US, Vietnam Highlight Elevated Relationship

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HANOI — U.S. and Vietnamese leaders Monday hailed an agreement to elevate relations and spoke about the potential for boosting innovation and investment.

As he met with Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong in Hanoi, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke about deepening collaboration on the “challenges that matter most to our people” and said it is remarkable “how far and how fast we’ve come.”

Thuong called the agreement a “momentous occasion” and said it was “opening up a new chapter.”

Biden earlier met with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and the two attended a business forum where Biden discussed deepening collaboration with Vietnam on cloud computing, semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

He cited a “new stage” in U.S.-Vietnam relations and said the two countries need to continue partnerships.

“My message today is quite simple. Let’s keep it up,” Biden said.

Attendees at the meeting included executives from the top U.S. and Vietnamese semiconductor, tech and aviation firms.

The White House also announced a $7.8 billion deal between Boeing and Vietnam Airways that it said would support 30,000 jobs in the United States.

Monday’s talks came a day after the United States and Vietnam elevated their relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” – a move the White House described as “unprecedented and momentous,” and that brings the U.S. level with its main adversary, China, which has the same upper-tier diplomatic status with Vietnam.

US President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, at the Communist Party of Vietnam Headquarters in Hanoi, Sept. 10, 2023.
US President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, at the Communist Party of Vietnam Headquarters in Hanoi, Sept. 10, 2023.

“The Vietnamese want a stronger relationship with the United States,” John Kirby, director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, told VOA on the sidelines of the trip. “The Vietnamese share many concerns that the United States has, both economically and from a security perspective in the region. We share a lot of interests; we also have a shared perspective of some of the challenges including the course of behavior of the PRC. It’s really quite a stunning turn of events over recent decades to see our two countries working together this closely.”

US President Joe Biden participates in a welcome ceremony hosted by Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Sept. 10, 2023.
US President Joe Biden participates in a welcome ceremony hosted by Vietnam’s Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Sept. 10, 2023.

This is a big step from a nation that only established relations with the U.S. in 1995, and which has carefully calibrated its relationship with its powerful northern neighbor, China.

The elevation from comprehensive partnership to comprehensive strategic partnership is significant. Vietnam counts only four other nations on that level: China, Russia, India and South Korea.

The difference “sounds like word soup to those of us in the U.S., but for Vietnam, a communist state with a pretty rigid kind of Leninist hierarchy of diplomatic relations, this stuff actually matters,” said Gregory Poling, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Vietnam has a very clear hierarchy of diplomatic relations,” said Poling, who also serves as director of the Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the CSIS.

“There’s also rumors they may do that for Japan and Australia as well, all of which suggests that the Vietnamese are willing to take a bit of retaliation from China now to make that happen,” he added. “And that will send a message, I think, up and down the Vietnamese government that senior levels are committed to a closer relationship with the Americans, so everybody get on board.”

Bich Tran is a postdoctoral Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Tran said the relationship was “due for an upgrade.”

“An official upgrade will empower Vietnamese officials in engaging with their American counterparts,” she said. “This year is considered the best time to do so because it marks 10 years of comprehensive partnership. An upgrade will entail deeper security cooperation between the two countries and Vietnam’s commitment to further improve its human rights record.”

Source: VOA