Vice President Kamala Harris made history by being the first sitting US Vice President to visit Vietnam. Her three-day visit, which started on August 24 after a delayed departure from Singapore, was warmly welcomed by Vietnam’s leaders and citizens.
Over the past two decades, the bilateral relationship between the two nations have made significant strides; the official visit indicates an optimistic future to the positive momentum in the relations ever since the two countries’ diplomatic relations began 25 years ago.
From discussing economic ties and COVID-19 support to matters of maritime security and sovereignty, the meetings amplified the United States’ deep commitment to the Southeast Asian region, and to strengthening the US-Vietnam relationship.
Recognizing and combating climate change
The Vietnamese government, its national leaders, and VP Harris agreed on the importance of combating the climate crisis and the urgency in heading towards a more sustainable future for the world and its younger generations.
The US government spearheaded a five-year, $36 million project to aid Vietnam’s transition into a more sustainable energy system, which includes implementing renewable energy sources, as well as the adoption of electric motorbikes.
The US government launched the Mekong Coastal Habitat Conservation Project through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The $2.9 million three-year project aims to preserve the biodiversity within the Mekong Delta region through sustainable fisheries management, protection and adaptation to climate change, and conservation efforts.
Maritime security and national sovereignty
The United States’ support of Vietnam’s maritime security is asserted through the expansion of humanitarian and disaster response cooperation, with a particular focus on caring for soldiers, veterans, and the citizens of Vietnam.
Furthermore, in opening her bilateral meeting with Vietnam’s President, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, VP Harris said, “We need to find ways to pressure and raise the pressure, frankly, on Beijing to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims." Similar sentiments were expressed by the Vice President days prior on her visit to Singapore.
This statement echoes the United States’ support towards Vietnam in the South Sea region, one that is evident in the United States’ providing Vietnam with Hamilton-class and Metal Shark patrol boats in previous months, as reported by Vietnam Times. Though subject to the decision of the United States Congress, Vietnam may receive the provision of a portion of a high-endurance cutter, including a fleet of 24 patrol boats, piers, training, and facilities from the US Coast Guard.
Economic growth and development
With a dedication to promoting entrepreneurial efforts by women and ethnic minority groups, the two parties discussed applying technology to prompt job creation and growth in rural areas. The US government also announced the Workforce for Innovation and Startup Ecosystem (WISE) to support Vietnam’s efforts to transition from a labour-intensive workforce to one that is equipped to contribute to the ever growing global digital economy.
COVID-19 and healthcare
The United State’s leadership and commitment to ending the global pandemic are evident in their pioneering efforts of research, creation, and distribution of vaccines. VP Harris announced new donations on the way to Vietnam alongside other methods of enhancing healthcare cooperation.
The Vice President announced that the Biden-Harris Administration recognizes the need to alleviate the pandemic on a global scale; thus, the US is donating one million doses of Pfizer vaccine to Vietnam, bringing the total US donation to six million doses. To assist vaccination distribution efforts to provinces across Vietnam, the US Department of Defense will be donating 77 ultra-low temperature vaccine freezers to accommodate the necessary storage requirements.
Through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), USAID and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be supporting Vietnam with an additional $23 million in emergency assistance funding. This brings their total contribution to Vietnam’s COVID-19 response efforts since the start of the pandemic to nearly $44 million. This fund will directly accelerate equal access to and the delivery of Covid vaccines, in addition to aiding the country in detecting and monitoring Covid cases nationwide. USAID previously also provided $1 million to the Vietnam Red Cross, which aided them in their mission of minimizing the spread of the disease to vulnerable, underprivileged communities.
Furthermore, VP Harris announced the launch of the CDC Southeast Asia Regional Office, which will be located in Hanoi, and is set to advance global health security by responding to health threats, whenever and wherever they occur, in an effective and efficient manner.
Other matters discussed
The Vice President reaffirmed the United States’ focus on promoting civil society through the advocacy for freedom of expression, belief, and association in Vietnam. In holding a meeting with representatives of grassroots organizations, she hoped to emphasize the importance of civil society for the country’s prosperity.
Not to mention, she touched on the difficult past which both nations have overcome to become partners: the legacy of war. In regards to this, the US is committed to surveying and clearing unexploded ordnance through the implementation of projects, expansion in capacity for national mine action centers, and extending the support for persons with disabilities which aims to improve their quality of life and promote social inclusion.
The same spirit of reaffirming the US-Vietnam bilateral partnership, was accentuated by the signing of the new US Embassy Compound, formalizing the lease agreement for another 25 years and beyond to symbolize US engagement in Vietnam for the future. Not to mention, the opening of the Peace Corps Vietnam serves as an indication for a new era of collaboration between the two nations.
“I am honored to be here in Vietnam,” VP Harris said on Twitter. “Vietnam, and all of Southeast Asia, matters to the people, prosperity, and security of the United States.”
Additionally, in a prior tweet, she added that the United States’ “partnerships in Southeast Asia are of mutual importance to the health of our people, the strength of our economies, and our collective security.”
While this meeting was historic, as no other sitting US Vice President has paid Vietnam an official visit, VP Harris is no stranger to making history: she is, after all, the first female, Black and Asian American vice-president. And while this meeting was the first of its kind, strengthening US-Vietnam bilateral relationships hints that this would not be the last.