This week, I was honored to mark the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam relations, where I emphasized our comprehensive partnership that spans political, economic, security, and people-to-people ties.
I had the pleasure of first visiting Vietnam 30 years ago. My most recent visit in February 2019 was for the Hanoi Summit, where our two countries partnered in efforts to advance peace with a historic meeting between President Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un.
The warm welcome that the people and government of Vietnam afforded President Trump, and the sight of U.S. flags hung throughout Hanoi, were symbolic of how far the U.S.-Vietnam relationship has come.
This remarkable transformation of our two countries’ relationship is the result of courage, determination, and the vision of many people on both sides who believed in the possibility of peace.
Beginning in 1986, Vietnam’s leaders undertook an ambitious slate of economic reforms to move the country toward a system of private ownership and to open Vietnam to foreign trade.
We also began work together to repatriate the remains of American service members lost in Vietnam – solemn work that continues today. These efforts served as a critical first step to more positive ties.
Since then, the United States and Vietnam have been honest about the past, dealt responsibly with legacy issues, and turned points of contention into areas of collaboration.
Our work together on remediating dioxin contamination, clearing unexploded ordnance, and treating Vietnamese with disabilities has strengthened our partnership.
A further testament to our cooperation, we have convened 23 annual human rights dialogues that have allowed for candid exchanges, and we hope to hold the 24th dialogue later this year.
We have also greatly expanded our people-to-people ties. In 1995, fewer than 60,000 Americans visited Vietnam each year. Now, nearly 700,000 Americans travel to Vietnam annually, including more than 1,200 American students. Meanwhile, here in the United States, we welcome nearly 30,000 Vietnamese students each year.
I am also pleased to report that we recently finalized an agreement to bring Peace Corps volunteers into Vietnam for the first time ever. Sending these volunteers to teach English will further build our people-to-people ties, and is a fitting milestone for the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.
We have also greatly expanded our trade relationship. Two-way trade has grown from almost nothing in 1995 to over $77 billion today.
We have also built trust between our two militaries. In March of this year, Vietnam welcomed the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the second U.S. carrier visit since we established diplomatic relations. And we have been proud to help build the capacity of Vietnam’s Coast Guard and to support the deployment of Vietnam’s first peacekeepers to South Sudan.
Today, our shared vision for the region, outlined in our Indo-Pacific vision and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, are mutually reinforcing. And we are working together closely to address regional challenges in the Mekong and the Indo-Pacific.
Multilateral diplomacy has been a pillar in our growing ties, and we commend Vietnam for its skillful ASEAN Chairmanship in an historically challenging year, including hosting the first-ever virtual U.S.-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in April. We also applaud Vietnam in its role on the UN Security Council, where Vietnam has championed critical regional issues.
The five Presidential and Prime Ministerial visits during the past four years alone reflect the strength of our relationship, and the continued efforts of our nations to grow the U.S.-Vietnam relationship in support of our mutual goals of sustaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.
As we celebrate a quarter century of diplomatic relations, let us renew our commitment to work together toward a bright future for the American and Vietnamese people.
About the Author: Stephen Biegun is serving as the Deputy Secretary of State at the U.S. Department of State.