Remarks to Ho Chi Minh City Business Community and Fulbright Economic Teaching Program Participants
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Mr. Ambassador, David, thank you very, very much. And thank you so much for your great leadership these past years. Xin chao, Vietnam. I’m very, very happy to be here and to be back. It’s an honor for me to be here with so many people who’ve really been taking part in and contributing to the great transformation and the great success that is taking place here in Vietnam.
I’ll just share a little bit of – a little bit of nostalgia with you. When I first came back here around 1990, this was a very different country. The United States and Vietnam were still very stuck. There was an embargo, and we had not resolved difficult issues that remained from the war. Many of us dreamed of a time back then when we would think of Vietnam not in terms of war, but of only a country and the normal things that countries engage in. And I am proud and pleased to say that today, certainly for me, represents that moment.
The last time I was here was in the year 2000 with President Clinton when we came right after the normalization had taken place, and the embargo had been lifted some years earlier with President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush. And a number of us – Senator John McCain and myself – were involved in that journey from the beginning. There were very difficult issues to still resolve. We had prisoner of war/missing in action issue which was felt deeply, as it should have been and was, by people all across America. And of course, there were issues here in Vietnam about Agent Orange and the residuals of the war.
I can’t think of two countries that have worked harder, done more, and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history and change the future and provide a future for people which is now very, very different. There are still things to be achieved, things to be done. I’ll say a few words about that. But I can remember when I touched down in Hanoi back then. I could still see all the craters from bombs. There was almost no motorbikes. Everything was a bicycle; very, very few cars. Not a stoplight worked in Hanoi at that point in time, and there were just a couple of hotels. It was a place that had been frozen in time.
No one can help but marvel at the modern Vietnam. What has taken place in just a little over 20 years is extraordinary. And so this is not a transformation that just happens by coincidence, may I say. It’s a product of the commitment and the vision of a lot of people here in this room.
I want to thank David for his job as ambassador and the work that all of our embassy personnel and consular personnel, Foreign Service, Civil Service, local hires, third national country. Everybody joins together as a team and works very, very effectively to do things.
Our ties are growing stronger every day we continue to work. We have the educational exchanges that we talked about today. And I believe that, actually, David participated in not one but I think three educational exchange programs in Asia, just as an example of the background and depth that can help to contribute to these kinds of efforts.
It is, frankly, why the vision of educators and education has been so important to this transformation. And I just want to take a moment to say that I can’t think of anyone who’s done more to help make that happen than the combined team of Tom Vallely and Ben Wilkinson, who are leading Harvard’s – Harvard University’s efforts here in Vietnam, and the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, a program I was proud to first support as a senator. And we put it in place and it was built into the largest Fulbright program in the world. Today, I think it’s the second-largest program in the world, and we’ve got to see if we can’t make it the largest again if we keep working at it. But I want to thank Tom and Ben for all that they do to contribute to this transformation.
I also want to thank the American Chamber of Commerce, and the American Chamber of Commerce Vietnam and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and industry have also made just a gigantic difference here. AmCham’s experience in Vietnam has really ushered in a new era of cooperation for the bilateral trade agreement in 2001, to the WTO session in 2007, and now we are working on the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership. I’ll say a word about it.
But just think about this for a minute: Our bilateral trade has grown 50-fold, 50 times since 1995, to more than $25 billion a year now, and we are on track to meet our target of doubling our U.S. exports to Vietnam in five years, which was the goal that President Obama set five years ago. Vietnam has the potential to become one of the United States’ leading economic partners in the region, and we’re going to continue to work at that.
Today, we’re on the doorstep of another great transformation that could open more doors to opportunity, and it could make our partnership much more vibrant, and frankly, could make our markets a lot more energized and rewarding. What I’m talking about are the opportunities that would come from the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the high-standard trade pact that Vietnam and the United States are negotiating with 10 of our Pacific partners. The partnership’s high standards would maintain the momentum that has been created for market reforms, for modernization, for regional integration that the Government of Vietnam has actually made a priority. It will also complement Vietnam’s efforts to transform state-owned enterprises and important sectors of the economy like energy and banking, which will attract greater investment.
And today, I am happy to announce that we will provide an initial $4.2 million for USAID’s Governance for Inclusive Growth. It’s a program to help implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is not aid. I want to make that clear. This is an investment, and it’s an investment in broad-based and sustainable growth.
And I think this is just one more way that the United States wants to support Vietnam as it grows its own role in the global economy. And just think about it; you’ll see it out in the streets walking around. Forty percent of the population here is younger than 25. I was thinking about it as I was driving in, watching all the motorbikes. And I said a lot of the people riding those motorbikes were eight, nine, and ten years old when I was last here, just to give you an example of growth and time passing.
To create high-paying jobs and economic opportunity, there are a number of essential things, and I want to say something about it. You need a free market. You need a free marketplace of ideas. People need to be able to express their thoughts. You need to be able to dare to fail. You need to be able to be creative. You need to be able to talk and promote new ideas about trade and development and creation of new products.
And the United States believes firmly, as we have seen from Slovenia all the way to South Korea, that building a society that is more open and more free is critical to a country’s long-term strength and success. Vietnam has proven that greater openness is a great catalyst for a stronger and more prosperous society, and today Vietnam has an historic opportunity to prove that even further. A commitment to an open internet, to a more open society, to the rights of people to be able to exchange their ideas, to high-quality education, to a business environment that supports innovative companies, and to the protection of individual people’s human rights and their ability to be able to join together, express their views – all of these things create a more vibrant and a more powerful economy as well as a society. It strengthens a country; it doesn’t weaken it. And the United States urges leaders here to embrace that possibility and to protect those rights.
American institutions of higher learning in Vietnam already provide some of the highest-quality education in the world, and I have long supported this program, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City, which has provided a huge number of Vietnamese officials in government now opportunities to study economic policy. And this exchange process is a wonderful way for people to see what the rest of the world is doing and bring back ideas to their own country, and not be afraid of change and of the possibilities of the future.
When I met with today’s foreign minister of Vietnam in New York City – actually, when I met him in Washington – he came to meet me first in Washington – the foreign minister handed me a photo. And I looked at the photo and I saw a young, black-haired, brown-haired John Kerry and a young foreign minister standing together outside of Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where I first met him on one of these exchanges 30 years ago or 20-whatever years ago.
That’s how it works, folks. And now there are foreign ministers, prime ministers, environment ministers, finance ministers, presidents of countries all over the world who have shared their educational experience in a different place. I’m very pleased that the leadership of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program is here today, and I look forward to working with the Vietnamese Government to establish a Fulbright University of Vietnam in the near future.
We also see a lot of innovative American companies here, and I had a chance to meet with a number of you who are engaged in entrepreneurial activity. Chad Ovel here today from AA Corporation, which has helped to introduce sustainable forestry to Vietnam and he’s helped to show that we don’t have to choose between being pro-environment and pro-economic; they go hand in hand, and the future will demand that they go hand in hand. The success of Sherry Boger at Intel and Khoa Pham at Microsoft highlights how high standards for intellectual property help to make innovation and job creation possible.
And we just did a wonderful signing ceremony in there with General Electric. General Electric is another American company that is benefitting from growing economic ties but also helping Vietnam to grow at the same time. And GE signed a deal with Vietnam Airlines back in October to sell this country’s flag carrier 1.7 billion in aircraft engines for the Boeing 787 aircraft. And a few minutes ago, as some of you saw, we just signed an agreement worth approximately $94 million for the Cong Le company to provide a second tranche of turbines for a signature wind farm project in Bac Lieu province. This project, with financing that comes from the U.S. Import-Export Bank and the Vietnam Development Bank, will help meet Vietnam’s growing demand for electricity, but it does so bringing clean power generation to the Mekong Delta and can set an example for the ways in which the new energy paradigm can be defined.
So whether – here in Vietnam, whether we are talking about our commitment to economic exchange, greater educational exchange, or our support for young entrepreneurs and a cleaner environment, I’m proud that the United States is putting a full complement of our diplomatic tools to work. And it’s clear that the partnership between Vietnam and the United States is stronger than ever, and most exciting, I am convinced we’re only just beginning. This is the beginning, and there are just enormous possibilities ahead of us. With the continued commitment of all of you in this room and your partners across the country, I am absolutely convinced the bonds between the United States and Vietnam can be the pillars of much greater prosperity and of a shared prosperity for decades to come.
And I’ll tell you something. Years ago, that vision we all had that we wanted to be able to think of Vietnam – when we said the word “Vietnam,” for years and years you’d say, “Vietnam,” and wow, you just thought about a war. And a lot of us didn’t want to do that. Now you say the word “Vietnam” and you think about a country and you think about a very changed playing field where this is one of the growing, contributing, transforming nations of the world. And I think the possibilities for the future are just gigantic. So with the right focus on the openness and freedom of the society, with the right respect for people and their rights, and with the right focus on growth and education, there is no question in my mind that all of that energy and all of that effort invested in trying to set this new direction is going to pay off big-time.
So it’s my honor to be here. Thank you very much, all of you, for joining in this. And thank you particularly to the entrepreneurs who are the ones really making this difference on the ground. It’s great to be with you. Thank you. (Applause.)