Meeting With Consulate Ho Chi Minh Staff and Families
Secretary of State
AMBASSADOR SHEAR: Welcome, everybody. Mr. Secretary, I’d like to introduce you to team Ho Chi Minh City. (Cheering and applause.) I’d like especially to introduce you to our new Marine detachment, five new Marines led by Staff Sergeant Childress. Where are you? (Applause.) There they are. I’d like also to welcome 10 or 12 loyal employees of the embassy, who worked for us prior to 1975. There they are. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Wow.
AMBASSADOR SHEAR: I’d like to recognize the great locally employed staff here, as well as the American staff. Mr. Secretary, without the folks you see here, we just couldn’t do what we do.
So, without further ado, I give you Secretary of State John Kerry. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Chao cac ong cac ba. Nice to see you all. I’m very, very happy to be here. I want to thank our ambassador, David Shear, for his terrific work. He’s winding up here. He’s been here for over two years, now. And we are lucky to have good professionals like him and Rena Bitter. Thank you, Rena, for serving as CG here. She’s newly here.
But what a great facility here now. I must say last time I was in Ho Chi Minh City – I still – I slip all the time, I call it Saigon, you know. Shhh. (Laughter.) But the embassy was still here, the old embassy building that you worked in. And this obviously came into being in 1997, so it’s changed a little bit. Am I right, 1997 it came into being? So I guess the embassy building would have been torn down by then, because I was here in 2000 with President Clinton, but we didn’t come into the consulate. That’s the difference. Okay, I got it. Just refreshing.
Obviously, this is a very historic place, as you all know. And this memorial behind me documents both the downside of the history and the upside of the history. And what we’re looking at today is the upside of the history, which you all are working on brilliantly, and I’m very, very grateful for you for doing that.
When I was here, I was here in 1968, ’69, and I came up here to what was then Saigon in 1969. And I remember sitting up on the roof of the Rex Hotel, and none of these other tall buildings were here, none of them. And we sat up there, and it was – I was very – I had gotten away from my unit for a couple of days, and I was here for some meetings. And we would sit up there, and we were having a beer, which we couldn’t have normally where we were, and you’d look out at the flares all around the city. And every so often you’d here this brrt of gunfire from what we called Puff the Magic Dragon, that was flying around, which was a C-130 that would shoot. It was really eerie. I can’t tell you how totally bizarre it was to be sitting on top of a hotel, having a beer, sitting around, talking with people – a lot of press people used to hang out there – while all around you, you would be seeing and hearing the sounds of a war. And that was the sort of strangeness and duality of that period of time.
It led Senator McCain and me – and he spent, obviously, a different kind of time here; he was up north in Hanoi in prison. And when we both got to the United States Senate, we both felt compelled to try to find a way to change the relationship, to end the war. In many ways, the war hadn’t ended. Even though we weren’t here fighting, there was a war going on still about what had happened and who was responsible and did we have prisoners of war left behind or didn’t we. There were very high emotions about it.
And so, we set about to try to change that. And for 10 years – literally, for 10 years – we worked in order to get, first, the George H.W. Bush Administration to change the policy on the embargo. And then we worked on the Bill Clinton Administration to normalize relations. And in the year 2000, President Clinton became the first President of the United States to visit Vietnam since Lyndon Johnson. And I was pleased and honored to be able to come here with him and be here in this city, as we visited and tried to move to this new relationship.
Now, all of you are carrying that on. You are the ones really defining this new relationship in modern terms, as Vietnam goes through this enormous transformation. I can’t tell you how much of a transformation it is. None of these big, tall buildings were here 20 years ago. And now there are – 40 percent of the country is under the age of 25, a young country for whom the war is ancient history, and, by the way, for whom the war was just the American war, as opposed to the French war or the China war. It was just one of many.
And so now we have a chance to bring Vietnam into the broad community of nations in trade, in governance, and in human rights, in the rights that people have, in the way they’re respected and what their choices are in the course of their lives. These are the things that you all are working on, and we’re working on together.
We’re looking at the new trade relationship, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is an enormous opportunity to raise the standards by which people are doing business, which will have an impact on workers, on their job security, on their safety, on their pay, and on their rights. All of those things are affected. And it will create more jobs at home in America and here in Vietnam.
So we’re now on a wonderfully constructive, positive track towards the future. And every single one of you are the face of America and the values of that here, whether you are Vietnamese or another country’s national, whether you’re Foreign Service or Civil Service or TDY, or whatever you may be, political appointee. You are all the face of our consulate here, and our embassy in Hanoi, and of our country in Vietnam.
So I want to say thank you to you. I especially want to say thank you to all – we have about 257 local hires, people who work here locally, as this distinguished group did when they worked in the embassy way back in the 1960s and ’70s. And would everybody join me in saying thank you to them, their employee, for their work when they were here? It’s an honor to meet you. (Applause.) And all of the other – who are all the other local employees? Raise your hands, local employees. Thank you, all of you. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. (Applause.)
And I want to welcome the United States Marine Corps. They are the five – the first people here in the Marine Corps since 1975. And this is now our Marine security detachment here. And, gentlemen, semper fi, thank you for being here, and we thank what you’re doing. Appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)
So I just – look, it’s holiday time. Somebody here can tell me a good place I can go buy some Christmas presents quickly because I’m in trouble, otherwise. (Laughter.) I need some help. But on behalf of President Obama, myself – I have the honor to serve now as Secretary – there isn’t a greater honor than to serve with all of you, because every day we get to get up and go to work and try to make life better for other people. And we get to represent values that are worth fighting for. And I think every single one of you – you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t believe in that and you didn’t care about it. I thank you profoundly on behalf of your country, on behalf of me, as Secretary, on behalf of President Obama. And I wish all of you wonderful, happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, happy whatever everybody else celebrates. Have a great time. God bless, and take care. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)