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30 August 2004, HCMC, Vietnam
Out-going U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Raymond F. Burghardt, was the guest of honor and keynote speaker at an AmCham luncheon today in HCMC.  In his speech, Ambassador Burghardt discussed progress made since the beginning of restored relations with Vietnam including his three years as Ambassador and goals for the future of the bilateral relationship.

Ambassador Pete Peterson and the former Charge de Affairs set the foundation necessary for a new U.S.-Vietnam relationship.  Under the guidance of Secretary Richard Armitage and Senator John Kerry, Ambassador Burghardt decided to also focus on building military-to-military relations, further developing and creating ties.

The relationship has since deepened and broadened:

  a.. Trade has increased four-fold over the past two years.
  b.. Surge in textile exports to the US
  c.. Signing of a bilateral Aviation Agreement
  d.. An impressive series of high level government officials visited both countries, though mostly to the US.  (Vu Khoan's "strategic level meetings" with Secretary of State Powell and Dr. Condoleeza Rice shows progress).
  e.. Military-to-military visits (visits by Defense Minister Tra, ports by two navy war ships) "represent normalization of military ties".
  f.. Huge increase in humanitarian projects (US is now the largest bilateral donor for HIV/AIDs projects - 10 to 15 million more)
  g.. Education exchange programs, such as the Fullbright program and the Vietnam Education Foundation, represent the biggest US programs in the world
  h.. Cultural exchange programs increased - "this has been one of my goals"

The U.S. and Vietnam are now taking each other more seriously than they did two years ago.  The US is becoming more important to Vietnam and Vietnam is willing to make this more public:

  a.. It is much easier to get meetings with Vietnam's leadership
  b.. Negative press has decreased
  c.. Collaboration on counternarcotics is better (visits by DHS, US Customs, etc)

The relationship is affected by single-issue advocacy groups, which often totally conflict each other.  If you make one group happy, you are sure to anger other groups.  In addition, there are strong differences in opinion on
human rights and religious freedom. U.S. companies will come to Vietnam to invest, eventually.

One problem for Vietnam is that there are not many CEOs worried about the relationship with Vietnam.  Most are focused on China.

We need to move from training to cooperation on an operation level.  In addition, there is a low level of cooperation on political issues.   While the trade relationship is better, there is a need for further liberalization of services.  Movements towards a WTO-rules based system is an important step as is development of the private sector in Vietnam.

2005 will be an important year in bilateral relations:

  a.. 10-year anniversary of bilateral relations
  b.. Prime Minister may visit the US
  c.. PNTR - this will become an issue if Vietnam continues to seek WTO accession.
          An occasion for all to review the relationship and discuss issues 
          All issues will come to the table (human rights, religious freedom, market access, transparency, rule of law, etc.)
          Now is the time to prepare, make new friends, talk about these issues

US must also work to improve the bilateral relationship, "but I am not going to talk about this here as I will discuss this with my bosses in Washington, DC, upon my return".

Recommendation:  "Don't let the hot issue of the moment jeopardize all other issues."

The US and Vietnam have no strategic conflict at this time; actually there is more convergence than anything.  I will leave Vietnam with similar feelings about the Vietnamese as when I left in 1973, with deep respect. The Vietnamese are pragmatic, they are entrepreneurs, they are eager to get training and are very focused on the future.  All this combined with a great sense of humor.

Q (AmCham Chairman): Depending on who is elected in November, do you think there will be a difference in policy towards Vietnam?
A: [I am confident President Bush will be re-elected] and that there will not be much difference in policy towards Vietnam.  Both parties agree that there ought to be a relationship/dialogue with Vietnam.

Q: If there is so much convergence on the issues and if there is no longer a question that a bilateral relationship is necessary, why then is Jackson-Vanik, and PNTR for that matter, still an issue?
A: In the eyes of most citizens, having a relationship is necessary, but increasing trade between the two countries is not.

Q:  What is the single biggest issue from the US side?
A: . I would say human rights and religious freedom.  There is deep distrust in the US on Vietnam and vice-a-versa.  The law enforcement relationship certainly needs to improve.

Q: What would you do if given another three years as Ambassador in Vietnam?
A: Try to increase information sharing, particularly in the areas of trafficking, terrorism, counternarcotics.  I would like to see more US investment in Vietnam and work with the Vietnamese to attract further investment.  We would probably increase efforts to improve IPR enforcement and respect for the rule of law.  Finally, would try to get an adoptions agreement completed between our two countries.