The Khmer Times, 24 May 2016
A three-day state visit by United States President Barack Obama to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City this week added new momentum to deepening bilateral ties between the US and Vietnam.
Mr. Obama exchanged views with his counterpart, President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, President of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong.
He also met representatives from civil society groups, young leaders and people from the private sector.
After more than two decades of diplomatic normalization, US-Vietnam bilateral relations advanced to a comprehensive partnership in 2013. It has been a remarkable process in reconciliation and partnership building.
Strategic trust and confidence have been significantly restored and deepened over the years. The US has supported Vietnam in strengthening its maritime security capabilities and civilian nuclear energy. The US also supports Vietnam’s efforts in dealing with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and contributing to the UN peacekeeping operations.
At present the US is Vietnam’s largest export market. Bilateral trade volume tops $45 billion. The US’s foreign direct investment in Vietnam accounted for $1.5 billion. More than 80,000 Vietnamese students are pursuing their studies in the US and more than 13,000 Vietnamese are members of the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) initiated by President Obama.
In a joint statement, both sides committed to work together to advance their comprehensive partnership through strengthening political and diplomatic ties, advancing economic ties, deepening people-to-people ties, enhancing security and defense cooperation, promoting human rights and legal reform and addressing regional and global challenges.
On the South China Sea, both countries expressed serious concerns over recent developments in the area that have caused tensions, eroded trust and threatened peace, security and stability.
Both countries recognized the imperative of upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea, called for non-militarization and self-restraint in addressing disputes, reaffirmed shared commitments under the Sunnylands Declaration and committed to working closely with other Asean partners in implementing that declaration.
On the Mekong River, the US expressed its commitment to supporting cooperation among the members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and between MRC members and other regional mechanisms in using, managing and developing trans-boundary water resources in an effective and sustainable manner.
The US has lifted a 50-year-old arms embargo on Vietnam, allowing Vietnam to purchase weapons from the US based on a case by case basis. President Obama clarified that such move does not aim to counter China, but to assist Vietnam in modernizing its defenses. It marked a complete normalization of bilateral relations.
Vietnam asserted that it would ratify the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by July. Vietnam is believed to mostly benefit from the TPP, a large regional trade agreement encompassing nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP. Compared with other regional trade agreements, the TPP provides higher labor, environmental and intellectual property standards.
Vietnam is regarded as an important strategic partner of the US in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Mekong region. Vietnam assumes an important leadership role in promoting regional and sub-regional cooperation and integration.
The only constraint in realizing the full potential of the bilateral comprehensive partnership is the differences between the two countries with regards to human rights and fundamental freedom. The US has criticized Vietnam for violating human rights and abusing fundamental freedom.
The US-Vietnam bilateral partnership continues to evolve in a positive direction. However, it will not lead towards a security alliance or firm strategic alignment due to the fact that Vietnam is pursuing its foreign policy of independence, self-reliance and non-alignment or non-alliance.