2015 marks the twentieth year of normalized diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam. “As we reflect on the tremendous progress we’ve made . . . I’d like to focus in on three areas of cooperation,” U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Puneet Talwar said recently in remarks to the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam in Hanoi.
The United States has a longstanding relationship with Vietnam on humanitarian issues, such as addressing the effects unexploded ordnance, or UXO. This year, the United States more than doubled its financial commitment to Vietnam for UXO removal efforts, with a special focus on Quang Tri Province. “By uprooting and disarming these deadly remnants of war, we are sowing a safer future for all Vietnamese,” Assistant Secretary Talwar said.
The United States has also invested over $700 million to support the fight against HIV/AIDS in Vietnam since 2004. In addition, the U.S. has worked with partners throughout ASEAN, including Vietnam, on disaster relief in Southeast Asia, and will be assisting Vietnam’s peacekeeping efforts, launched in 2014.
“Twenty years ago, when we restored our relationship, our bilateral trade was just $451 million,” Mr. Talwar said. “Last year it reached almost $35 billion. During that same time period, the incomes of Vietnamese citizens have quadrupled . . . In 2015, the most important thing we can do to build on this economic progress is to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
With over half the world’s merchant tonnage flowing through the South China Sea; with over 15 million barrels of oil per day and over 100,000 vessels per year passing through the Strait of Malacca; security is also essential to the free flow of trade and commerce in Southeast Asia.
With respect to maritime security, Mr. Talwar said, “The 2011 Memorandum of Understanding for advancing our bilateral defense cooperation [has] set an excellent foundation… ” “There must be one set of rules in the South China Sea. We believe in freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, which is crucial to economic growth.”
Assistant Secretary Talwar also emphasized the importance of human rights. “We strongly believe that societies that respect human rights flourish,” he said. “Today Vietnam has an historic opportunity to prove that even further. Whether it’s an open internet, a more open society, or freer exchange of ideas, the protection of human rights . . . is a step towards a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive Vietnam.”