pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

Vietnam-U.S. Relations at 25: Retrospect and Prospect

Issues & Insights Vol. 21 SR 3, pp. 6-13

Volume Overview

Authors of this volume participated in the inaugural U.S.-Vietnam Next-Generation Leaders Initiative. With backgrounds in academia, public policy, military and industry, the cohort brings rich insights on the past, present, and future of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. Between October 2020 and April 2021, cohort members engaged with senior experts and practitioners as they developed research papers addressing various aspects of the bilateral relationship.

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email [email protected].

Chapter Excerpt

In July 2015, Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong became Vietnam’s highest-rank- ing leader to set foot in the White House. The historic visit to the United States by the CPV chief marked an extraordinary milestone in Vietnam-U.S. relations, reaffirming the mutual commitment to respect “each other’s political systems, independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” as reflected in the 2013 joint statement by then-President Barack Obama and then-President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam.

The two countries have shared a difficult history. Millions of people on both sides lost their lives in the decade-long and most catastrophic war since World War II. Until today, traumatic memories of the Vietnam War haunt U.S. veterans, as well as their families, and on the other side of the Pacific, generations of Vietnamese people continue to suffer from the lasting effects of Agent Orange and unex- ploded ordnance (UXO). Against this backdrop, the evolution of Vietnam-U.S. relations in the last quarter of a century has demonstrated what former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Daniel J. Kritenbrink asserted: “The sky is the limit.” Or, in the words of former Secretary of State and Senator John Kerry, “no two countries have worked harder, done more, and done better to overcome the past and work for the future” than Vietnam and the United States.

This paper discusses the motivation of the two countries to embrace closer relations and reviews the evolution of bilateral ties since the Obama administration. This paper observes that the current status of the bilateral relations is “strategic” in the name of a “comprehensive partnership,” and that Vietnam and the United States have more leeway to move the relations forward.

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Tu Lai is a research fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy and Strategic Studies, the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. His research interests include U.S. foreign policy, U.S.-Vietnam relations, U.S.-China relations, and international relations in East Asia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from the Diplomacy Academy of Vietnam and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs, the George Washington University. He has published in East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin, East Asia Forum, among others.

Photo: Capt. Lex Walker, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 7, interacts with a resident of Khanh Hoa Center for Social Protection during Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) Vietnam 2017. The engagement provides an opportunity for Sailors from the U.S. and Vietnam People’s Navy to interact and share knowledge to enhance mutual capabilities and strengthen solid partnerships with the local community. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released