Bush Sees Hope and Dynamism in Vietnam

By Steve Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - President Bush’s first visit to Vietnam for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference marks only the second time an American president has visited the country.

For many Americans, Vietnam calls up memories of a painful military conflict; however Bush’s visit highlighted new areas of cooperation, as well as a hopeful future, according to the White House.

The president, who like others in his generation lived in the shadow of the Vietnam War, was asked many times after his arrival November 17 about his reaction to the fact that -31 years after American troops left the country under hostile conditions - he and his Vietnamese counterparts now were discussing cooperation on a wide variety of issues, including trade and security.

In remarks with Australian Prime Minister John Howard ahead of his meetings with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, Bush reflected that “history has a long march to it.”

“[S]ocieties change and relationships can constantly be altered to the good,” he said. 

The new relationship between the United States and Vietnam “shows how hopeful the world can be and how people can reconcile and move beyond past difficulties for the common good.”

Vietnam, he said, is an “exciting” country with “an enormous future,” and despite the need for continued reforms in areas such as human rights, “there's certainly a new hopefulness to this country.”

Before arriving in Hanoi, White House press secretary Tony Snow said the same day that the president’s trip would not be a “look back” to the troubled history.  “[I]t really is going to be a looking forward to areas of cooperation and shared concern, in terms of working with the Vietnamese.”

The United States now conducts more trade with Pacific Rim countries than with Europe.  Snow said that with the liberal economic reforms Vietnam’s leaders have taken, the country is enjoying an economic growth rate of 8.5 percent per year.

“It's growing at a brisk rate.  It is the second-fastest growing economy in the region, to China,” Snow said.

During his visit, Bush was expected to assure Vietnamese leaders that the U.S. Congress will approve Permanent Normal Trading Relations between the two countries within weeks.  (See related article.)

In encouraging the Vietnamese to more democratic openness, Bush believes free institutions “are essential for fostering not only economic vitality, but long-term political stability,” Snow said.

Following the president’s meetings, Snow said the Vietnamese leaders told the president that the economic reforms are “the beginning of a longer reform effort,” adding they are “eager to have American cooperation” in that endeavor.

The leaders discussed efforts to improve the rule of law, combat corruption, and Vietnam’s “doi moi” economic reforms.

According to Snow, the president told them he is impressed with the reforms that have been enacted and understands reform is difficult.  But he stressed the importance of human rights to the Vietnamese leaders for their country’s long-term success.

“[A]s you have a growing level of affluence, there is going to be a corresponding pressure for increasing economic, political and religious freedoms,” Snow said.

The cooperation between the United States and Vietnam on health issues, particularly efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and avian influenza, provides a “template” for other nations to use in tackling those problems.  Snow said Vietnam has been active on both issues and “sets a good example within the region.”  (See Health.)

The president’s meetings in Hanoi culminated in a joint statement by the leaders that described the current U.S.-Vietnam relationship as “multi-faceted and forward looking.”

The relationship includes “significant and growing” trade and economic ties, security cooperation between military forces, cooperation on energy and counter-narcotics, health and development, and growing cultural and educational links between the Vietnamese and American people.

Vietnam’s hosting of APEC demonstrates the country’s active and important role in promoting trade and economic liberalization and strengthening security in the region,” the statement said.

The joint statement ended with the information that President Triet had accepted “with pleasure” Bush’s invitation to visit the United States in 2007.

At the state banquet that concluded the day’s meetings, Bush said in a toast that Vietnam is “a remarkable country,” citing its impressive economic progress and other benefits of peace.

The country is “taking its rightful place as a strong and vibrant nation,” he said.  “The American people welcome the progress of Vietnam. And we want to continue to work together to better our relations.”

For more coverage, see Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

More information and transcripts of Bush’s remarks are available on the White House’s Web page on the President’s Trip to Southeast Asia.