U.S. Relations With Vietnam

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
August 25, 2016


More information about Vietnam is available on the Vietnam Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.

U.S.-VIETNAM RELATIONS

The United States established diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1950, following its limited independence within the French Union; France continued to oversee Vietnam's defense and foreign policy. In 1954, Vietnamese nationalists fighting for full independence defeated France, and the now-divided Vietnam entered into two decades of civil war. The United States did not recognize North Vietnam's government, maintaining the U.S. Embassy in South Vietnam, supporting the South against the North, and entering the war on the South's side. In 1975, the United States closed its Embassy and evacuated all Embassy personnel just prior to South Vietnam's surrender to North Vietnamese forces.

Vietnam was reunified under communist rule. In 1978, it invaded Cambodia following border clashes. U.S. policy held that normalization of its relations with Vietnam be based on withdrawal of the Vietnamese military from Cambodia as part of a comprehensive political settlement and on continued cooperation on prisoner of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) issues and other humanitarian concerns. In 1995, the United States announced the formal normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. In 2015 the United States and Vietnam marked the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations, and in May 2016, President Obama visited Vietnam to celebrate the Comprehensive Partnership between the two countries.

The United States supports a strong, independent, and prosperous Vietnam that respects human rights and the rule of law. U.S. relations with Vietnam have become increasingly cooperative and comprehensive, guided by the 2013 U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, an overarching framework for advancing the bilateral relationship, the 2015 bilateral Joint Vision Statement, and the Joint Statement issued during President Obama’s visit to Vietnam in May 2016. This partnership advances key initiatives to bolster U.S.-Vietnam relations and underscores the enduring U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific rebalance. The partnership provides a mechanism to facilitate cooperation in areas including political and diplomatic relations, trade and economic ties, science and technology, education and training, environment and health, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, war legacy issues, defense and security, protection and promotion of human rights, people-to-people ties, and culture, sports, and tourism. The United States supports Vietnam’s law enforcement professionalization, regional cross-border cooperation, and implementation of international conventions and standards. Vietnam is a partner in nonproliferation regimes, including the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and takes advantage of expertise, equipment, and training available under the Export Control and Related Border Security program. In 2016, the United States and Vietnam signed a letter of agreement to increase cooperation on law enforcement and the justice sector. The United States and Vietnam hold regular dialogues on labor and human rights, and the two sides are embarking on a significant initiative to bring Vietnam’s laws and practices into compliance with international labor standards and allow independent trade unions to organize.

The United States considers achieving the fullest possible accounting of Americans missing and unaccounted for in Indochina to be one of its highest priorities with Vietnam. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducts four major investigation and recovery periods a year in Vietnam, during which specially trained U.S. military and civilian personnel investigate and excavate hundreds of cases in pursuit of the fullest possible accounting. Vietnamese-led recovery teams have become regular participants in these recovery missions since August 2011.

Vietnam remains heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war, primarily in the form of unexploded ordnance (UXO) including extensive contamination by cluster munitions dating from the war with the United States. The United States is the largest single donor to UXO/mine action in Vietnam, and the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on continued unexploded ordnance cooperation in December 2013. U.S. efforts to address legacy issues such as UXO/demining, MIA accounting, and Agent Orange (a defoliant used by U.S. forces) provided the foundations for the U.S.-Vietnam defense relationship. The United States and Vietnam are committed to strengthen defense cooperation between the two countries as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Bilateral Defense Cooperation in 2011 and the U.S.-Vietnam Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations signed in 2015, giving priority to humanitarian cooperation, war legacy issues, maritime security, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Many of these topics are discussed in annual bilateral defense discussions. In May 2016, the United States fully lifted its ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam and continued to provide Vietnam with maritime security assistance – including through the Maritime Security Initiative, the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, and Foreign Military Financing. Also in 2016, the United States and Vietnam signed a letter of intent to establish a working group for the Cooperative Humanitarian and Medical Storage Initiative, which will advance cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The United States reaffirmed its support for Vietnam’s peacekeeping efforts with an aim of assisting Vietnam’s first deployment of UN peacekeeping forces by 2017.

U.S.-Vietnam people-to-people ties have flourished. Nearly 19,000 Vietnamese now study in the United States. The new Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), which opens in Ho Chi Minh City later this year, will help bring world-class, independent education to Vietnam. Over 13,000 Vietnamese are members of the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative. The United States and Vietnam signed a Peace Corps country agreement during the President’s May 2016 visit.

U.S. Assistance to Vietnam

In the 1980s, Vietnam introduced market reforms, opened up the country for foreign investment, and improved the business climate. It became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Vietnam's rapid economic transformation and global integration has lifted millions out of poverty and has propelled the country to the ranks of lower-middle-income status. U.S. assistance in Vietnam focuses on consolidating gains to ensure sustainable economic development while promoting good governance and the rule of law. Assistance projects aim to deepen regulatory reforms, improve the capacity and independence of Vietnam's judicial and legislative bodies, and promote more effective public participation in the law and regulation-making processes. Starting in 2016, the U.S. will invest significant resources in assisting the Government of Vietnam bring its laws and practices into compliance with international labor standards, create the legal framework and institutions to allow the registration of independent trade unions, and train labor inspectors, law enforcement officials, and the judiciary to effectively enforce labor laws and uphold workers’ rights. U.S. assistance also seeks to support Vietnam's response to climate change and other environmental challenges, including remediating Agent Orange/dioxin contamination, strengthening the country’s health and education systems, and assisting vulnerable populations. The United States and Vietnam successfully concluded the first phase of dioxin remediation at Danang International Airport and has committed to partnering with Vietnam to make a significant contribution to the clean-up of dioxin contamination at Bien Hoa Air Base. Both sides also pledged to take a number of practical actions to advance climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as enhance transparency and capacity building through the U.S.-Vietnam Climate Partnership, including in the Mekong River Delta. The United States has invested over $44 million since 2011 to help mitigate the impacts of climate change in Vietnam, one of most vulnerable countries in the world to its effects.

Bilateral Economic Relations

Since entry into force of the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement in 2001, trade between the two countries and U.S. investment in Vietnam have grown dramatically. The United States and Vietnam have concluded a trade and investment framework agreement; they also have signed textile, air transport, and maritime agreements. U.S. exports to Vietnam include agricultural products, machinery, yarn/fabric, and vehicles. U.S. imports from Vietnam include apparel, footwear, furniture and bedding, agricultural products, seafood, and electrical machinery. U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade has grown from $451 million in 1995 to nearly $45 billion in 2015. In 2015, U.S. exports to Vietnam grew by 23 percent, the largest year-on-year increase of exports to any of America’s top 50 export markets. U.S. exports to Vietnam were worth $7 billion in 2015, and U.S. imports in 2015 were worth $38 billion. U.S. investment in Vietnam has grown significantly over the past seven years to nearly $1.5 billion. The Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (TPP) is central to deepening the U.S.-Vietnamese economic relationship, and Vietnam signed the TPP in February 2016. This high-standard trade agreement would provide the United States, Vietnam, and ten other member states a level playing field to compete in markets that together account for almost 40 percent of global GDP. The TPP will create new opportunities for American and Vietnamese workers and businesses, including small businesses; promote innovation and the digital economy; foster fair competition, transparency, and good governance; and promote workers’ rights, conservation, and sustainable growth. The United States and Vietnam intend to establish the U.S.-Vietnam Joint Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation to facilitate the implementation of the 123 Agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear activity,, which came into force in October 2014. An expanding civil nuclear partnership will help reduce emissions from the global power sector and establish the highest standards of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation.

Vietnam's Membership in International Organizations

Vietnam and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. Vietnam will host APEC in 2017.

Bilateral Representation

The U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is Ted Osius. He was confirmed by Congress on November 17, 2014 and presented his credentials to President Sang on December 16, 2014. Other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

Vietnam maintains an embassy in the United States at 1233 20th Street, NW, #400, Washington DC 20036 (tel. 202-861-0737).

More information about Vietnam is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State Vietnam Country Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Vietnam Page
U.S. Embassy
USAID Vietnam Page
History of U.S. Relations With Vietnam
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Export.gov International Offices Page
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel Information