Vietnam and the U.S. can fortify their comprehensive partnership established last year in different ways, including the consolidation of educational exchange and maritime security cooperation, Ambassador Ted Osius told Tuoi Tre News in an interview on Wednesday.
Osius, born in 1961, was appointed to the ambassadorship in Vietnam by President Barack Obama on May 15 this year, replacing David Shear, who took office in the country in 2011.
He served as Political Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City and at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi from 1996 to 1998.
The newly-appointed ambassador took an oath in Washington on December 10, vowing to foster and deepen the Vietnam-U.S. comprehensive partnership.
The partnership was officially announced in July 2013 during Vietnamese State President Truong Tan Sang’s visit to the U.S. at the invitation of President Obama.
On December 16, Ambassador Osius arrived in Hanoi together with his family to serve his tenure. One day later, he presented his credentials to President Sang.
He said in the interview in Hanoi that there are at least five ways the two countries can cement their comprehensive ties.
Ambassador Osius added that he is “optimistic” about the prospect of President Obama visiting Vietnam next year.
The U.S. will be “very respectful of the decisions that the government of Vietnam makes about which weapons are the most appropriate” for its situation when it comes to the easing of a lethal-weapons ban on the Southeast Asian country, the diplomat asserted.
Washington partially lifted the long-time embargo on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam to help it improve maritime security in October this year, nearly 40 years after the end of the war.
Ambassador Osius also once again confirmed the U.S.’s interests in the peaceful resolution of East Vietnam Sea disputes “in accordance with international law.”
What are the specific and concrete goals you want to achieve during your term in Vietnam?
As John Kerry said the United States supports a Vietnam that is strong, prosperous, and independent, and that respects human rights and the rule of law. I think the way we can continue together as partners to support each other is by deepening our comprehensive partnership. And I think there are five ways that we can deepen our comprehensive partnership.
1. We can strengthen our economic and commercial ties. And we have a really important tool, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we’re negotiating now and which I’m confident we’ll be able to conclude. That’s a really important tool. I think in the future we may have other tools. And one that I would really like us to focus on is direct flights between the two countries because they mean more than just business for the airlines. It means more students can come back and forth, more business people, more tourists can come back and forth.
2. I think we can strengthen our relations when it comes to governance. There are many ways to exchange ideas and how to have cooperation in that area.
3. We can strengthen our security partnership, especially in the area of maritime security.
4. We can strengthen educational exchange. More students back and forth. We have a terrific Fulbright economic teaching program. In the future, I hope to see an independent Fulbright university in Ho Chi Minh City. The Fulbright economic teaching program has made a lot of contributions to Vietnam’s economic development. And I hope Fulbright University can make contributions to the development of education in Vietnam.
5. There’s a lot of cooperation we can do in the areas of science and technology, health, and the environment, especially climate change. There’s much we can do together.
There are reports that in 2015, President Barack Obama will visit Vietnam. Can you confirm that?
I’m optimistic. I don’t think I can confirm anything at this point but I’m optimistic. I think both countries are focused on the fact that it’s the 20th anniversary of our relationship. Both governments believe that’s a very important anniversary and we want to celebrate it appropriately. I think both governments are interested in a series of high-level visits next year. I’m hopeful they will have those high-level visits.
What are your opinions on the current Vietnam-U.S. comprehensive partnership and is there any possibility to raise it to a higher level?
I think what’s really important is the concept of partnership. And when we talk about a comprehensive partnership, it is a respectful partnership between two countries that respect each other, want to work together on lots of issues of mutual interest, and believe that there’s much benefit to come from the partnership. I think that’s more important than what term you use. I’m perfectly happy with “đối tác toàn diện” [he said it in Vietnamese which means “comprehensive partnership”]. That is a great and respectful term.
We have a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia and I spent many years working on that. We have one in India and I worked on that partnership as well. I have the great honor to be able to try to contribute to deepening and strengthening this comprehensive partnership and I’m really proud to have that opportunity.
The U.S. has agreed to sell weapons to Vietnam so what kind of weapon it plans to transfer to the country for maritime security. Will there be any cooperation in this field in the years to come?
What we have now is a policy where we eased and partially lifted the lethal-weapons ban. And so, especially in the area of maritime security, we can have the fullest possible cooperation and security. It’s really up to the Vietnamese government to decide what weapons are most appropriate for its strategic challenges. All the reports that come to me are that the Vietnamese government is thinking very deeply and very carefully about what weapons are most appropriate and we will be very respectful of the decisions that the government of Vietnam makes about which weapons are the most appropriate ones for its situation. In my hearings last June, I said that I thought it was the right time to have this partial lifting of the lethal-weapons ban, and I was very happy that the U.S. government made the decision to partially lift it. I think what it reflects is the importance of this partnership.
What are the remaining changes Vietnam needs to make in order to join the TPP? How likely is it that the TPP pact will be signed in 2015?
I’m not the negotiator. The negotiators are my colleagues from the U.S. Trade Representative. But I know they’re going to continue discussions next month about some of the final issues that we face. I don’t think these are easy issues for Vietnam but I think the opportunities are huge because Vietnam, as the least developed of the countries negotiating the TPP, has the potential to benefit the most and the economic growth that could come as a result of joining the TPP would be really significant. Some economists think it could add 30 percent to your GDP growth.
There will be some challenges for Vietnam in the areas of labor, customs, intellectual property rights, and I think there are also some challenges when it comes to making sure there’s a level playing field between the private sector and SOEs [state-owned enterprises]. Those will be challenging but I think they are manageable. And what we can see from the side of Vietnam is the commitment to make the TPP work. I’m optimistic. I’ve talked to many members of the U.S. Congress and I think we’re going to be able to see what we need on the U.S. side. That will show we are a dependable partner when it comes to the TPP.
Vietnam is trying to reform its education sector. The U.S. has provided some help. Do you see any opportunity to expand the effort to help Vietnam, especially in graduate programs?
What we’ve seen from having the Fulbright economic teaching program is that we really can make important contributions in the way economics and innovative practices are taught. And I think it’s possible now to expand beyond just economics. I think if we are able to create an independent Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City, we’ll have a chance to make major contributions to the way higher education is carried out in Vietnam. I think there will be a lot of interest in Fulbright University here. Other universities here will want to have a relationship with Fulbright University and will want to learn some best practices. But even before Fulbright University is in place, we can have university-to-university partnerships. For example, Harvard University has some strong relationships here. Johns Hopkins, my alma mater, also has strong relations here. And we can strengthen those universities’ partnerships as well as relationships between alumni networks.
What is the latest stance of the U.S. on the disputes in the East Vietnam Sea?
We have an interest in the East [Vietnam] Sea in resolutions of territorial disputes that are peaceful and in accordance with international law. That’s a fundamental and vital interest for the United States and for other countries in the region. All actions should be taken in a peaceful manner without intimidation, not unilateral actions but peaceful actions that are taken in accordance with international law. And when Vietnam made a choice to file a statement with the arbitral tribunal in The Hague, that was a peaceful action and one that was in accordance with a commitment to international law. So the U.S. is very supportive of any such action, which is peaceful and in accordance with international law.
What is in your mind when you hear the word “Vietnam”?
To me, “tình cảm sâu sắc” [he said it in Vietnamese which means “deep sentiment”] when it comes to Vietnam. I love this country. I have such good experiences here so I am so happy to come back. My family is happy to be here. For me, to come here as the ambassador during the year when we celebrate the 20th anniversary is a dream come true. When I think of Vietnam, I think of incredibly hospitable people [he said in Vietnamese: “rất là hiếu khách”], I think of beautiful places when I travel, take my family, ride my bicycle, and I think of opportunity for really strong partnership and friendship because my experiences in Vietnam have been wonderful. And also when I come this time, I’m so impressed because Hanoi has changed so much, Hoan Kiem Lake is still beautiful. When you walk around Hanoi, it’s so much more prosperous, so much more “hiện đại” [modern]. It looks beautiful. It looks to be doing really well. And so I think Vietnamese people have reason to be really proud of the changes that have taken place in the last 18 to 20 years that I have been visiting Vietnam.
Correction: December 29, 2014
An earlier version of this article misstated the year of birth of Ambassador Ted Osius. He was born in 1961, not 1958.