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Building trust: Message by US Defense Secretary in Vietnam visit
Minh Vu 18:19, 2021/07/29
The US and Vietnam will continue to enhance relations on both bilateral and multilateral agendas.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has conveyed a message of building trust and mutual respect to Vietnam in the context that bilateral relations have become closer over the past years.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Vietnam's Defense Minister Phan Van Giang in Hanoi on July 29. Photo: QDND 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin becomes the first member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet to visit Vietnam to fortify Washington’s commitment to strengthening ties with Vietnam.

Shortly after the arrival in Hanoi, Austin visited Hoa Lo Prison or the “Hanoi Hilton”, the facility was known to American pilots detained during the war.

Austin tweeted that “I wanted to make sure one of my first stops in Vietnam was to the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. It is a visible reminder of the cost of war, and why our strong bilateral partnership with Vietnam today is rooted in our shared sacrifice.”

Speaking before the visit, Austin said “You’ll hear me talk a lot about partnerships and the value of partnerships.” “My goal is to strengthen relationships,” he said.

The visit took part in July that marks a series of important events for both countries namely the arrival of US-decommissioned Hamilton-class cutter CSB 8021, the US dropping its allegations on Vietnam’s currency manipulation, Washington donation of three Covid-19 vaccine million doses, and the tribute to Vietnam’s War Invalids and Martyrs Day given by a delegation from the US Embassy led by Col Thomas Stevenson and Chargé d’Affaires Christopher Klein.

Vietnam and the US to strengthen ties in defense

On July 29, at the meeting with Vietnam’s National Defence Minister Phan Van Giang, Austin said war legacies are an issue that the US has attached great importance to settle. The two sides inked a memorandum of understanding on the US support to identify remains of Vietnamese soldiers who died in the war.

Meanwhile, Austin agreed to speed up the Bien Hoa dioxin cleanup project and other humanitarian programs in Vietnam.

At the meeting, they agreed to pursue cooperation in issues reached in the Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Bilateral Defense Cooperation in 2011 and the US-Vietnam Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations signed in 2015, giving priority to humanitarian cooperation, war legacy issues, maritime security, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Regional security issues were also included in the working agenda between the two ministers. Traditional security issues in addition to defense cooperation within the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM+) and rules-based approach (basing on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)) in maritime disputes were also discussed at the meeting.

 Greeting ceremony. Photo: QDND

Pham Quang Vinh, former deputy foreign minister and former Vietnamese Ambassador to the US (2014-2018), said picking up Vietnam as one of the destinations for the first regional trip of US Defense Chief shows how important the bilateral ties and Vietnam’s role in the region are to Biden administration.

Regarding defense ties, the US and Vietnam will continue to enhance the relations on both bilateral and multilateral agendas. Over the past six years, all US defense ministers made visits to Vietnam including Ashton Carter in June 2015, James Mattis in January 2018 and the first visit to Vietnam given by a US aircraft carrier, and Mark T. Esper in November 2019.

Vinh said Austin’s trip is part of the US commitment to the Indo-Pacific and in the US-China strategic competition. It has been proved through a series of events including consultation dialogues relating to ASEAN, Mekong, South China Sea (called East Sea by Vietnam), Myanmar, Covid-19, and the rules-based approach.

Addressing non-traditional security, the two ministers dealt with specific issues namely Covid-19 prevention and control, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. On this occasion, the US secretary announced more Covid-19 relief to Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Ambassador to the US, Ha Kim Ngoc, said Washington was considering donating more vaccines to Vietnam.

The US has donated 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, a significant amount out of 23 million doses that Biden pledged to share with 20 Asian countries.

In addition to the vaccine donation, the US has committed US$19.8 million in Covid-19 related assistance to Vietnam since the start of the pandemic, according to the US Embassy in Hanoi.

In the meeting with Vietnamese National Defence Minister Giang, the two sides discussed the cooperation in the military industry but no details were unveiled.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Hoa Lo Prison, Hanoi on July 27. Photo: Secreary's Twitter 
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