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US-Vietnam relationship develops at ‘rocket’ pace: Vietnamese ex-official

Saturday, May 21, 2016, 11:00 GMT+7

Ahead of the upcoming visit of President Barrack Obama scheduled for May 23-25, Vietnam’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Bang recently shared some insights into the development of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam over past 16 years.

During an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Wednesday, the official discussed the development of the ties between the two nations, mentioning the significance of visits to Vietnam by two previous U.S. presidents and stating that the relationship has developed at the pace of a ‘rocket.’

According to Bang, President Clinton’s visit in 2000 was considered an icebreaker while President Bush’s in 2006 pushed Vietnam further towards international integration.

The upcoming visit of President Obama is expected to leave an invaluable cultural mark on youths from the two nations, the former deputy minister said.

A historic visit from President Clinton

While relations between the two countries are relatively recent, the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) was seen as a new chapter in the collaboration between the two countries after being signed in July 2000, just months before President Clinton’s visit in November.

As the agreement could only take effect after being ratified by both countries, there was much work to be done to shape public opinion.

Clinton’s visit was conducted only five years after the normalization of relationship between Hanoi and Washington, thus facing many challenges in terms of organization, security, and public opinion.

Thanks to the commitment of the two nations, the visit of President Clinton was a success and praised by the two peoples, sparking meaningful hope for potential cooperation, especially in economic affairs and trade, the Vietnamese official elaborated.

During Bush presidency

“In June 2001, I finished my term as the Vietnamese ambassador to the U.S. Before heading back to Vietnam, I and other ambassadors of ASEAN member states had an opportunity to talk with Secretary of State Colin Powell,” Bang recounted.

ASEAN is short for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is a political and economic organization whose members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

During the meeting, the Vietnamese official expressed his appreciation toward the U.S. secretary for convening the gathering, before reminding him of matters regarding the U.S.-Vietnam BTA.

After September 11, as the terror attack forced the U.S. to tighten its security, Bang was dispatched back to the North American nation to assist then-Deputy PM Nguyen Tan Dung and Minister of Trade Vu Khoan in meetings to discuss the agreement.

Since the BTA was of great significance to the economic development of Vietnam, including the reduction of import tax and product diversification, Bang was persistent in urging U.S. authorities to approve it, resulting in the official ratification of the pact on December 10.

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Vietnam’s former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Van Bang speaks at a conference in Hanoi in 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre              

The visit of President Bush in November 2006 opened an opportunity for Vietnam’s international integration, according to the former deputy minister.

During the U.S. president’s trip, Vietnamese authorities negotiated the approval of its Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR).

In order for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Southeast Asian country had to be awarded the status of PNTR by the U.S. parliament, Bang elaborated.

Such status as well as the WTO membership were anticipated to significantly boost Vietnam’s image in the international arena, he stated.

Hopes for President Obama’s visit

President Obama’s coming visit to Vietnam will be conducted against the backdrop of the well-established U.S.-Vietnam comprehensive partnership, with trade relations worth US$45 billion, according to Bang.

However, there is always a motivation for further development of the relationship between the two nations, the official added.

Amid the current international situation, the U.S. may potentially be seeking more allies, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, Vietnam is also striving for economic development, including expanding its market and reaching an annual GDP growth rate of at least seven percent, requiring the country to seek support from major partners, namely the 12 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, Bang stated.

The TPP is a regional free trade agreement aimed at eliminating tariffs and lowering non-tariff barriers that was signed on February 4 in Auckland, New Zealand, after its five-year negotiations were concluded in October 2015 in Atlanta.

The 12 countries include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

The Vietnamese official stated President Obama’s trip will leave a cultural mark on future generations of the two countries, cemented by the TPP.

He hoped that the trip would further enhance the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.

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