Friday , July 12 2024

‘We want to be Vietnam’s partner’: US ambassador


U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper shared his insights on how Vietnam and the U.S.’s diplomatic elevation in 2023 will open up opportunities for both countries in the years to come.

How do you evaluate the Vietnam-U.S. relations and cooperation prospects, especially after they elevate the ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership?

Ambassador Marc Knapper: It has been a spectacular year for the U.S.–Vietnam relationship. Starting off in the beginning of the year, we were very much looking forward to celebrating the 10-year anniversary of our comprehensive partnership, of course with the hope that we would be able to upgrade our relationship to the next level over the course of the year. We had so many visitors from Washington, with a quarter of the U.S. cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and USAID Administrator Samatha Power. Besides, we welcomed several high-level congressional delegations, and aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan over the summer. I think all of these visits are significant, which really did reflect the importance with which Washington looks at Vietnam, and the importance with which Washington evaluates the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.

But of course, the big news of the year was President Joe Biden’s visit and then the double upgrade from Comprehensive Partnership to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. And this was really significant, I think for two reasons. One, it was a reflection of where the U.S. and Vietnam, frankly, already were, you know, our partnership was already comprehensive already strategic. When you look at the activities and the efforts the U.S. and Vietnam make together in so many different areas, whether it’s health cooperation, energy cooperation, or security cooperation, you’ve already known these are fundamental sort of strategic issues in which Vietnam and the US plan together and work together and cooperate together. So really, the upgrade, I think, was significant in that it was a very public acknowledgement of how far our relationship had come in the 28 years of normalisation but it is also significant in what it said about our hopes for the future.

The visit by the president was a public and resounding statement of hope by the U.S. and by Vietnam, about where we want this relationship to go. It was a very public statement that our two countries’ futures are now inextricably linked to the fact that the success of the U.S. is Vietnam’s success, and Vietnam’s success will be the U.S.’ success, whether it’s in terms of promoting prosperity, promoting security, promoting the health of our peoples. Right now, the U.S. and Vietnam are partners whose paths are aligned and whose paths going forward are shared between our two peoples or two countries. I think we saw for example, the pledges the U.S. made to work with Vietnam on semiconductors, and help create a high-tech, innovation-led economy were extremely significant because it’s all about promoting U.S. high-tech investment. It is also about workforce development and training and education so that Vietnam can have the engineers and computer scientists and IT workers. The country needs up to 80,000 over the next several years, and the U.S. is a part of this story. We want to be part of this shared effort with Vietnam.

So I think what we’re seeing now in terms of semiconductors is just the beginning. I think we are going to see a lot more in terms of the Vietnam-U.S. cooperation in high-tech industries going forward. Looking at just how much and how far we’ve come in just four months, we’ve done to get to where we are now, it didn’t happen overnight. It took years of hard work, and dedication and commitment to this relationship by friends in both Vietnam and the U.S. I’m very excited about what we look forward to.

U.S.s Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper addresses a press conference in Hanoi, April 20, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

U.S.’s Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper addresses a press conference in Hanoi, April 20, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Obviously, trade, economy and education are among key players in the bilateral ties; however, cultural exchange and tourism have not been tapped to the fullest level. So what are your recommendations for the two countries to enhance cooperation in these areas? And please share your plan to promote cooperation in general in 2024?

Well, I think education is a great example already. Our education ties are very strong. We have 30,000 Vietnamese students in the U.S., which makes Vietnam the No.5 source country of foreign students in the U.S. That’s something we’re very proud of. And we hope we can raise that to No.4. But it’s really significant if you look at who are No.1, 2, 3 and 4. It’s India, China, the Republic of Korea, Canada and then Vietnam. And I think it reflects greatly the confidence that Vietnamese students and Vietnamese families have in American education. But even though we have 30,000 Vietnamese students, physically present in the US, if you count online courses, summer camps or short-term exchange programs, homestays, the number actually jumps to 300,000 Vietnamese every year. 300,000 Vietnamese every year have some kind of interaction with American education programs. That’s just an amazing testament, as I said, not just to the strength of our two countries’ ties but also it pretends great things for the future.

The one thing I would like to see is more American young people coming this way to study and to teach English. I think if we can get more Americans here, we can continue even more strongly the process of building bridges to promote understanding between our two countries. We already have a Peace Corps program here which Americans come to teach English in the past year in Hanoi, we will have another group of Americans starting very soon in HCMC as well. We’ve got the Fulbright University of Vietnam in HCMC, which has become a real hub of learning with the American style education, and we hope that that will continue to grow thanks to the support of the Vietnamese government but also the Ho Chi Minh City authorities. We look forward to other American institutions partnering with counterparts here in Vietnam, whether it’s with other partners or with VinUni, which has been very active particularly in high tech areas. And so I fully expect that as we continue to deepen and accelerate our efforts to work with Vietnam on building a high-tech, innovation economy, we’re going to see many more American universities, American research institutions coming here to Vietnam, either establishing their own sort of independent facility or partnering with an existing one here. So that’s going to be a very exciting story this year and in the years to come.

Could you please share your impressions on Vietnam? As Tet (Lunar New Year) is approaching, what is the message you’d like to send to the Vietnamese people?

It’s my third Tet here, my third year here, and it’s been an incredible journey. As you may know, I’ve served here before from 2004 to 2007 and the changes between when I left in 2007 and to the time I returned in 2022, have been stunning. But I always say the one thing that didn’t change was the warmth and the hospitality of the Vietnamese people. I think the sense of friendship with the U.S., I mean, it’s changed only because it’s gotten deeper in the 15 years since I left. And of course, just the amount and the breadth of bilateral cooperative activities that we undertake is just amazing, compared to what I was here in 2007. And so my message is thank you to the people of Vietnam for all the warmth and the hospitality and the commitment to the relationship with the U.S. Please know that in Washington and throughout the US, we have a similar strong commitment to Vietnam and to the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. We want Vietnam to succeed. And we’re eager to work with Vietnam, whether it’s trade, investment, health, security, and education. We want to be Vietnam’s partner.

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