Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is working with government officials, private-sector leaders and civil society representatives in Vietnam to build stronger economic, security and people-to-people ties with the growing East Asian power.
“We’re working on everything from maritime security and nonproliferation to public health and disaster relief to promoting trade and economic growth,” Clinton said at a joint news conference with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh July 10. She said that during their meeting they also discussed their shared interest in deepening cultural, educational and economic ties.
Clinton said trade and investment between the United States and Vietnam has increased “from practically nothing” when the two countries established formal diplomatic relations in 1995 to more than $22 billion today. Since 2010 alone, bilateral trade has grown by more than 40 percent.
The secretary said the United States and Vietnam are working with other partners to continue to expand this growth “through a far-reaching new regional trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would lower trade barriers while raising standards on everything from labor conditions to environmental protection to intellectual property.”
She said the agreement is set to benefit all participating countries.
“In fact, economists expect that Vietnam would be among the countries under the Trans-Pacific Partnership to benefit the most,” Clinton said. She expressed hope the agreement will be finalized in 2012.
The secretary said that setting higher standards, as required by the new partnership, will be critical to supporting Vietnam’s continued development and transition to a 21st-century entrepreneurial economy as it will support the free exchange of ideas and strengthen the rule of law and respect for the universal rights of workers.
“I know there are some who argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first and worry about political reform and democracy later, but that is a short-sided bargain,” Clinton said. “Democracy and prosperity go hand in hand, political reform and economic growth are linked, and the United States wants to support progress in both areas.”
The secretary told reporters that in talks with her Vietnamese counterpart, she raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas.
Additionally, the two discussed expanding economic ties through new business partnerships. Clinton, who was joined by a U.S. business delegation, visited the American Chamber of Commerce while in Hanoi to meet with American and Vietnamese business leaders and to witness the signing of new private-sector partnerships.
The United States is Vietnam’s largest market for exports and the seventh-largest foreign investor in Vietnam. Clinton said the United States is committed to expanding these ties, and American business is eager to invest more in Vietnam and throughout the Asia Pacific.
“It’s one of the top priorities of the Obama administration,” she said. “The United States is, after all, an enduring Pacific power with Pacific interests, and we intend to be a presence in the Pacific region for the foreseeable future.”
Clinton said this focus on investing in the region, and in Vietnam in particular, is mutually beneficial. New U.S. business projects in Vietnam can help the country overcome development challenges and fuel economic development while supporting jobs in America.
“This is a win-win,” she said.
Clinton also addressed the importance of deepening cultural, educational and people-to-people ties while in Hanoi through talks with Vietnamese leaders and by participating in the 20th anniversary of the return of the Fulbright Program in Vietnam.
She said the program has already transformed the lives of 8,000 American and Vietnamese students, scholars, educators and business people and produced many remarkable leaders in both countries. The secretary said the United States is looking to do more to increase the number of educational exchanges and build lasting connections between the people of both countries.
Clinton said the United States is also hoping to send Peace Corps volunteers to Vietnam in the near future to continue to support the country’s development and growth.
The secretary’s visit to Vietnam comes as part of a global tour that has also included stops in France, Japan and Mongolia. She is scheduled to visit Laos, Cambodia, Egypt and Israel before departing for Washington July 17.