Celebration of the 15th Anniversary of United States-Vietnam Relations

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Hanoi, Vietnam
July 22, 2010

Thank you so much, Hank. And the recitation of what I am doing in my travels while trying to help organize my daughter's wedding should prove to all of you that I may be lacking in common sense, not that I have it, because there is just lots going on in the world. But right now I am very focused on this trip to Vietnam, and then I will return home and enjoy one of the most wonderful events that any family can experience.

But it's such a pleasure to be here with you in this historic city to celebrate 15 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the United States. And I want to thank Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Khiem for the excellent meeting that we had earlier today. And thanks to the American Chamber of Commerce and the Vietnamese Union of Friendship for sponsoring this event.

It is an understatement to say that we have accomplished so much together since 1995. We have made an intensive effort to rebuild ties that increase engagement on issues as diverse as health and human rights, energy, security, defense, and most certainly business, trade, and investment. Our investment in Vietnam has contributed to the momentum of Vietnam's rise and expanded opportunity for a generation of young people eager to find their place in the world.

And we have also worked together on the solemn, painstaking task of finding and identifying the remains of soldiers, both American and Vietnamese, who died in the war. And, in so doing, we have helped to bring solace to families in both nations. And I am personally very grateful to the Vietnamese Government's support for these efforts.

Now, today we celebrate what has made all of this possible, the willingness on both sides to accept the past, move beyond it, and join together to build a better common future. History has shown how difficult this can be. In many parts of the world, the end of conflict has not led to cooperation or lasting peace. Simmering hatreds and tensions are passed on from one generation to the next, leaving young people with little room for optimism about what a future relationship could look like. Often progress is frozen, leaving a status quo in which no one benefits. I spend a lot of my time as Secretary of State working with and traveling to countries where this is the norm, where the failure to move beyond the past has stunted the future.

Well, Vietnam and the United States have chosen a different course. Thirty-five years ago we ended a war that inflicted terrible suffering on both our nations, and still remains a living memory for many of our people. Despite that pain, we dedicated ourselves to the hard work of building peace. We have consistently moved in the direction of engagement and cooperation. Even on those issues where we disagree, we still reach for dialogue.

This has not been easy, but it has been worth every bit of effort, that so many people in both countries have decided to invest in it. That is evident in the partnerships formed between our businesses, the thousands of students who are participating in educational exchanges, the hundreds of thousands of our citizens who cross the ocean each year to explore the other's country and culture. These ties enrich us, and are proof of a peace that exists not only on paper, but is rooted in the minds and hearts of the American and Vietnamese people. And it is a credit to both our nations that this progress has been possible.

Yet our work continues. And we are prepared to take the U.S.-Vietnam relationship to the next level of engagement, cooperation, friendship, and partnership. It is true that profound differences exist, particularly over the question of political freedoms. And the United States will continue to urge Vietnam to strengthen its commitment to human rights, and give its people even greater say over the direction of their own lives. But this is not a relationship that is fixed upon our differences. We have learned to see each other, not as former enemies, but as actual and potential partners, colleagues, and friends. This tradition of cooperation is bringing great benefits to us both.

For me, personally, and for my husband, this anniversary is especially poignant. Ten years ago we came here together at the end of his presidency. He had announced the normalization of our relationship with Vietnam five years earlier, standing together with American veterans of that war, including Senator John Kerry and Senator John McCain. This was an effort not only to restore the relationship between the United States and Vietnam, but also to heal our own wounds, the divisions that the war caused among Americans.

Bill became the first U.S. President ever to visit Hanoi, and the first to come to Vietnam since the war. And, frankly, we weren't sure exactly what to expect. But as we drove into the city, the people of Hanoi were on the streets, waiting to greet us. We went to Hanoi National University, and throngs of students gathered, many of whom had never known a time when our countries were not at peace. Everywhere we went, we felt the warmth and hospitality of the Vietnamese people.

For us, this had a profound impact. It was a reflection of the good will that had developed between our countries in the span of a single generation. And it was an outward expression of a belief we share: the belief that our past does not need to determine our future, that indeed, the future is ours to build.

Now I have come back to Hanoi as Secretary of State. And I can see the dynamism of the extraordinary progress that has occurred within the last 10 years. The optimism I felt 10 years ago is palpable. The good will between us is strong. And while we cannot ask anyone to forget the past, we remain focused on the future.

As Secretary of State, I have a personal commitment to this relationship. I believe, as we have found, there is so much that the Vietnamese and American people share: a hard work ethic, a pragmatism, a fundamental belief in our ability to chart a different future. So, let us commemorate this anniversary by pledging to ourselves and to each other that we will do everything we can together to sustain and deepen this relationship. We will continue to choose engagement and cooperation over isolation and division. We will continue to be inspired by our young people, who look ahead with confidence, eager to seize the opportunities of this time.

And let us rededicate ourselves to the difficult but profoundly rewarding work of building a lasting friendship between two great nations and two great people who deserve nothing less. Thank you very much.


Now, I was told that it's my privilege to invite the deputy prime minister back to the podium for a toast. I don't have anything to toast with. But I think that, between the two of us, we will demonstrate the ingenuity of the Vietnamese and American people.


To the friendship and partnership between the Vietnamese and American people, as a model for what is possible for all people everywhere in the future.

(They toast. Applause.)

PRN: 2010/T32-19