Charting A New Course: Unveiling The Dynamics Of The Evolving U.S.-Vietnam Partnership

The shared commitment to overcoming the legacies of war has fostered a foundation of trust, contributing to the robust and flourishing relationship between Vietnam and the United States.

The U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, initiated in 2013, marks its 10th anniversary this year. This milestone reflects the substantial growth and diversification of bilateral relations since formal ties were established in 1995. The partnership spans various domains, including economic cooperation, political collaboration, security, people-to-people connections, science and technology, health, climate, energy, education, and human rights.

The shared commitment to overcoming the legacies of war has fostered a foundation of trust, contributing to the robust and flourishing relationship between Vietnam and the United States. Both nations aspire to promote an open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and peaceful Indo-Pacific, highlighting their role as strong and growing partners on the international stage.

Vietnam’s Geopolitical Scenario

Vietnam’s ‘multidirectional foreign policy’ is a strategic approach aimed at cultivating diverse and dynamic bilateral relations with nations worldwide. The comprehensive strategic partnership represents the pinnacle of diplomatic engagement for Vietnam. Notably, it has established comprehensive strategic partnerships with major players, reflecting the depth and significance of these relationships.

Historically, while Vietnam has fostered robust ties with China and Russia, its approach toward elevating relations with Washington has been cautious. The hesitation in forging a comprehensive strategic partnership with the U.S. indicates a nuanced diplomatic stance, potentially influenced by historical factors and geopolitical considerations. The pursuit of balanced and multifaceted foreign relations underscores Vietnam’s commitment to navigating a complex global landscape while safeguarding its national interests.

Vietnam’s Need for the Union

Vietnam’s decision to strengthen ties with the U.S. is likely driven by growing concerns about China’s actions in the region, particularly its aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. Despite deepening ties with the U.S., Vietnam remains committed to its multidirectional foreign policy. Its economic dependence on China poses a significant challenge, and disentangling their economies would be complex. Additionally, historical partnerships, such as the one with Russia, remain important. Moscow, a longstanding arms supplier to Vietnam, continues to play a significant role in their relationship.

While the comprehensive strategic partnership with the U.S. signifies shared interests, Vietnam’s engagement does not imply a departure from its historical partners. The geopolitical landscape, coupled with economic dependencies and historical ties, necessitates a nuanced approach. Like other Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam is likely to continue hedging its bets in the evolving U.S.-China competition, maintaining a delicate balance in its foreign relations.

U.S.’ Interest in Vietnam

Recognizing Vietnam’s central role in the Indo-Pacific region, the United States spotlights the importance of Vietnam’s involvement in efforts to achieve greater economic security globally. With the region hosting over half the world’s population and contributing to two-thirds of global economic growth, it remains a key player in shaping the future of the global economy. Vietnam’s determination and dynamism are seen as pivotal in driving economic growth and contributing to the region’s significance in the decades ahead.

Post-War Reconciliation

Addressing the legacies of war is a crucial aspect of the strong bond between the U.S. and Vietnam. Together, they’ve successfully located 731 missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War era, providing closure for their families. The commitment extends to supporting Vietnam in accounting for missing Vietnamese under the Vietnam Wartime Accounting Initiative. Additionally, the U.S. is actively involved in initiatives such as the removal of unexploded ordnance, dioxin remediation at former U.S. military sites, and assistance for people with disabilities. Notably, the United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power announced a substantial $73 million contribution for dioxin remediation at Bien Hoa Air Base in March. This demonstrates the ongoing dedication to addressing the lasting impacts of the Vietnam War.

Trade Relations

The bilateral trade between Vietnam and the U.S. has experienced significant growth over the past three decades, with trade in goods surpassing $138 billion in 2022. This substantial expansion is particularly noteworthy given the limited economic ties established 28 years ago. The U.S. has become the primary export destination for various Vietnamese goods, including textiles, footwear, and electronics. Simultaneously, Vietnam imports U.S. products like cotton and soybeans, while also hosting substantial investments from major U.S. firms.

As one of the 14 launch partners in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), Vietnam and the United States are actively advancing in finalizing text across all four IPEF pillars, indicating a shared commitment to economic collaboration. Moreover, Vietnam has been a robust supporter and partner in the U.S. 2023 APEC host year.

Over the past two decades, USAID has played a crucial role in supporting Vietnam’s efforts to enhance its business environment. This support spans areas such as legal and regulatory reform, capacity building, private sector competitiveness, and workforce development, contributing to the overall economic progress of Vietnam.

Security Perspective

Security collaboration is integral to fostering an open, prosperous, and resilient Indo-Pacific region. The United States and Vietnam engage in strategic partnerships, addressing various aspects of security. Initiatives include supporting Vietnam’s Coast Guard and combating transnational organized crime such as human trafficking, drug and precursor chemical trafficking, and wildlife trafficking. Joint efforts extend to tackling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, enhancing Vietnam’s maritime domain awareness to safeguard its sovereignty, and contributing to judicial reform.

To strengthen defence partnerships and law enforcement ties, as well as address human rights concerns, the United States and Vietnam participate in several annual dialogues. This multifaceted approach underscores the commitment of both nations to promoting stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

U.S. Help to Vietnam Regarding Climate Issues

In 2022, Vietnam entered into a significant $15.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership, signalling a major commitment to achieving ambitious environmental targets. This partnership aims to attract substantial investment that will aid Vietnam in limiting greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, capping coal capacity, and accelerating the adoption of renewable energy, to reach 47 per cent of electricity generation by 2030.

Over the past five years, USAID has been instrumental in driving over $300 million in investments toward solar and wind projects in Vietnam. Ongoing support from USAID includes initiatives such as the Vietnam Urban Energy Security activity and Vietnam Low Emission Energy Program II (V-LEEP II), announced by Vice President Kamala Harris in August 2021. Additionally, the Department of State is contributing a $3 million grant for the construction of an innovative battery energy storage system pilot project in Vietnam, incorporating cutting-edge American technology and equipment.

USAID’s efforts extend beyond energy to environmental conservation, where they facilitated the establishment of a payment system for forest environmental services. This system has generated approximately $890 million, financing the conservation of around 40 per cent of Vietnam’s forest area and benefiting approximately 500,000 rural households in mountainous regions. These initiatives collectively contribute to Vietnam’s transition toward a clean, secure, and market-based energy sector while promoting sustainable environmental practices.

Healthcare Industry Collaboration

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Vietnam commemorates 25 years of health cooperation, emphasizing the mutual commitment to building sustainable health systems. The new U.S. CDC regional office in Hanoi, inaugurated by Vice President Kamala Harris in August 2021, is playing a pivotal role in transforming the approach to pandemic response in the ASEAN region.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief celebrates two decades of impactful contributions to the global fight against HIV/AIDS. In Vietnam, over 170,000 individuals are receiving life-saving antiretroviral drugs, benefiting a significant portion of the estimated 240,000 people living with HIV nationwide.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam demonstrated solidarity by supplying more than 450,000 hazmat suits and other PPE to the United States. In return, the United States provided over 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses at no cost to Vietnam through the COVAX facility. Additionally, more than $44 million in technical assistance was extended to support Vietnam’s COVID-19 response.

USAID’s health assistance has evolved from a focus on helping people with disabilities to a comprehensive portfolio. It now aims to strengthen sustainable systems that address both current and emerging infectious disease threats, showcasing a dynamic and adaptable approach to healthcare collaboration between the United States and Vietnam.

Prospects of U.S. Investment

Education serves as a crucial link between the United States and Vietnam. With over 30,000 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S., they constitute the fifth-largest group of foreign students in the country. The Fulbright program, marking its 30th anniversary in 2022, has connected over 1,500 American and Vietnamese scholars and students, fostering academic exchange.

The U.S.-supported Fulbright University of Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City is set to graduate its first undergraduate class in June 2023. Last fall, Vietnam welcomed the inaugural group of Peace Corps Volunteers to Hanoi, supporting the country’s English education initiative. With more than 8,400 Vietnamese participating in U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, there’s a strong emphasis on educational collaboration.

The U.S. government actively supports Vietnam in enhancing the quality of higher education to cultivate a globally engaged 21st-century workforce. USAID’s projects have played a pivotal role in fostering partnerships between Vietnamese universities and leading U.S. institutions such as Harvard University, Arizona State University, and Indiana University, as well as major private sector companies like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Intel, Amazon, and others. These partnerships contribute to innovations in teaching and learning, accreditation, curriculum reform, research, and the development of strong linkages between universities and industries.