The first activity seen in the month was an international seminar titled “Vietnam – U.S. Relations: 25 Years of Development and Cooperation” hosted on the very first day of the month by the Institute of Americas Studies under the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, drawing broad participation of representatives from various Vietnamese agencies and organizations as well as some Hanoi-based foreign Ambassadors and representatives. Joining Vietnamese speakers in looking back at the past 25 years and towards the future, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink – still filled with warm feelings from his visit 2 days earlier to Hàm Rồng Bridge which became historic in our war for national defence and from his encounter with local Thanh Hóa war veterans which bore a profound significance of reconciliation – expressed conviction in the bright prospect of the Vietnam – U.S. relations in the next 25 years.

 
 US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel J. Kritenbrink together with Vietnamese and American war veterans visit the Ham Rong Bridge, June 29 (Photo: VNA)

Yet, the most meaningful event at the two countries’ highest level to mark this important timing was the exchange of congratulatory messages between Party General Secretary and State President Nguyễn Phú Trọng, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân and their U.S. counterparts President Donald Trump, Senate President Michael Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phạm Bình Minh also sent a message of congratulations to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

In his message, Party General Secretary and State President Nguyễn Phú Trọng affirmed that “the two countries have during recent years actively and effectively worked together to dismantle bottlenecks, particularly in trade and finance, and step by step consolidated and expanded their comprehensive partnership on the basis of respect for the United Nations Charter and international law and for each other’s political system, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is Vietnam’s belief that guided by the spirit of putting the past aside, overcoming differences, promoting similarities and moving forward toward the future, the Vietnam – U.S. comprehensive partnership will be deeper, more efficient and sustainable, for the sake of the interests of both nations and contributing to security, peace and prosperity in the region and the world over.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s message highlighted that “the development of the partnership between the two countries is a special feat. Today’s cooperation provides the basis for trust and understanding, enabling us to establish a comprehensive partnership as proved by the increasing trade relationship, the relationship between the peoples of the two countries, strategic cooperation, together dealing with human issues and war legacy… The U.S. maintains committment to further strengthening relations between the two countries on the basis of a shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, as wel as respecting each other’s sovereignty and rule of law.” 

 
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc and President Donald Trump in Hanoi on February 27, 2019

On this occasion, respectively introduced and sponsored by Senators Cory Gardner and Edward Markey of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy, and Representatives Ami Bera and Ted Yoho of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, Resolutions S. Res 607 and H. Res. 1018 pinpointed the importance of the Vietnam – U.S. comprehensive partnership and cooperation between the two governments and peoples, for an Indo-Pacific region of peace, prosperity, openness, and on the basis of rules-based order, promoting security, development and respect for sovereignty. The Resolutions emphasized the two countries’ joint efforts in the detoxification of dioxin, handling of unexploded ordnance and search for American and Vietnamese soldiers missing in action. In particular, the Resolutions highly appreciated Vietnam’s increasing role and position in the region and the world, especially when Vietnam takes on the dual role as ASEAN Chair for 2020 and non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for 2020-2021.

In July, too, a statement from the White House Press Secretary was issued to “celebrate the close ties forged over the last quarter century and look forward to marking the next 25 years of partnership, friendship, and a brighter future for our peoples.”

Exactly on July 11, 2020 which marks 25 years since President Bill Clinton declared normalization with Vietnam, Senator Jim Risch, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement that highlighted the two countries’ joint efforts to “overcome the wounds of war to build a strong partnership in the areas of trade, development, public health, energy, defense, and people-to-people ties.” In his words, “the United States remains committed to future cooperation with Vietnam and other ASEAN partners to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region and tackle shared challenges.”

On the very same day, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made a separate statement on this monumental event, in which the Secretary appreciated the two countries for daring to face “the dark legacy of war between our two nations” by taking “a historic step” to establish diplomatic relations and since then “[having] built a friendship on common interests, mutual respect, and bold resolve to overcome the past and look toward the future.” He also renewed “our commitment to a strong and independent Vietnam and a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”

Due to adverse impacts of the covid-19 pandemic that made the holding of face-to-face contacts impossible throughout July, many on-line conferences, seminars and roundtables have been held, involving broad and diverse participation from the two countries’ political and business circles as well as non-governmental institutions and academia. Of particular importance were 3 noteworthy signing ceremonies.

 
The IA signing ceremony at MOET Head Office in Hanoi on July 10, 2020

The first ceremony took place on July 8, 2020 at the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during which representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) signed a Memorandum of Intent on the U.S. technical support for the identification of human remains.

Addressing the ceremony, First Deputy Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn emphasized that “today’s signed document is the outcome of a process of tireless confidence-building endeavor.” From the Vietnamese side, “cooperation in locating Americans Missing in Action (MIA) has constituted positive contributions to this process… In the spirit of ‘putting aside the past and looking toward the future,’ Vietnam remains committed to working actively and effectively with the U.S. in this field.” As regards the U.S. side, for the past 25 years, “the U.S. Government and people have worked to help Vietnam surmount part of the war’s [hugely heavy consequences], including the completed detoxification of Đà Nẵng airport, the on-going clean-up of Biên Hòa airport, the multiple projects on supporting Agent Orange victims, the unexploded ordnance clearance, and the information that helps locate and regroup remains of Vietnamese MIAs.”

In his response, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink said that “[the] U.S. – Vietnam partnership over the last 25 years … has been a remarkable journey, possibly one of the best examples in the world of how former enemies found a way to work together, resolve the past, and achieve the incredible progress we’re seeing today. Never has that shared commitment and vision been more evident than it is right now.  Because we know: As trusted partners, we prosper together.” Recalling First Deputy Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn’s point about MIA searching efforts, Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said, “it is difficult to overstate the amount of gratitude the people of the United States have toward the people of Vietnam for their support in this effort, which continues to this day.” In continuation of the U.S. cooperation in locating Vietnamese MIAs, the diplomat stressed that “under this agreement, the U.S. will bring the best, cutting edge technology to the task of DNA analysis, work with Vietnam to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their laboratories, and ultimately increase the number of remains that can be accurately reunited with their families.”

 
The MOU signing ceremony at DFISH Office in Hanoi on July 22, 2020
 
Vietnam -US relations: 25 years of cooperation and development conference 

After the signing of this important document, First Deputy Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn conferred on behalf of his Ministry leadership Medals of Memento on Vietnam-based USAID Director Michael Greene and Deputy Director Craig Hart in recognition of their active contributions to the Vietnam – U.S. bilateral cooperation over the past time.

 
Vietnamese Minister of National Defense Ngo Xuan Lich (L) and U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Hanoi  2019.

At the second ceremony which was organized on July 10, 2020 at the Head Office of the Ministry of Education and Training, Deputy Minister Nguyễn Văn Phúc signed an Implementing Agreement (IA) on the U.S. Peace Corps Program in English Education in Vietnam. The signed document was then handed over to U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink on behalf of the U.S. Government.

This agreement was signed after the signing 5 years ago of a Framework Agreement on Peace Corps operations in Vietnam.

Speaking at the event, both Deputy Minister of Education and Training Nguyễn Văn Phúc and Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink valued the signing ceremony as a landmark of the 25-year long path of Vietnam – U.S. relationship, trust consolidation and comprehensive partnership. They spoke highly of both sides’ effort and goodwill as demonstrated throughout the negotiation process, and expressed their belief that the Agreement implementation would further develop the Vietnam – U.S. cooperation in the interest of the two nations.

On the same day, at the U.S. Department of State Headquarters in Washington D.C. and witnessed by Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S. Hà Kim Ngọc, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, and National Security Council Senior Director for Asia Allison Hooker, Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen signed a pledge to counter-sign the Implementing Agreement on the U.S. Peace Corps Program in English Education in Vietnam.

The third ceremony was hosted by the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Directorate of Fisheries (DFISH) on July 22, 2020 in Hanoi for DFISH Director General Trần Đình Luân and U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the U.S. support to enhance Vietnam’s fisheries management and law enforcement capabilities.

A document on the cooperation between DFISH and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), the MOU was expected to enable INL to provide DFISH with technical assistance in enhancing DFISH’s capacity, helping to ensure sustainable living marine resources and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. On a particular note, Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink said that “the United States has a great deal of experience in managing fisheries and enforcing regulations, which we are more than happy to share. We look forward to working together with Vietnam to strengthen the sustainability of its fisheries and support its fishers against illegal intimidation.”

***

The month of July 2020 has concluded, yet its vibrant activities have remained fresh, bearing deep imprints of ¼ century of Vietnam – U.S. friendship and cooperation, thus rendering this July a genuinely special month of this special year 2020./.

Tra Tram