Opening the series of panel discussions on three key aspects of the bilateral relationship, the session on Security Areas welcomed current updates, impactful evaluation and in-depth analysis from leading representatives from both Vietnam and the United States.
From Comprehensive Partnership to Strategic Partnership
On July 11, 1995, the world witnessed the announcement of normalization of Vietnam and U.S. relations delivered by the then leaders of two countries: U.S. President Bill Clinton and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt. The historic moment opened a new chapter in Vietnam-U.S. relations and opened the door for a new diplomatic relationship.
In the next 27 years, under the umbrella of a comprehensive partnership, the Vietnam-U.S. relations prospered in different areas from social economics to culture and healthcare, yet the most significant achievement was that “we started to collaborate on the “most sensitive area,” which is Security and Defense, and have been achieving great success” – shared Major General Nguyễn Hồng Quân.
As a researcher and expert in this field, Major General Nguyễn Hồng Quân asserted that the Vietnam-U.S. relations in Defense started in 1978 when military leaders of both countries had initial dialogues. Since then, Vietnam and the U.S. have actively addressed legacies of the war problems. One of such milestones was the visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Hanoi in July 2021. During this official visit, the U.S. The Secretary of Defense signed a “memorandum of understanding” offering access to valuable databases, including 200 documents collected by the Americans during the war, which would help the Vietnamese search for and identify missing war martyrs.
Presented with powerful evidence, Major General Nguyễn Hồng Quân affirmed: “Some actions in Vietnam-U.S. relations have gone beyond the strategic partnership framework,” so “we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on the title of the relationship, the actual ties are more important”
Continuing on the point of Major General Nguyễn Hồng Quân, Dr. Lê Hồng Hiệp argued: “I agree that the title is not important as the actions on the ground, but to have the proper title for bilateral ties is also important because we need the legal background or political framework for diplomatic purposes.”
To answer the audience’s question on the differences in political ideologies, Asia Expert Murray Hiebert said: “I do not think the ideological differences are barriers. That issue was buried. After a lot of hard work from diplomats, scholars and even party officials, [in February, 2019] President Donald Trump finally invited the General Secretary of the Communist Party Nguyễn Phú Trọng to the United States. It proved that the U.S. recognizes and respects the political ideology of Vietnam.” Sharing insights from Vietnam’s perspectives, Dr. Lê Hồng Hiệp said: “On the part of Vietnam, there remains some reservation out of ideological consideration because of the differences in the political systems. However, over the past 27 years, we have made a lot of progress and unimaginable changes, I believe we can achieve more and do more together, especially with the emergence of young politicians and diplomats.”
The strategic position of Vietnam in Indo-Pacific Region
The Vietnam-U.S. bilateral relations are crucial in the regional context, especially after the U.S announcement of President Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy in early 2022. “With the Indo-Pacific strategy, there are a wide range of areas that the region, including Vietnam can work together with the U.S. We have a lot of shared interests, for example, to have this region as a region of peace, stability and prosperity based on a rule of law and also on international law,” Ambassador Phạm Quang Vinh said.
Observing from the perspective of regional security and defense, Vietnam plays an important role in maintaining peace and stability, for the South China Sea in particular. “The U.S. published the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” only 45 days after Joe Biden officially became the President of the United States in which they mentioned Vietnam as one out of two important partners in ASEAN region. It shows that the U.S. under the Joe Biden administration appreciates the role of Vietnam,” Major General Nguyễn Hồng Quân shared. Following the guidance, the U.S. has supported Vietnam in protecting sea security by providing patrol boats and international law training for Vietnamese Maritime Police.
Discussion on the position and actions of Vietnam and ASEAN in the context of major power competition, all speakers emphasized the balance of power in the region, as “we do not want ASEAN to be dominated by any one major power. So we want all the major powers working and cooperating with ASEAN members for peace and prosperity of the region,” explained Ambassador Phạm Quang Vinh.
“We can’t separate challenges and opportunities into two baskets; they are intertwined. We don’t want to be trapped into competition among major powers. But at the same time, we must view this as an opportunity to work with all major powers for our interests and for the development of our nation and the region,” he continued.
From bilateral to multilateral relations
The bilateral relations between Vietnam and the U.S. help Vietnam settle and maintain multilateral relations, especially in peacekeeping missions and commercial defense.
Since 2014, the U.S. has assisted Vietnam to successfully deploy four (04) level-2 field hospitals and one (01) sapper unit to take on a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. The participation of Vietnam in the peacekeeping mission is a testament for Vietnam’s engagement and contribution to global security.
In terms of commercial defense, since 2010, Vietnam has diversified the supply base of military weapons and facilities. “20 years ago, Russia was our only supplier taking up 90% weapons in Vietnam, but today, the proportion has reduced to 70%, the rest we has bought from other countries, such as the U.S., Israel, France, Canada,” Major General Nguyễn Hồng Quân shared.
Facing the ever changing future of our volatile world, it is essential to promote multilateral relations to foster collective actions towards the common good of our nations. Under the administration of President Joe Biden, the United States is particularly interested in promoting multilateral partnerships among countries in the regions, continents, and the world. Multilateral relations are built from shared interests and based on respecting the differences in politics – culture – society of each country. Vietnam will certainly accompany the United States and other countries in promoting multilateral relations and in the implementation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.