In February just before the Tet holiday, US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink went viral — for good reason.
In a special project with Vietcetera, the diplomat showed off his rapping skills alongside Vietnam’s very own, Wowy, to wish Vietnamese a happy and prosperous lunar new year.
His video, inspired by his favorite local show Rap Viet, has already amassed more than four million views, with many calling it a “rap diplomacy”, and a creative and earnest way to reach out to the people in Vietnam.
Kritenbrink’s unusual but heartfelt diplomatic ways have earned him not just fans but a new position in the US government. President Joe Biden has just nominated him to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
A familiar face in Asia
Kritenbrink, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, has been serving as an American diplomat since 1994. He was confirmed as Ambassador to Vietnam in late 2017.
Before his stint in Vietnam, he was the Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council (2015-2017), where he worked extensively on Vietnam and oversaw negotiations of two joint statements regarding the Comprehensive Partnership in the country.
In Beijing, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission (2013-2015), Minister Counselor for Political Affairs (2011-2013), and as Political Officer (2006-2009).
He also served in Tokyo (1994-1995 and 2000-2004), Sapporo (1995-1997), and Kuwait City (1997-1999). In Washington, his other assignments have included Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the Department of State (2009-2011), and Staff Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (1999-2000).
A familiar face in Asian diplomatic affairs, Kritenbrink speaks fluent Chinese and Japanese.
Daniel Kritenbrink, if confirmed by the Senate, will replace David Stilwell, who stepped down when Biden took office on January 20. At present, US Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim has been serving as acting assistant secretary for the region.
When he takes the role, Kritenbrink will guide the operations of the US diplomatic establishments in the countries within the Asia-Pacific and will advise the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs on matters relating to the region.
Legacy in Vietnam
Kritenbrink’s three-year term in Vietnam, which is ending soon, has been well received, especially with how he has continuously promoted reconciliation between two countries that had been marred by war. He has also built a strong bridge between Vietnam and the US in terms of security trade, education, energy, and health.
“Many people look at the US-Vietnam relationship and call our progress a miracle. While what we have accomplished is indeed remarkable, it was not a miracle, and it was not an accident,” said Kritenbrink in an exclusive interview with Vietcetera in February.
“Everything we have achieved has been built on the painstaking work of those in both countries who came before us. It is the result of decades of focused effort in both countries. Every single day, our two countries are working together with a common sense of purpose, for our mutual benefit.”
The ambassador also highlighted some of the most significant milestones between the two nations’ relations in the last three years.
In February 2019, Hanoi hosted a historical meeting with US President Donald Trump and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un. While the two-day summit was cut short and no agreement was reached, it has established Vietnam’s importance in global diplomacy. Vietnam has a long-standing partnership with the DPRK, as well as an excellent foreign relationship with the US.
Beyond that, the US also made huge investments in Vietnam’s defense capabilities, including maritime capacities to advance their shared interest in freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes, particularly in the hotly contested South China Sea.
During Kritenbrink’s tenure, the country welcomed two US Navy aircraft carriers, which are “not just symbols of our security cooperation but also offer transformative opportunities for American sailors to experience Vietnam’s dynamic culture”.
He also highlighted the countries’ health cooperation amidst the pandemic.
“The United States contributed over $13 million, as well as donated 100 ventilators, to support Vietnam’s fight against COVID-19 and to support its economic recovery. At the same time, I have been moved as the Vietnamese government, private Vietnamese citizens, businesses, and other organizations donated over 3.5 million pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help Americans in our fight against COVID-19.”
Many Vietnamese have also commended Kritenbrink’s visits to several sites that bear proof of the tragic Vietnam War. He paid respects to the fallen Vietnamese troops and citizens in Truong Son Martyrs Cemetery in Quang Tri, Martyrs Cemetery in Ho Chi Minh City and the Bien Hoa Cemetery. He performed traditional Vietnamese rituals including burning incense sticks and striking a bell during his visits, a move seen to have further strengthened the friendship between the US and Vietnam more than four decades after the war.