(CPV) - Thanks to the hard work and goodwill of people in both Vietnam and the U.S., we've seen over the last 15 years a huge blossoming of our two countries' ties, said U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc E. Knapper during an interview granted to Communist Party of Vietnam Online Newspaper.
Reporter: Ambassador Knapper, you have said that the U.S.-Vietnam relations have never been better. Would you please describe this growth in detail?
Ambassador Knapper: As you may know, I was here from 2004-2007. At the time, our relationship was just getting off the ground – it was barely 10 years old. Our cooperation in several areas was still quite modest. Whether it was trade or security cooperation, health cooperation, our bilateral activities were very limited.
Just a few examples: trade has grown like 200%. Now it's about $113 billion. The U.S. is Vietnam's number one export market. Vietnam is one of our top 10 trading partners. And now we have Vietnamese investments in the U.S., which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
In health cooperation, back in 2004 we were just getting started. But now, not only is the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program saving hundreds of thousands of lives here in Vietnam, but our health cooperation has expanded to issues like tuberculosis, but also COVID-19. Vietnam provided the U.S. with almost 500,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) during the hardest part for the U.S. back in the spring and summer of 2020. And of course, the U.S. has provided over 40 million doses of vaccine for Vietnam. I think you've seen that in times of need, both of our countries are working closely because we've become trusting friends.
If you look at our security cooperation, the U.S.’ fundamental policy is we want a Vietnam that is strong, independent, and prosperous, we want a Vietnam that can defend its sovereignty, can protect its territorial integrity. We know we have mutual respect for each other's political systems. And part of this is to ensure Vietnam has the capabilities to defend its interests on the land, in the air, on the sea, and in cyberspace. And part of our cooperation is with Vietnam's Coast Guard, strengthening Vietnam's capacity to defend its interests in the East Sea. This is something where our two countries are very well aligned and absolutely share a strong interest.
There are a million other examples. Education is another one. We have over 30,000 Vietnamese young people studying in the U.S. Vietnam is now the fifth largest sending country of students to the U.S. which is pretty remarkable, considering who the competition is. These ties will continue to deepen, thanks to the many American English language teachers we have in Vietnam, whether they're part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant ETA program or part of the Peace Corps, which is just getting off the ground. In many ways, our education ties are absolutely deeper and stronger than ever.
The final example I would give is related to war legacy issues between our two countries–really it's the foundational aspect of our ties. Our work on war legacies began even before normalization. And over the past 27 plus years we've made tremendous progress, whether it’s accounting for U.S. missing or, now, working on accounting for Vietnamese missing. We are working on cleaning up Dioxin hotspots, including Da Nang airbase and now at Bien Hoa airbase, removing unexploded mines and bombs and assisting people with disabilities. In many ways, these activities are stronger than ever and will continue going forward from next year, and onward.
Reporter: Vietnam and the U.S. will mark the tenth anniversary of our comprehensive partnership next year. What are your expectations and hopes for the bilateral relations?
Ambassador Knapper: We're very excited about the 10th year anniversary of our comprehensive partnership. It's going to be a great opportunity to celebrate and commemorate all the great successes I just mentioned.
There's a number of our anniversaries next year. We've got the 30th anniversary of Fulbright. We've got the 25th anniversary of CDC, the 20th anniversary of PEPFAR, and all of these, whether it's education or health cooperation, really do show not just the staying power of the U.S. here in Vietnam, but also I think will be a foundation for even greater commitment going forward between our two countries.
I would expect next year we're going to see even deeper cooperation between our two countries in terms of climate and energy. Our two countries are working together to mitigate the effects of climate change, where Vietnam is one of the top five most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change.
So, as we work with Vietnam to help protect itself, to promote resilience against climate change, we will also work with Vietnam to promote the transition to cleaner sources of energy such as wind and solar.
I think we'll continue to see even greater cooperation dealing with transnational issues.Climate and disease are the transnational, non-traditional security challenges of our time. I think if you look at other areas, whether it's law enforcement cooperation, whether it's promoting our shared interests in the East Sea or on the Mekong River, these are all areas in which you will see going forward even deeper cooperation between our two countries.
Reporter: After Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s tour in the U.S. in May 2022, it can be said that the bilateral relations not only benefit the two peoples, but also contribute to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world. Would you agree?
Ambassador Knapper: We were really pleased that Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh could go to Washington in May, on the occasion of the U.S.-ASEAN special summit. And on that occasion, it was really important that Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh met with President Biden, he met with Secretary Blinken, he met with National Security Advisor Sullivan, he met with our Secretary of Commerce. He met with business leaders, academic leaders, and public opinion leaders. It was a chance over the course of a week to really get a full sense of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and to see just how deep the interest in the U.S. is towards Vietnam.
Since you asked about peace, stability, development, and cooperation in the region, I hope that during that visit and on other occasions, your leadership understood just how committed the U.S. is, not just to this region in general, but to Vietnam in particular. As I mentioned earlier, we are absolutely committed to a strong independent, prosperous Vietnam. We are absolutely committed to a stable region that facilitates peace and stability, and development. I think one of the strong messages that your Prime Minister heard, or that we tried to transmit in the U.S., was that we are here for Vietnam, we are your friend and your partner. We want to deepen our cooperation more, and we look forward to opportunities to do that, hopefully with other high-level visits in the year or two ahead.
Reporter: What do you think about Vietnam’s contributions to regional and global issues?
Ambassador Knapper: I think one of the really significant changes I’ve personally witnessed between my previous time here and now is the increasing leadership role that Vietnam is playing not just regionally, but globally. When I was here before, Vietnam was just getting ready to serve its first term on the UN Security Council. It was a brand-new experience for Vietnam.
But fast forward to now, and not only has Vietnam served once, but twice on the UN Security Council. Vietnam was the ASEAN chair in 2020 and hosted APEC in 2017. In three major regional and global opportunities to showcase its leadership, it succeeded by every expectation.
Of course, we've now got Vietnamese peacekeepers in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. We see Vietnamese diplomats very active around the world and in international organizations and so, really, by virtually every measure Vietnam has emerged as a very strong and capable medium-sized power, that's “punching above its weight” regionally and globally.
Reporter: In your opinion, what are the opportunities and challenges for U.S.-Vietnam relations?
Ambassador Knapper: I think the one issue we didn't talk about, but it's going to be a big opportunity going forward, is IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework).We were very pleased when Vietnam, back in May, agreed to be one of 14 charter members and we're very pleased that Vietnam agreed to sign on to all four of the pillars.
Of course, IPEF is the Biden administration's signature effort to engage economically with the Indo-Pacific, and the fact that Vietnam got in early and is helping to shape what this effort looks like is going to be very key going forward. We appreciate Vietnam's leadership in this area
Within IPF, you're going to see some of the key issues of our time when it comes to trading and investment, digital economy, supply chains, clean energy, or green economy. These are all things that are going to be part of IPEF, and for Vietnam it’s going to be a really great opportunity to tackle some of the big challenges it's facing.
Another opportunity is that next year the U.S. is the host of APEC. There's going to be five big meetings throughout the year–four at the ministerial level and one at the leader level–so this will be another chance for high-level Vietnamese delegations to go to the U.S. to meet counterparts and engage with the U.S. in a way that will really be good for both of our countries as we seek to strengthen our economic and investment ties.
Another opportunity, and this is not just next year, but going forward, is increasing Vietnamese investment in the U.S. The more Vietnamese investment we see in the US, the more we're going to see different kinds of connections between our two countries emerge, whether it's people-to-people ties, supply chains, or even strengthened political and diplomatic ties. Getting closer economically is going to pay dividends in many different areas.
But let's be realistic: there will be challenges. We will continue to see supply chain, economic, food, and energy challenges. That's something that we're all going to have to deal with together.
I think, hopefully, the worst of COVID-19 is behind us. We really hope so. But there are still going to be challenges stemming from that pandemic. And again, this shows the value of our two countries’ cooperation in overcoming these challenges.
Reporter: As a diplomat in Vietnam for many years, how do you think Vietnam has changed? Please use three different words to describe Vietnam.
Ambassador Knapper: It's been remarkable the changes that I've seen between the last time I was here and now. Vietnam’s economy has grown tremendously. Its regional and global impact has grown tremendously. And the partnership with the U.S. has deepened in ways that were unimaginable before.
I'd like to say, and you've probably seen this somewhere before, one thing that hasn't changed is the warmth and hospitality of the Vietnamese people. I felt that the moment I returned here in January.
So maybe that's one of the words: hospitable or warm. One of the tragedies of COVID-19 was, though Vietnamese people love introducing their culture, love introducing their food, and their great traditions, artistic and otherwise, COVID- 19 closed everything down, it was a real pity that you know, the visitors stopped coming and Vietnam was unable to show its great hospitality to the outside world.
Another word I've always applied to Vietnam is optimistic, partly because such a large percentage of the population here is under 40. But it always just brings so much energy to see the optimism that today was better than yesterday, tomorrow is going to be better than today. And this feeling that this country has got a great future ahead of it –you can feel it, and I can feel it.
It's unfair to limit me to three words, but if I had to come up with a third one, I'd say dynamic. Things happen so quickly here. There's so much energy. And if you blink, you're going to miss something. Folks are just so active and eager to take on new challenges, and Vietnam is eager to take on new challenges, so I think it just creates this dynamism and energy that's quite infectious.
Reporter: Thank you very much!
|U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc E. Knapper says New Year wishes to readers of Communist Party of Vietnam Online Newspaper. (Video: Phuong Huyen)