Remarks by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability during his visit to Vietnam

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Hanoi, Vietnam

April 15, 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  So I have been long been looking forward to returning to Vietnam and making my first visit here as Secretary of State.  I was here as deputy secretary in 2015 and 2016, but I am so pleased to be back today.

A decade since the United States and Vietnam launched our Comprehensive Partnership, and nearly 28 years since we normalized relations, our nations have forged a relationship that is robust, dynamic, and consequential.

I’m here at the behest of President Biden to further broaden and deepen that partnership following the President’s call with the general secretary last month and building on earlier high-level visits, including from Vice President Harris, Secretary of Defense Austin, U.S. Trade Representative Tai, USAID Administrator Power, and recently as well members of Congress.

Throughout my engagements today, I focused on how the United States can continue to support Vietnam’s success – which is good for the Vietnamese people, for Americans, and indeed for the entire region.

Our countries are collaborating on an incredibly broad range of shared interests, and we believe that by supporting Vietnam’s ambitions we advance our own, from the creation of American jobs and the strengthening of American businesses, to progress on the climate crisis that affects us all, to preventing pandemics.

I also focused on how our countries can advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is at peace and grounded in respect for the rules-based international order.  When we talk about “free and open,” we mean countries being free to choose their own path and their own partners and that problems will be dealt with openly; rules will be reached transparently and applied fairly; and goods, ideas, and people will flow freely across land, the seas, the skies, and cyberspace.

In my meetings with General Secretary Trong, with Prime Minister Chinh, with Foreign Minister Son, and External Relations Commission Chairman Trung, I discussed our work to promote broad-based prosperity in Vietnam and throughout the region, including through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.  Vietnam has joined negotiations on all four pillars of IPEF, and that will help lead a race to the top on the issues that are shaping the 21st century economy, including supply chain resilience, the clean energy transition, digital connectivity, and that will benefit Americans and people across this region.

We discussed our mutual respect for ASEAN centrality and our close partnership through regional economic frameworks, including APEC, which the United States is proud to be hosting this year, and the Mekong-U.S.  Partnership.  We appreciate Vietnam’s indispensable leadership in solving development challenges in the Mekong region that have been made worse by dam construction, climate change, and overfishing.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son.

We’re also growing our bilateral economic partnership.  The U.S. is helping Vietnam double down on key reforms it’s embraced – including on labor, intellectual property, fair trade – which have made it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

We believe that Vietnam can achieve its goal of becoming a connected, high-income country by 2045 by pursuing growth that lifts up all communities, while building resilience to adapt to climate change.

We know Vietnam is increasingly vulnerable to threats posed by the climate crisis.  As Vietnam takes steps to become a leader on climate energy transition, the United States is investing in that tremendous potential.

We’re launching new bilateral climate initiatives that were announced by Vice President Harris during her August 2021 visit to Vietnam, which do everything from conserving ecosystems and reducing emissions from rice farming in the Mekong Delta, to expanding a market-driven clean energy system and scaling up adoption of electric vehicles, to leveraging our private sectors to drive climate action.

We’re also harnessing the power of regional frameworks like the Just Energy Transition Partnership.  Vietnam recently joined that partnership.  That’s going to deploy $15.5 billion to help the country deliver on its ambitious Net Zero 2050 goal as well as the Japan-U.S.-Mekong Power Partnership.

We’re also collaborating to build up Vietnam’s public health capacity, including by establishing a national CDC here in Vietnam.  We’ve partnered closely to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, with the United States donating more than 40 million vaccine doses, followed by Vietnam’s donation – following – excuse me – Vietnam’s donation of millions of articles of PPE during the earliest part of the pandemic, when America was at a time of its greatest need.  And I have to say this is a very powerful example of countries coming together and coming to each other’s assistance when each of us needed it most.

As part of our bilateral security partnership, which is growing, we’re finalizing the transfer of the third U.S. Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam, complementing a fleet of 24 patrol boats and other equipment, training, and operational facilities that we’ve provided since 2016.  All of these efforts bolster Vietnam’s capacity to contribute to maritime peace and stability in the South China Sea.

The United States is committed to supporting a strong, prosperous, independent, and resilient Vietnam.  And we respect Vietnam’s right to shape its future under its own political system.  At the same time, we continue to underscore how future progress on human rights is essential to unleashing the full potential of the Vietnamese people.  That’s the central focus of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.

Finally, the United States is committed to our ongoing work to address the legacies of the war, even as we focus on the future.  This is a matter of trust, of commitment, and of duty.

We’re continuing our joint efforts to clear unexploded ordnance.  Next month, we’ll complete the survey of the heavily bombed Quang Tri Province.  We’re making significant progress cleaning up dioxin hotspots from the war.  Last month, we announced a new $73 million contract to treat contaminated soil and sediment at Bien Hoa Air Base.

And we’re continuing the important humanitarian work to account for those missing from the war, including by increasing Vietnam’s capacity to identify its own missing and dead.  We recognize the longstanding support of the Government of Vietnam to account for U.S.  personnel lost during the war.  Our reciprocal cooperation for ensuring families from both countries receive the closure they deserve remains vitally important.

Today, we took another step to strengthen our relationship by breaking ground on our new embassy compound.  When completed, our new embassy in Hanoi will be a state-of-art facility worthy of our ambitious vision for the future of our partnership and worthy of the American and Vietnamese people who work every day to make that vision a reality.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with Vietnam Chairman of External Relations Le Hoai Trung.

With that, I’m happy to take some questions.  Vedant.

MR PATEL:  We’ll do four questions today.  First question, John Hudson of The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Mr. Secretary, a three-part question on Vietnam if you’ll indulge me.   You have underscored that the U.S. and Vietnam – the U.S. and Vietnam are aligned on a common view of free and Indo-Pacific.  How does this square with Vietnam’s recent crackdown on dissent?

Secondly, advocacy groups say Vietnam deported several Russian residents who expressed opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.  And Vietnam earlier this year also voted to abstain from a UN vote to condemn the Russian invasion.  Did you discuss Vietnam’s position on the war with leaders today?  And if so, what did you hear from them?

And then lastly, from your discussion today, what ways does the U.S. and Vietnam share concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, John.  So first, I am not aware of the deportations that you referenced.  We did talk about Ukraine and about the Russian aggression in Ukraine.  Vietnam has a long history and relationship with Russia.  We understand that and recognize that.

At the same time, I’ve heard clearly from our Vietnamese interlocutors and I’ve heard them state publicly their commitment and the importance that they attach to the basic principles that are also under threat by Russia’s aggression, the principles at the heart of the UN Charter – territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence.  Vietnam stands strongly for those.  They’ve made that clear.  They’ve said so publicly and they repeated that in conversation with us today.

With regard to human rights and the relationship that we have, this is a conversation that we regularly engage in.  And as we’ve said to our counterparts, it’s very important that we continue to speak directly, openly, candidly about our concerns.  And that’s exactly, exactly what we do.

We continue to seek progress on issues like freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of religion.  We’ve seen, I think, positive steps taken in some areas, to include, for example, the respect for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community.  We’ve seen important work that Vietnam has done with UNHCR on the right of stateless people, for example.  But in these other areas we continue to have concerns that we’ve shared.

As well, I think it’s important that the space be expanded for nongovernmental organizations to be able to register, to operate without burdensome intrusion by the state.  And I’ve noted and we’ve noted the important contributions these organizations make to issues that matter to all Vietnamese, for example, on climate change, on conservation, on dealing with transnational crime.  But this is an ongoing part of our dialogue and an important one.

Finally, on South China Sea, I think it’s very clear that countries throughout the region, to include Vietnam, feel strongly about the importance of respecting the rule of law, particularly under the Law of the Sea Convention, when it comes to issues of freedom of navigation, when it comes to maritime disputes, when it comes to illegal fishing, et cetera.  And a lot of good work is being done, for example, through ASEAN to try to address these issues.  That’s been going on for some time.

And in our own relationship with Vietnam, with other countries in the region, one of the things that we’ve worked on, I think very productively, is helping countries strengthen what we call maritime domain awareness – having the capacity to see very clearly what is happening in the seas that surround their countries, particularly when it comes to things like piracy, like illegal fishing, or like any use of coercion by other countries against – against these countries, against their fishing fleets, et cetera.

So that’s an important part of the conversation as well, and it does go to the heart of what we have as a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, one in which, again, countries are free to pursue their own policies, their own partnerships, and in which everyone in the region abides by the international rule of law.  This is something that joins us together with Vietnam.

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Hàng Duy Linh with Tuoi Tre.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  So let me ask you in Vietnamese, okay?

(Via interpreter) Secretary Blinken, before your arrival there are already speculation that this year will be the very good year to change the partnership from comprehensive to strategic partnership.  Why would the U.S. would like that, and what do you think whether you can – the two countries can result in that goal?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I think from the perspective of the United States – and I don’t want to speak for our Vietnamese colleagues, but certainly from our perspective – we think this is an auspicious time to elevate our existing partnership.  We’ve had for the last 10 years this Comprehensive Partnership that has created an incredibly strong foundation of cooperation across many different areas.

And as a result, we think this is a good moment to go even further.  And by that we mean this: to make even more effective the existing cooperation that we have, and then to work in new areas of cooperation and collaboration in the partnership.  And this is something that the – that President Biden and the general secretary discussed when they spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and it was very much part of the conversations that we had today.

So I think what you’ll see in the weeks and months ahead is our teams working on this.  There are so many areas where we can either deepen cooperation or really add cooperation to what we’re already doing, whether it’s on climate change, whether it’s on health, security, science and technology, and education.  I was just at the Hanoi University for Science and Technology and saw some remarkable young Vietnamese innovators, including a robotics team that will be coming to the United States.  We think there’s an area there for significant collaboration in building up science and technology in Vietnam and also deepening even more educational exchanges.  We have many Vietnamese students in the United States.  We want even more.  We’d like to see Americans come here.

But also the digital transformation, which is part – already part of IPEF, strengthening supply chains and building more resilient ones, deepening the work that we’re doing together in the Mekong Delta.  Each of these areas, whether it’s an existing area of cooperation or one that we can add, I think would go to an enhanced partnership that we’ll be working on in the weeks ahead.  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  We’ll next go to Matt Lee with The Associated Press.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks, Vedant.  Hi, Mr. Secretary.  A couple things.  One, do you have any understanding of what the situation – what’s going on in Khartoum right now in Sudan?

And then more to the point of this trip, tomorrow you’re going to be beginning almost three days of talks with your G7 colleagues in what is the first big international meeting since these leaks of the highly classified information.  Whether or not you expect or worry that your colleagues in Japan might ask you about that or raise it as a problematic issue, what do you say to people who ask whether the U.S. can still be a trusted partner and ally given that this set of leaks is like the fourth major one in about a decade from Americans?

And then lastly on Evan Gershkovich, is there any update on his situation in terms of getting consular access?  We’ve seen that the Russians have said that they might be willing to arrange some kind of a swap for him.  Is there anything to report on that front?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Matt.  First on Khartoum, the major parties in Khartoum some weeks ago reached a very important framework agreement on how to proceed with a transition to civilian government.  And there’s been real progress in trying to move that forward.  I spoke to General Burhan just a couple of days ago on that very topic, and there are still some remaining – important remaining issues that need to be dealt with.  But I think there’s a real opportunity to move forward on the agreed framework, and certainly that’s what we’re strongly supporting.

It’s a fragile situation.  There are other actors that may be pushing against that progress.  But this is a real opportunity to finally carry forward the civilian-led transition, and one that we and other countries are trying to bolster.  So we’re very focused on that along with other partners.

On the intelligence leaks, what I can tell you is this:  We have engaged with our allies and partners since these leaks came out, and we have done so at high levels, and we have made clear our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and our commitment to our security partnerships.

What I’ve heard so far at least is an appreciation for the steps that we’re taking, and it’s not affected our cooperation.  I just haven’t seen that.  I haven’t heard that.  And of course, the investigation is taking its course.  There’s now, as you know, a suspect in custody but importantly as well, I know, measures being taken to further safeguard information.  But to date, based on the conversations I’ve had, I have not – not heard anything that would affect our cooperation with allies and partners.

On Evan Gershkovich, I don’t have anything new to share.  We continue to seek consular access.  That has not yet been granted.  It needs to be.  This is a Russian obligation, and so we’re looking to that.  And I’ve heard some of the comments that have been made, but there’s nothing – nothing that I have to report on where this might go.  We continue to call for his immediate release, and certainly we need to see consular access now.

MR PATEL:  Final question, Bùi Kiều Liên with Bao Chinh Phu.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, how does it progress?  How has it been progressing since?  And what that relationship, the result of that relationship, the economic-wise and politically-wise?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much for the question.  I think it’s fair to say this has been one of the more remarkable evolutions in relationships that we’ve seen in recent years and in recent decades.  And it’s one that is very gratifying to me and to the United States as a whole.

Let me just give you one example.  When we lifted the trade embargo in 1994, there was virtually no trade between Vietnam and the United States.  Twenty years later in 2015, the first time that I was here as a representative of the United States, trade was roughly $45 billion between our countries.  So it had gone up from virtually zero to $45 billion.  Today, we’re approaching $140 billion in trade.  So just looking at that aspect of the relationship, we’ve seen a dramatic, dramatic change.

But much more broadly than that, we’re seeing the United States and Vietnam working closely together in virtually every area that matters to people in both of our countries.  We’re seeing it in building the strong economic trade and investment relationship.  We’re seeing it in the work that we’re doing together now on climate change.  We’re seeing it in the work that we’re doing on building the resilience of our supply chains, which we know is so critical.  We’re working together to address the needs in the Mekong Delta, including on agriculture.  In fact, our Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will be here, I think, tomorrow following my visit.  And we’ve had a whole host of senior officials from across our government reflecting the full range of actions that – and activities that we’re engaged in.

But whether it’s climate, whether it’s energy security, whether it’s trade and investment, in science and technology, education – all of these areas, cooperation, collaboration between the United States and Vietnam has grown exponentially.  At the same time, we’re also working very closely together in regional organizations like ASEAN, APEC, and collaborating to advance the international rule of law that both of our countries strongly adhere to and want to make sure is upheld and strengthened.

And so in so many ways we become genuine partners trying to advance mutual interests and doing it in a way that reflects the interests of our people.  As I said a moment ago, earlier today I had the opportunity to break ground for our new embassy compound, and that in and of itself is very symbolic of the relationship.  The fact that we need that compound because we were doing so much together that our diplomatic presence is even more important than it’s ever been.

So for us, for President Biden, for Washington, this is one of the most dynamic and one of the most important relationships  we’ve had.  It’s had a remarkable trajectory over the last couple of decades.  Our conviction is that it can and will grow even stronger in the decades ahead.  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.

 

 

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