Vietnam, US open new chapter in relations with historic visit by US President Biden

Nearly seven decades since the start of one of the world's most devastating wars and thirty years since the normalisation of ties, the Vietnam-United States relationship has been elevated to the highest diplomatic tier.

Viet Nam News

Viet Nam News



General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trọng and President of the United States Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the welcome ceremony in Hanoi on September 10, 2023. PHOTO: US WHITE HOUSE/ VIET NAM NEWS

September 13, 2023

HÀ NỘI — Nearly seven decades since the start of one of the world’s most devastating wars and thirty years since normalisation of ties in 1995, Việt Nam-United States relationship has been elevated to the highest diplomatic tier, signifying the opening of a completely new chapter in bilateral ties.

The move came following US President Joe Biden’s historic visit to Việt Nam on September 10-11 at the invitation of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Việt Nam Central Committee Nguyễn Phú Trọng.

After months of speculation, the two countries have pronounced their decision to upgrade the relations to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership from Comprehensive Partnership that the two countries established exactly ten years ago, bypassing Strategic Partnership step.

The announcement was made during the first State visit made by a US leader at the invitation of the Party chief, and the significance of the visit was only enhanced as the location for the announcement was the headquarters of the Communist Party of Việt Nam in Hà Nội, an unprecedented move.

It reflects not only the substance of the cooperation between the two countries but also the level of political confidence and understanding that is the culmination of decades of constant, effective exchanges at all levels across all fields to help transform former ideological foes to trusted partners, even with different political systems.

Put it in perspective, this propels the US into the rarefied pantheon of Việt Nam’s close partners – China (which Việt Nam set up Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2008), Russia (2012) , Japan (2014), India (2016), Republic of Korea (2022), and Singapore. Indonesia, Australia set to follow – other than Việt Nam’s special friendship with its two Indochina neighbours Laos and Cambodia along with the Latin American fraternal partner Cuba.

The upgrade also means that the current leadership has managed to bring to life the wish of the founding father of Việt Nam, late President Hồ Chí Minh, wanting to establish a full cooperative relationship with the US in his letter addressed to US President Harry Truman in February 1946, not so long after he led the country to a successful revolution and proclaiming the establishment of an independent Democratic Republic of Việt Nam in August 1945.

In the official talks with President Biden, General Secretary Trọng recalled this wish of President Hồ, who also in his Declaration of Independence paraphrased parts of the US Declaration of Independence: All people are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“The specific motto for the Việt Nam-US relationship development is ‘to put the past aside, overcome differences, promote similarities and head to the future’. Việt Nam values the US’s affirmation to support a strong, independent, self-reliant and prosperous Việt Nam,” Trọng noted.

Vietnamese President Võ Văn Thưởng, at the banquet hosted for Biden, said through tumultuous history and numerous challenges, the Việt Nam-US relations “have never been growing better.”

He called the new level in ties “an example in the history of international relations on healing and building relations post-war,” and hoped the two countries would “maintain the efforts, consolidate and further the relations.”

Joe Biden in response played up the efforts by the two countries to seize “potentials of the future” and there are many opportunities of prosperity for Vietnamese and American peoples, and commented the that new partnership would “drive us forward to together respond to challenges and embrace the future.”

Comprehensive Partnership for Peace, Cooperation, and Sustainable Development

According to the two countries’ joint statement on the elevation of ties, the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership between Việt Nam and the US encompasses ten priority fields: (1) political and diplomatic relations; (2) economic, trade, and investment cooperation; (3) science, technology, innovation, and digital cooperation; (4) education and training cooperation; (5) climate, energy, environment, and health cooperation; (6) addressing war legacies; (7) culture, people-to-people exchange, sports, and tourism; (8) defence and security; (9) promotion and protection of human rights; and (10) coordination on regional and global issues.

Under the new framework, Vietnamese and US leaders have underlined the fundamental principles guiding Việt Nam-US relations, including respect for the United Nations (UN) Charter, international law, and respect for each other’s political system, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

Việt Nam and the US will continue to deepen cooperation in these areas to ensure the interests of the people of both countries and contribute to peace, stability, cooperation, and prosperity in the region and in the world.

In the joint statement issued after the announcement of the two nations’ relations upgrade, Oregon’s US Senator Jeff Merkley and Maryland’s US Senator Chris Van Hollen highlighted the foundation to a strong relationship, which has been built on both sides’ efforts to address the wartime legacy and promote reconciliation.

The upgrade of the bilateral ties is an opportunity to deepen mutual understanding and the US’s commitment to programmes addressing the legacy from the war in Việt Nam, including taking on the elimination of cluster munitions and the remediation of dioxin, according to the joint statement.

It also laid stress on opportunities for both sides to open the door to new investments, which cover advanced technologies and green energy, for the benefits of the two nations.

Trade, innovation

Trade and investment were determined to be pillars of the Việt Nam-US relationship, as turnover reached US$138 billion in 2022, a quantum leap from the measly $450 million in 1995 when the two countries normalised ties.

Last year, Việt Nam was the seventh biggest trading partner of the US, with its exports rising 25.2 per cent to account for almost 3.9 per cent of the US’s total imports.

The upgrade of ties would create unprecedented opportunities to promote new and breakthrough cooperation areas, and to build Việt Nam’s capacity to truly join the global value chains, said Minister of Industry and Trade Nguyễn Hồng Diên.

Diên said the two economies were complementary, with the US having demand for Việt Nam’s signature farm produce, apparel, leather and footwear, electronics, machinery, and equipment while supplying cotton, animal feed, corn, soya bean, chemicals, machinery, and technology to the Southeast Asian country.

With an average annual trade growth exceeding 20 per cent, the US will remain Việt Nam’s biggest export market in the years to come, Diên added.

Thanks to the persistent strategic trust building efforts from both sides, the US increasingly values Việt Nam’s role and position in the region and places a strong focus on cooperation with Việt Nam in various new regional initiatives, such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), supply chain shift and diversification, clean energy, just energy transition, and digital economy.

In the future, Diên said his ministry would continue discussions with the US regarding the possibility of applying the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) mechanism for Việt Nam.

In order to mitigate the risks of disruptions and dependency, US firms are looking to diversify their supply chains, thus making it easier for Việt Nam to expand its manufacturing activities and become more deeply integrated into their global value chains.

Innovation was also highlighted as the new priority area and an ‘impetus’ for the two countries’ relations, as affirmed by US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính as they held a high-level conference on investment and innovation between the two countries in Hà Nội on his second working day.

During the conference, Vietnamese and US enterprises discussed investment cooperation chances, with a focus on four main areas – technology and innovation, production investment, financial services and financial technology, and trade and services.

Sharing President Biden’s view that innovation is the key to the future of the two countries, PM Chính called on both sides’ enterprises to prioritise investment in science, technology and innovation, especially digital transformation, the semi-conductor industry, green growth, renewable energy, climate change fight and the circular economy.

PM Chính said that Việt Nam had established objectives to transform into a developing nation with advanced industries and a high average income by 2030, and achieve developed status and a high income level by 2045, in which process science, technology, and innovation would play a crucial role in national progress.

To create more favourable conditions for enterprises, Việt Nam had been focusing on developing human resources, building preferential policies to speed up digital transformation and further develop renewable energy, semiconductor industry, high-tech parks, and innovation and financial centres, participating in the global value chain, and attracting foreign strategic investors.

“The US and Vietnamese economies are already quite closely correlated and the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership strengthens their links in a meaningful way,” said Nick Ferres, Chief Investment Officer at the Singapore-based Vantage Point Asset Management.

“The semiconductor partnership in particular has the potential to help Việt Nam’s export-oriented economy rise further up the value chain. Higher-value industrial activity will improve Việt Nam’s productivity, which is key to the next stage of its extraordinary growth story.

“The partnership also features US commitments to infrastructure, and supporting sustainable agriculture and renewable energy storage in Việt Nam, opening up potential for further collaboration in these priority areas for Vietnamese policymakers.

“As it continues to attract global investment and make productivity gains, we believe Việt Nam can catch up with South Korea’s economic development in the next decade or so.” — VNS

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