Kamala Harris, the first sitting U.S. vice president to visit Vietnam in decades, showed the world that the United States can both handle the ongoing crisis in Kabul and pursue opportunities.
Many people have expressed their opinions on the name of the U.S.-Vietnam partnership. I think it’s not important that we call this relationship by any name. What matters is what the two countries do together, on issues that have implications for both countries, both regionally and internationally.
The Biden-Harris administration clearly considers partnership with Vietnam to be important, as demonstrated by Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam just weeks after a visit by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The economy is interteding.
Before the vice president visited Singapore and Vietnam, some believed the visit would be about China. However, Vice President Harris has made it very clear in all contacts in Hanoi that the U.S. relationship with Vietnam is of its own importance.
The economies of the two countries are now more intertenting than ever: U.S.-Vietnam trade has risen from almost nothing when I started working in Vietnam in 1996 to $90 billion last year.
Today, the U.S. is Vietnam’s second-largest trading partner and the No. 1 destination for Vietnamese exports. For the U.S., which is looking for supply chains that are highly resistant to shocks, Vietnam plays an important role as a major hub of semiconductor manufacturing, such as that of Intel, which has the largest factory near Ho Chi Minh City.
Both Vietnam and the U.S. are focused on responding to COVID-19 and promoting economic recovery after the pandemic. During his visit to Vietnam, Vice President Harris announced the donation of an additional 1 million doses of Pfizer vaccine to Vietnam, bringing the total number of supported doses to 6 million and pledging to provide 77 deep-sound freezers to support vaccine distribution efforts in all 63 provinces and cities.
This support builds on a long history of health cooperation, starting with sars and HIV/AIDS and gradually strengthening during the COVID-19 pandemic as Vietnam’s Ministry of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) share real-time epidemiological data.
For decades, the public health authorities of our two countries have become reliable partners, which is what the vice president emphasized when opening the CDC Southeast Asia office in Hanoi.
The vice president also focused on another key aspect of President Joe Biden’s global foreign policy effort: climate change. Harris has launched a $36 million project to accelerate Vietnam’s transition to a clean, safe and market-driven energy system.
A new set of green indexes will help foreign companies invest in provinces that are actively developing green. The Vietnamese government and businesses increasingly attach great importance to sustainable development, which is also receiving the deep attention of U.S. industries.
With more than 65 member companies participating, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council is currently at the forefront of the largest sustainable development initiative in Southeast Asia initiated by the private sector.
Continue to build trust.
Harris also pushed for efforts to preserve the coastal habitats of species in the Mekong Delta, where the lives of 20 million residents depend on water and aquatic species in the imposing river system.
Millions more in the region depend on supplies of rice, agricultural products and fisheries made by farmers in the Mekong Delta.
Harris also witnessed the signing of a 99-year lease for the construction of a new embassy in Hanoi, an issue the U.S. has long been concerned about.
The security relationship continues to evolve at a slow but steady pace. Harris affirmed U.S. support for Vietnam and its ASEAN neighbors for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, saying, “The United States stands with its allies and partners in the face of threats.”
She also mentioned the possibility of the U.S. transferring a third heavy coast guard ship to Vietnam if Congress approves it and commits to further coordination in cybersecurity.
The factors hindering trade remain despite progress in facilitating the export of U.S. agricultural products to the Vietnamese market.
Vietnam has high aspirations for the digital economy and the US can create a major boost for businesses on both sides of the Pacific by negotiating a digital trade agreement with Vietnam as well as other Indo-Pacific countries, thereby creating common rules for the most dynamic region in the global economy.
Above all, Vice President Harris’ visit is a continuation of a long process of showing mutual respect and building trust and reconciliation between two former enemies that today are good friends.
Strengthening people-to-people exchanges
The U.S.-Vietnam people’s exchange was also a prominent topic during the vice president’s visit to Vietnam.
According to Harris’ announcement, Peace Corps volunteers will begin arriving in Vietnam, a signal of deepening trust between Hanoi and Washington.
Some say this will never happen, but as former U.S. Ambassador Pete Peterson once said, nothing is impossible in U.S.-Vietnam relations.
Sending young Americans to teach English in Vietnam will help Americans better understand the country.
On the other hand, Young Vietnamese are also eager to learn about the US, with 30,000 Vietnamese students coming to the US to study each year, contributing nearly US$1 billion to the US economy.
Ted Osius is president and ceo of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. He was the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam from 2014 to 2017 and the author of Nothing Is Impossible: U.S. Reconciliation with Vietnam (Rutgers University Publishing House, scheduled for English-language release in October 2021).