to made great attempts to mitigate it.

The second difference is the difference in the regime but harmony has been reached. That shows us and the world that cooperation and partnership on the basis of mutual benefit is unnecessarily based on the similarity of political institutions.

The third difference is basically the US wants to remove the communist regime. However, many American say that it is better to cooperate with the ruling communist regime, but with stability, rather than the multi-party regime with unstable social-political situation.

In short, the mainstream in the US is continuing to cooperate with the communists in Vietnam in favor of the common interests of the US. Vietnam and the US are aware that differences should be solved gradually through dialogue. Most importantly, mutual understanding is growing.

What has Vietnam benefited from the harmony between Vietnam-US?

While making foreign policies, we talked to each other that Vietnam can be in harmony with the US, why can’t we reach harmony with other countries, particularly between Vietnamese?

In fact, the fast growing relationship between Vietnam – US has helped us strengthen ties with US allies, especially in ASEAN, and the relations with the Vietnamese community in the US.

The relations with the US has also helped accelerate the process of integration of Vietnam into the world and helped develop Vietnam's economy, as well as enhance the relationship between Vietnam and international organizations, the world’s economic - financial centers.

Vietnam and the US are moving toward the strategic partnership. What are hindering this relationship?

US-VN relations, le cong phung

The Vietnam - US relationship is very special, moving from hostile relations to relationships of cooperation and comprehensive partnership.

The US wants to establish the strategic partnership with Vietnam. Vietnam, for various reasons, are considering this relationship.

But, in my opinion, the comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and the US is just a name, actually it is not much different from the strategic partnership.

The US is very interested in China’s recent reclamation activities in the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea), which is said to disrupt the security and safety of navigation in the East Sea. What are the common interests of Vietnam and the US in the East Sea?

The rise of China has threatened the strategic position of the US and the US has to use the rebalancing strategy in Asia, which obviously has large influence on maintaining peace and stability in the region.

The longstanding mechanisms and structures in the region built by the US have helped keep Southeast Asia in peace and stability. China's rise has made the order messed up, creating fiercely strategic competition between the US and China.

Vietnam and the US share a lot of common things in the issues of maintaining peace, stability, and security in the East Sea. For this reason, the US has re-evaluated the role of Vietnam in its strategy. Vietnam’s geostrategic location has great influence to the East Sea. To maintain stability in the East Sea, the US needs to cooperate with Vietnam.

Both Vietnam and the US want a united ASEAN. For the US, it needs a united ASEAN to help maintain stability in the region and to help it implement the rebalancing strategy.

This is the golden opportunity for Vietnam to strengthen cooperation with the US for the common purposes as I’ve said.

What is the role of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) in the US’ rebalancing policy?

TPP is no longer too complicated. When I was in America, I was very surprised that the US wanted to bring Vietnam into the TPP, because Vietnam’s development level was incommensurate to the other member countries.

They want Vietnam in mainly because of Vietnam’s geopolitical position and the strategic role of Vietnam in the US’ strategy in the region.

The TPP indicates the world integration and globalization but it also demonstrates the competition between the US and China. Vietnam wants to join the TPP, not participating in the US - China competition. We attach importance to economic - trade cooperation in the TPP.

If Vietnam joins the TPP, what will it benefit from this agreement?

Vietnam will have broader market and greater funding for development.

However, due to the low level of development, Vietnam should also have to face some disadvantages, for example if the import-export tax rates falling to zero percent, foreign goods will flood Vietnam. Vietnam will have to restructure quickly.

What is the meaning of the US’ invitation of the General Secretary of Communist Party of Vietnam to visit?

This is the result of the long development process in the US-Vietnam relations.

When I was the Vietnamese Ambassador to the US, I proposed this to the US side several times, but it did not happen. Now it is the right moment for the meeting of the two top leaders of the two countries in the US.

This proves that the Vietnam-US relations have developed to a high level.

Huynh Phan    

US-VN relations, le cong phung