Vietnam and the United States have just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the end of the war between them, and are going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. How do you evaluate the relationship at this point? What are the remaining challenges? What can the US do to further improve it?
I believe that the Vietnamese and American people and the entire progressive mankind aspires for peace and wish to live in peace. No one wants wars. Unfortunately, the history of Vietnam-US relations had a gloomy chapter that has left heavy legacies behind in both nations. Time has shown us that our burning desire for peace and a flourishing friendship and co-operation has risen above everything, and the two countries have managed to put the past behind, rise over differences, maximize similarities and head towards a brighter future.
Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong answers questions posed by the US Press__ Photo: Tri Dung/VNA
Forty years after the war and 20 years after normalization, Vietnam and the US, formerly enemies, have now become friends and actively engaged in a Comprehensive Partnership since 2013. This is really a long stride that few could have imagined 20 years ago.
In 1995, the two sides cooperated with each other mainly in searching for Missing In Action (MIA) soldiers. Now, the cooperation has expanded to all areas, political, diplomatic, economics and trade, culture and education, science and technology, security and defence, and people-to-people exchange.
Among Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam has the largest number of students studying in the US.
Trade between our two countries has increased 130-fold in the last 20 years. We are now joining other countries in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which is of strategic importance for regional economic co-operation. In addition to our bilateral efforts, we have strengthened co-operation on regional and global issues such as non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, climate change response, food and water security, and UN Peace Keeping Operations, contributing to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.
Our leaders have visited each other or met on the sidelines of regional and international forums on a regular basis. This helps build mutual trust and creates more opportunities to discuss ways and means to enhance bilateral relations. My visit to the US this time has no other purpose than that and it is expected that President Obama will visit Vietnam later this year.
As in relations between any two countries in the world, Vietnam and the US have differences on a number of issues such as perceptions of democracy, human rights and trade.
To resolve these differences, I believe the most effective way is open and constructive dialogue, so that we better understand each other and differences don't become hurdles to the overall growth in bilateral relations.
Your upcoming visit to the US is going to be a historic one. What are your expectations?
This is the first ever visit to the US by a General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, made at the invitation of the US administration as the two sides celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
It is a good opportunity for us to review the past, exchange views on a vision for the future and work together for long-term friendship and cooperation based on mutual respect and respect for each other's political system. This will benefit our people and contribute to peace, stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region and the world.
I would like to reiterate to the US Government, Congress and people our consistent foreign policy of independence, self-reliance, diversification and multi-lateralization of external relations and active international integration. Vietnam would like to be a friend and reliable partner of all countries in the world. In this effort, we attach great importance to relations with the US as one of the most important partners in our foreign policy.
This visit will provide a chance to further deepen our Comprehensive Partnership in all areas. Apart from bilateral co-operation, I hope to exchange views with US leaders on a long-term vision regarding regional and global issues of mutual concern such as the situation in the Asia Pacific, TPP, climate change, regional mechanisms for political, economic, security cooperation, maritime security and safety with a view to maintaining peace, stability, security, cooperation and development in the region and the world.
I hope that this is a chance for our two sides to have an open and frank discussion on issues where differences still exist. This would enhance mutual understanding, narrow the differences and gradually build up trust, adding more substance and efficiency to long-term relations.
Is Vietnam looking to persuade the US to end the ban on sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam?
Given the active and robust development of Comprehensive Partnership between the two countries, Vietnam looks forward to strengthening multi-faceted cooperation, including security and defense co-operation. The fact that the US has partially lifted the ban on lethal weapons sale to Vietnam, and is working to fully remove it in the future is strong testimony of mutual trust, which creates conditions for us to deepen the Comprehensive Partnership and implement the 2011 MOU on Vietnam-US Defense Cooperation and the 2015 Declaration on Shared Vision of Vietnam and the US on Defense Cooperation.
What role does the US play in maintaining stability in the Asia-Pacific region and in the East Sea area, and what can it do?
We believe that as one of the world's major powers and a member of the UNSC P5, the US has great interest and responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
Vietnam welcomes the US policy that attaches importance to promoting multi-sided co-operation with the Asia-Pacific region. I believe that on the basis of mutual understanding and respect, the US could further strengthen bilateral relations with each country in this region, especially in areas like economic and trade, science and technology, education and training and climate change response. Cooperation in these areas will deliver concrete benefits to the people, thereby creating a solid, long-lasting foundation for peace and stability in the region.
With regard to the East Sea issue, I really appreciate the US’s statements supporting a peaceful approach to settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), as well as its support for efforts to reach a Code of Conduct (COC).
We are all aware of the strategic location of the East Sea. About 50 percent of the world's shipping traffic passes through sea routes in this area. Therefore, maintaining peace, stability, maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation and aviation without changing the status quo or carrying out militarization or imposing sea and air controls in the East Sea is not only in the interests of a single country, but the shared desire of all countries in the region and beyond.
I hope that the US will continue to use an appropriate voice and take appropriate actions that contribute to peaceful settlement of disputes in the East Sea in accordance with international law, in order to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.
China and the US are major business and trade partners of Vietnam, and both these countries are trying to enhance their influence in the region. What will Vietnam do in this current context?
China and the US are both major powers in the Asia-Pacific region and the global stage. Obviously, they will have important roles and significant influence in the region. History shows that major powers will be welcomed by the international community if they act in accordance with international law without affecting the legitimate interests of other countries and if they make active and constructive contributions to peace, stability, co-operation and development in the region.
Currently, the US and China are both leading economic partners of Vietnam. Therefore, promoting friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with both the US and China is one of the top priorities in our foreign policy. In addition, like other countries in the region, Vietnam hopes that US-China relations grow steadily, because it is in the interest of peace, stability and cooperation in the region.
What do you expect from the National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam that will take place next year? What can the Party do more to tackle corruption, which has been undermining people's trust in it?
The 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam is of great importance for our country. The Congress will review implementation of the 11th Congress Resolution (2011-2015), look back on the 30 years of reform and come up with major guidelines and policies in all areas for the next 5 years in order to further accelerate comprehensive reforms, defend the independence and territorial integrity of the Fatherland, firmly maintain an environment of peace and stability for national development, improve people's lives, build rule-of-law and a socialist state of the people, by the people and for the people, enhance the country's position, proactively integrate with the world, and strive to build Vietnam into a modern and industrial nation.
To strengthen the credibility and leadership of the Communist Party and the governance of the Vietnamese State, it is our policy to step up the struggle against corruption, considering it one of the important tasks. Over the last several years, our anti-corruption efforts have produced positive outcomes and won the support of the people. However, we are not complacent. We are determined to make greater efforts to complete this important task.
One of the challenges in the relations between Vietnam and the US is human rights. Can you give us your opinion on recent criticisms that Vietnam does not have free journalism and basic freedoms, and that achievements on human rights have actually weakened in recent years?
In the very first lines of the Declaration of Independence that President Ho Chi Minh read 70 years ago, he quoted the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Respecting and struggling for human rights is an aspiration of the Vietnamese people and a goal of the Communist Party. I believe that it is also the common aspiration of humanity and the common objective of all progressive regimes in the world.
In reality, after 30 years of reform, the rights of the Vietnamese people are now better ensured by the State of Vietnam. This has been institutionalized in the Constitution and legal system of Vietnam and elaborated in different policies and measures for implementation from the central to local levels. Through such efforts, Viet Nam has been able to record many achievements in ensuring human rights in all civil, political, economic, cultural and social areas. This effort has been recognized and appreciated by the international community, as evidenced by Vietnam’s election to the UN Human Rights Council 2014-2016 by huge majority vote.
Other countries also appreciate Vietnam’s efforts to protect and promote human rights in our country as well as make active contributions to the international community. Nonetheless, much needs to be done to better ensure the rights of the Vietnamese people.
It is true that there remain different understandings on human rights between the US and Vietnam. We should maintain dialogue in an open, candid and constructive manner to increase mutual understanding, narrow differences and make best use of our cooperation potentials. We should work to make sure such differences do not hinder bilateral relations.
A number of recent criticism on the human rights situation in Vietnam are biased and groundless. I really hope that you will visit our country more frequently so that you can have a more objective and comprehensive view of Vietnam. You will see for yourself our efforts and accomplishments in ensuring and promoting human rights.
What are the challenges facing the Vietnamese economy and what will the country focus on to boost its economic growth? Is Vietnam ready to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
After 30 years of reform, Vietnam has recorded tremendous socio-economic achievements. Vietnam has been able to rise from a less developed country with a closed economy to a middle-income country with a more dynamic and globally integrated economy.
However, looking back, Vietnam’s economic development is still unsustainable and its competitiveness remains low. Becoming a middle-income country also poses challenges, such as how to avoid falling into the "middle-income trap" and how to create a fast-growing and sustainable economy while ensuring social equality and progress, as also environmentally friendly growth.
At the same time, Vietnam still faces a number of external challenges, such as impacts of the global financial and monetary crisis, fierce competition in the world market or increasing connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region. Only with internal strength can we handle external challenges and turn them into opportunities.
To that end, as indicated in the Socio Economic Development Strategy till 2020, Vietnam is determined to promote comprehensive reform with three strategic breakthroughs, namely, completion of market economic institutions, development of human resources and modernization of infrastructure in order to unleash the country's full potential.
I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a large-scale agreement with the participation of key economies in the region and the world. The TPP also covers many new-generation trade issues with higher level of commitments than other trade agreements Vietnam has concluded.
However, given our thorough preparation, we have full confidence in participating successfully in this important process. In fact, we are working with the United States and other members in an effort to conclude negotiations at the earliest possible.
We are aware that as a developing country with a lower level of development compared to other partner countries in the TPP, Vietnam needs to make greater efforts to improve its legal system, investment policies and procedures in order to create a business environment more conducive to foreign investment, helping accelerate the process of economic restructuring towards increasing added value, quality and efficiency of economic growth. — VNS/VLLF