US, Vietnam raise strategic trust to new level: experts

By Viet Anh    August 31, 2021 | 07:14 pm PT
The commitments the U.S. made during Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Vietnam and the welcome she received indicate growing strategic trust, experts say.

"I saw that the strategic trust between the U.S. and Vietnam has been raised to a higher level after the visit of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris," Prof Alexander Vuving of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, the U.S., told VnExpress International.

He said his assessment was based on the issues the two sides discussed and the overall atmosphere of Harris’s visit in Vietnam.

The U.S. vice president, who paid a three-day visit starting August 25, was accorded a welcome ceremony by her counterpart, Vo Thi Anh Xuan. Later she met with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.

The leaders discussed the Covid-19 global public health crisis, supply chains, digital economy, climate crisis, and renewable energy. They also reaffirmed that freedom of navigation and a rules-based international order were high priorities for both.

Harris announced a gift of one million doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine, in addition to five million doses of the Moderna vaccine that the U.S. had already gifted Vietnam through the Covax facility, a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

Vietnams President Nguyen Xuan Phuc meet U.S Vice President Harris in Hanoi, August 25. Photo by The World and Vietnam Report.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) meets wit Vietnam's President Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi, August 25, 2021. Photo by The World and Vietnam Report

The U.S. showed that it "walked the talk" with the additional vaccine distribution, Vuving said.

He noted that Harris reiterated the U.S. commitment to "a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam," as well as the U.S. support for Vietnam's increasingly important role in ASEAN and the region.

Vuving said the most remarkable outcome of the visit was that the U.S. sent two key messages to Vietnam: The U.S. has come back (for a deeper engagement with the region) and "we are here for you in this moment of need."

"Vietnam has welcomed these commitments from the U.S."

Harris's visit was a chance for the new leadership in both countries to meet each other directly for the first time. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had visited Vietnam in July.

"The higher level of strategic trust will create a greater momentum for the U.S. and Vietnam to strengthen their relationship," Vuving said.

Nguyen Quoc Cuong, who served as Deputy Foreign Minister and then as Vietnamese ambassador to the U.S. from 2011 until 2014, said "both sides should be satisfied with" the manifold outcomes of the visit, both bilateral and multilateral."

Bilaterally, the first-ever visit to Vietnam by a U.S. vice president after normalization has given fresh impetus to the development of comprehensive partnership under the Biden presidency.

Looking "at the wide range of topics being discussed at all the high-level talks between Harris and the Vietnamese leaders, people can easily visualize the scope and depth of that partnership," he said.

Cuong said it was really interesting that the U.S. and Vietnam are now seeing eye-to-eye on most issues, ranging from security, economic cooperation, human to human interactions to climate change, Covid-19 fight, regional challenges and so on.

Of particular interest to him were the leaders' discussions on supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic and how the U.S. and Vietnam can work together to tackle it. Economic links have now become the major driving force of bilateral relationship, he said.

He noted the willingness of both countries to work together not only to respond to common challenges, but also seize new opportunities. He said he was optimistic that the U.S.-Vietnam partnership will continue to flourish in the years to come.

Developments of the bilateral relationship are on the right track, he said.

Dr Le Thu Huong, senior analyst, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Australia, said the visit by Harris "was positive" despite the severe Covid outbreak in Vietnam and some initial obstacles.

In the list of issues agreed to by both sides, there were several beneficial to Vietnam, she said, including the U.S.'s assistance to it with regard to Covid, the digital economy, climate change, and the Mekong River. She described them as "detailed and tangible" outcomes.

She said the "next chapter" in the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam, as Harris said, was a natural deepening of the relationship in the coming time.

For the U.S., Vietnam will be an important partner in the Indo-Pacific, and for Vietnam, greater cooperation with the U.S. would bring a lot of positive outcomes, she said.

Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College, the U.S., who closely follows U.S. - Vietnam relations, said Harris's trip overall was positive and built on Austin’s productive visit.

Speaking about the launch of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regional office in Hanoi, he said it is an example the two could broaden their definition of security to include public health.

Covid not overwhelming maritime security ties

Vuving said Harris highlighted the cooperation on Covid because it was an urgent issue and Vietnam is struggling to contain the pandemic.

But the bilateral cooperation in the South China Sea, or East Sea as the Vietnamese call it, is of long-term strategic significance for both, he said. They have a common strategic interest in ensuring freedom of navigation and upholding international law in this critical area of the global maritime commons.

Huong said the U.S. and Vietnam should "keep up the pace" of discussions on international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in maritime cooperation along with talks about Covid recovery. She said she did not see Covid as dominating bilateral relations.

They could expand cooperation in space and satellite technology in the South China Sea for transparently sharing information, she said.

Huong also said looked forward to the two countries having more direct exchanges at various levels seeing under Biden administration, including that of foreign ministers and naval chiefs, including commander of the Indo-Pacific Command.

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