Remarks With Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) Secretary John Kerry, members of the press and media, first of all, I would like to welcome Mr. Secretary John Kerry back to Vietnam on his official visit. Your visit take place at very important moment when our two countries celebrate the 20th anniversary of our establishment of diplomatic relations. During the talks between myself and Mr. Secretary, we have discussed way and means to deepen and promote the (inaudible) interests of the two countries, enhancing the cooperation for the benefits of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
With regard to bilateral relations, we talk about the implementations of the outcomes which, during the high-level visits, especially the visit by our general secretary in which we talked to the U.S. with the issuance of the Joint Vision Statement between Vietnam and the U.S., we also talk about measures to promote trade, investment, and economic cooperation so that U.S. will become number-one investor in Vietnam. We also talk about measures to remove the war legacies and enhance people-to-people contact.
On global issues, we talked about different directions and orientations to resolve global issues, including climate change. We discussed measures to promote the roles of regional arrangements in the maintenance of peace, security, and development in the Asia Pacific, including maintaining peace, stability, and security in the East Sea. We share a lot of interest in promoting our bilateral relations. We share responsibilities as well in maintaining a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Asia Pacific. We agree to enhance our cooperation in economic linkages at both regional and global levels, including early conclusions of TPP negotiations.
I agree – I believe that the positive outcomes of Mr. John Kerry’s visit will contribute significantly to the enhancement of our bilateral cooperation in the near future. I’m more than willing to cooperate with you for these noble goals.
And now I would like to invite Mr. Secretary to take the floor.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister. I really appreciate a very generous welcome here. It’s already been a memorable visit, and I’m very, very grateful (inaudible) government for receiving us and for the distinguished leaders who were a part of the transformation of the last 20 years and were able to join us over here today.
In the past two decades, the wisdom of the process of normalizing our relationship has been amply proven. In fact, it really made possible today my meetings with President Sang and Deputy Prime Minister Minh during which we had very candid discussions about how our relationship has developed and about how we can build on the progress that we have already made. I look forward to my meeting with Secretary General Trong this afternoon.
As the deputy prime minister said, the Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP as it’s called – is a very important part of our agenda, but it’s not all of our agenda. It’s just one part. If approved, it will be a very significant follow-on to our landmark bilateral trade agreement in 2001, which has already caused trade between our countries to increase exponentially. When we began this process, our trade was not more than $451 million. Today, it’s $36 billion, and jobs have been created both in the United States and here in Vietnam. We have seen a growth of some more than five times the original levels of capital incomes – of per-capita income here in Vietnam.
TPP will expand on this success and it will promote regional economic integration. It will improve worker standards – this is very important. It will create greater opportunity for the people of all of the member countries.
And the deputy prime minister and I also discussed our security cooperation, particularly in the maritime domain. At the ASEAN Regional Forum this week, several claimants agreed to halt further land reclamation, construction, or militarization on the occupied features within the South China Sea or East Sea, as Vietnam calls it. And that is a very positive step. And my government urges China to join in this initiative while the claims are being resolved under a legal process.
As I noted in my speech that I was privileged to give earlier today, the United States and Vietnam are also working together to promote regional and global security. The United States welcomes Vietnam’s participation in United Nations peace operations. This is critical, because regrettably worldwide the need is great, and it continues to rise. The United States is helping Vietnam, in fact, to prepare for its deployment, and we’re cooperating as well on improving humanitarian aid and disaster relief assistance capabilities.
We talked also about climate change, as the minister said. Climate change is a major priority of President Obama and this Administration – and indeed the global community, as we lead into the negotiations that will take place in Paris in December. So we are focusing our assistance here in Vietnam on adaptation, on clean energy and sustainable development in order to address Vietnam’s vulnerability to this global threat. Vietnam is without question one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to the impacts and effects of climate change.
We also discussed education, and we had a wonderful education event celebrating the possibilities of a new university, the Fulbright University of Vietnam, which with some effort over the course of the next months will come to life with a new permit that has been granted by the Government of Vietnam to begin construction.
Education is a critical bridge between our two countries. The median age in Vietnam is close to the world average, but the country still has about 23 million people – about a quarter of the country – under the age of 15. So the better the education that that generation receives, the better able Vietnam will be to prosper in the global economy. So one of the main themes of my visit – it has been our partnership in academics.
Years ago I had the pleasure, together with a lifetime friend named Tom Vallely, and Frances Zwenig, my then chief of staff, to help launch the Fulbright Program here in Vietnam. And I was pleased that this grew to be at one point the largest Fulbright Program in the world. I was very pleased earlier today to share with young people in a video conference with people in Ho Chi Minh City as well as with young members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders organization. We shared thoughts about how we can all contribute to the founding of this Fulbright University of Vietnam. And these young people expressed their hopes and desires to be doctors, to contribute to the medical and healthcare delivery system in Vietnam; to be able to be entrepreneurs, to start a business, to take an idea and make it into a viable product or delivery of service. I was excited listening to them, and it gave me extraordinary confidence about the future of Vietnam, and indeed, because of the future of Vietnam, the future of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam.
We need to remember that normalization between our two countries became possible not because of a desire to avoid hard issues, but because of our willingness together to confront them. So even as our bilateral cooperation has increased, America’s support for human rights and political openness remains unchanged.
And during my meetings today, we discussed the need for progress on human rights. Looking back, I am struck by how many times the leaders that I worked with in those years of normalizing, those leaders who were committed to the normalizing process – Vietnamese and Americans, civilian and military leaders – all of them made difficult but the right choices. There were huge obstacles to reconciliation, and it took goodwill and vision on both sides to remove those obstacles. But the result today is clear. Where once we fought, now we visit, study together, do business together, and walk together in peace. And I think we all agree that peace is better.
For Americans now, Vietnam is no longer just a conflict or even just another country. It’s a partner and a friend, it’s a relationship, and it will grow. That is our shared legacy and one that we hope to strengthen in the years to come.
So in closing, let me again thank the deputy prime minister, his government, and all the people of Vietnam for their hospitality. You have made me and my entire delegation feel very welcome here, and I thank you for that.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Secretary John Kerry. And now comes the Q&A session. May I introduce my co-MC, the Spokesman of Department of State John Kirby. I would like to invite Vietnam news agencies.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is (inaudible). I am from Vietnam News Agency. I – a question to Mr. Kerry. I have a question to Secretary John Kerry. In the last week, the meeting of the trade representatives of countries participating in TPP in Hawaii failed to reach a final agreement. Could you give an assessment on the prospects of TPP conclusion of negotiation in the coming time?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m happy to do so. I think a lot of progress was made at the last round of talks. I think there are a few remaining issues; we discussed them today. There is one or so with respect to Vietnam, and I think another couple of countries had some issues which they weren’t able to resolve in the final hours but which I am confident will be resolved in the next days. And I think we are hoping very much that over the course of the next couple of months, before the end of the year, TPP can be completed.
And I think what’s important for people to focus on is that TPP is an opportunity to raise the business standards of the entire region. And we believe that what it will create is a movement to the top, rather than the bottom, of business practices and of engagement between countries. We are very confident about the commitment of countries to this effort, but it’s always difficult to work through one particular sector of an economy or another. I’m very, very confident that the TPP is going to boost trade, improve worker standards, improve environment standards, have a consequence of really raising the standards of business for 40 percent of the global economy. And for that reason, I’m absolutely confident that ultimately it is not only going to be agreed to among the nations, but it will be accepted and ratified by the participating countries.
MR KIRBY: The next question will come from Agence France-Presse.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, you laid out this morning in your speech that progress on human rights could lead to better ties between the two countries. But what specific steps do you want Vietnam to take in order to improve its human rights? And would it be a condition on lifting further the U.S. arms embargo? And finally, what could be the strategy partnership you were talking about this morning?
And Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, could you tell us what your government is prepared to do to improve its human rights situation? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin by saying that, first of all, the United States and Vietnam have engaged in a very regular and I might say extremely candid discussion on human rights from the beginning of our normalization process. And today the president of Vietnam, President Sang, when I raised the issue of human rights with him, turned to me and looked at me and said, “Look, human rights is something we want to provide for our people, and we need to make improvements and make changes.” And he committed that this is something that is of concern and that regardless of TPP or anything else, it is something that he intends to address.
Now, we have seen some positive steps on human rights in Vietnam over the past year. Vietnam recently ratified the Convention against Torture and it released some 12 prisoners of conscience in 2014 and already one this year. And we’ve raised the issue of additional individuals with regard to this year. There are also – Vietnam is in the process right now of amending and passing new laws in order to implement its 2013 constitution and obligations – and to meet obligations under international conventions agreements and law. And we have had a discussion about those steps that need to be taken to do that. That includes amendments to its penal code and to its criminal procedure code.
So Vietnam is undergoing a legal reform process even as I stand here and speak now. And we have urged Vietnam to eliminate or significantly revise the national security and other vague portions of the penal code that have occasionally been used to prosecute folks. I might also add that TPP actually brings with it additional rights in that it will allow for labor organizing and for individual union organizing, and that is a significant increase in human rights.
Now, is there still room for improvement going forward? Yes, profoundly so; yes there is. And we will continue to urge Vietnam to reform certain laws that may have been used to arrest or convict somebody for expressing a peaceful point of view. That’s something that we obviously believe should not occur.
Now, with respect to the lethal weapons – the answer is yes. Any further steps, obviously, are tied to further progress, and that’s been made clear.
And finally, with respect to a strategic relationship, we have great interests in the region. They begin, of course, with the current tensions over the South China Sea. The United States is deeply concerned about unilateral efforts of reclamation or militarization, and we believe that the issues of the South China Sea – the East Sea – need to be resolved through rule of law, need to be resolved through either the arbitration process or negotiation or through The Hague or through the Law of the Sea. There are plenty of options available, and we think it’s very important that those be adhered to.
But there is much more beyond that in terms of our strategic relationship. Vietnam has agreed to take on peacekeeping responsibilities in the world. That is a very significant step forward in an age where many countries have been destabilized, where the United Nations is struggling to provide people to help keep peace to keep states from failing. And I think Vietnam’s willingness to step up and assume responsibilities in that regard is a very important part of a larger transformation that I spoke of earlier.
We will, as we go forward, talk about other ways in which we can cooperate. Another example of strategic cooperation is on the area of maritime security, emergency provision of assistance, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the response to catastrophes of weather – a typhoon or other – floods and so forth. There are many ways in which countries can come together and strategically cooperate, and also on the issue of refugees. Recently we’ve seen vast numbers of refugees driven to sea – not just here but in the Mediterranean and elsewhere – the Rohingya, who were obviously driven and took refuge from Myanmar and from Bangladesh, elsewhere.
So there are many places and ways in which countries can cooperate together. And as our relationship matures, as it grows, we envision trying to figure out the ways in which on a strategic basis we can contribute to the security and the stability and the prosperity of the region.
FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) On human rights, from Vietnam’s perspective, I would like to talk about a number of efforts to ensure human rights in Vietnam. Human rights are the focal point of our policies. It shows that in Vietnam we pay great interest and is our priority to promote human rights. In recent years, one of the activities that we have done is to improve our legal system to ensure human rights. For example, the amended constitution 2013 have a whole chapter on human rights. It is a new aspect in the constitution of Vietnam (inaudible) with such constitution Vietnam have adopted new laws, amended our existing law to ensure the rights enshrined in the constitution as well as in the international conventions that Vietnam is a member so that all citizens in Vietnam can enjoy human rights.
At the moment, we are now amending the penal code and drafting new laws, such as the law on associations. Vietnam is a country that acceded to most of the international instruments on human rights. As Mr. Secretary mentioned, we ratified CAT, Convention against Torture; the Convention on People with Disabilities; and Vietnam is among one of the countries in the world that joined most of the conventions on human rights. It shows that in Vietnam it is our priority to promote human rights.
Between Vietnam and other countries, human rights have universal aspects. But I think human rights also have special characters depending on the context of each countries and including the cultural context. Vietnam is willing to negotiate, to talk about, to have dialogues on human rights with many countries, including the U.S. Vietnam is more than willing to discuss differences on human rights with other countries so that we can improve our policies and do a better job in protecting human rights.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) I would like to invite another question from Vietnamese press. VietNamNet, please.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is (inaudible), VietNamNet. The question is for both Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Secretary John Kerry. Mr. Kerry talk about Fulbright University project in Vietnam, and it is considered an important hallmark in our bilateral cooperation. Could you please tell us what are the concrete steps to fulfill or to realize this project so that the university soon be put in operation? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Well, one of the most important steps has already been taken, which is the granting of a license, a permit, by the Government of Vietnam for the beginning of construction on the university. The president of the university, who we met with earlier today, very articulately talks about the three different components of this university, one of which will be a sort of management school and business; the other which will be focused on science, technology, engineering; and the last will be a sort of liberal arts college which will focus on critical thinking, history, social studies, and so forth.
But the main tenet of this university is really, as she described it, not to compare this university to other colleges and universities that exist in Vietnam today, but to compare it to leading universities in the world and to make that the target. So what this university hopes to achieve is a level of teaching affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it will work very diligently to take education into a autonomous and exciting new path which will stimulate students to engage in a way that they would if they went away to school in another country, which a lot of Vietnamese students wind up doing.
We also talked about this university reportedly being able to have scholarships so that you don’t have to have money and be wealthy in order to attend it, but anybody in Vietnam who is motivated and obviously academically qualified would have an opportunity to take part in this special educational moment.
And I’d finally just say that one of the things that will distinguish this university is that it will have autonomous management. It will make its decisions about academic pursuits and about the courses and the professors, and it will live within a framework of full academic freedom. That is a fundamental concept that is embraced in this university. And I think it’s very, very exciting, frankly, that Vietnam is excited about this university, and the government has licensed it and looks forward to its beginning to teach as soon as it is obviously physically possible in terms of its construction and hiring.
MR KIRBY: The last question today from (inaudible). The New York Times.
MR KIRBY: Sorry. I’m sorry, sir.
FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) Cooperation, education, and training is an important area in the relations between Vietnam and the U.S., and it is an area that both countries have needs. Vietnam have a very big need for education and training cooperation, and cooperation on human resource development. In U.S., we – there are 17,000 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. So it is very important that we have an international standard university of the U.S. in Vietnam and it meets the needs for human resource development of Vietnam so that we can fulfill our goal to become an industrialized country in the coming years or Vietnam actively integrate into the world.
Fulbright University in Vietnam has attracted a lot of interest in Vietnam. And there is a project that was mentioned in the Joint Vision Statement during General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to the U.S. In 2013, the joint statement during President Truong Tan Sang to U.S. also mentioned this project. It shows that Vietnam gave a lot of priority and importance to the project of an international standard Americans university in the Vietnam. And the secretary of party committee of Ho Chi Minh City himself granted the license of the certificate to Mr. Thomas Vallely, and it shows our keen interest.
And indeed, this project is very important in education and training cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S.
MR KIRBY: Okay. Last question, New York Times.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, President Obama in his recent speech said that congressional rejection of the Iran nuclear accord that you negotiated would leave war as the only option if a future U.S. administration wanted to prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. And in your speech here today, you yourself suggested that critics of the agreement have talked too loosely about the option of military action. Senator Schumer, the future Democrat Senate leader, has announced that he’s going to vote against the agreement, as has Representative Engel. What is your response to their decision to vote against the agreement? Do you really think that these lawmakers favor another war in the Middle East? And in explaining his decision, Mr. Engel said that he had been told by U.S. officials earlier during the negotiations that ending the ban on the transfer of ballistic missiles and conventional arms was not on the negotiating table, but this compromise only emerged at the tail end of the talks. Is he right about that?
And for Deputy Prime Minister: Sir, Secretary Kerry talked about the importance of a strategic relationship between Vietnam and the United States. What sort of strategic relationship would you like to see, particularly in the security sphere? Would you like to see more lethal assistance? And what would Vietnam be prepared to do in return in the human rights sphere to receive that? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, I have great respect for Eliot Engel and great respect for Chuck Schumer. Chuck Schumer’s a friend; we served in the Senate together. And senators will make up their own minds, and members of Congress. I obviously – I profoundly disagree with the judgment made that – I think he said something to the effect about only 10 years. Because if you have 25 years of uranium tracking, which we have, and 15 years at 300 kilograms of stockpile, and a limit on enrichment with open inspections 24/7, it is physically – physically – impossible to build a bomb.
So I disagree with the judgment about the latter years in which Iran has to live under what is known as the Additional Protocol, and the modified Code 3.1, which requires even additional inspections. So the inspection and access is literally unique, unlike any other country in the world. And we are deeply convinced by the Intelligence Community, by the Energy Department, which has responsibility for nuclear weapons, of the ability to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And I think President Obama laid it out very, very thoroughly in his speech.
Now, what the President said in his speech was not war; he said “some kind of war,” which means perhaps limited, perhaps not. But he and I share the view that if all you do is refuse this deal and say no, this agreement – if you just say no, there is no other alternative to the fact that Iran will begin to enrich, will pursue its program, we will lose international support, we will lose the sanctions, we will wind up in a situation where we do not have the ability to inspect or to check their program, and therefore there will be a (inaudible) about Iran’s continued activity, and that will lead people to put pressure on military action since the United States would have walked away from the diplomatic solution.
So it’s a question of eliminating options in a realistic way. And I would respectfully suggest that rejection is not a policy for the future. It does not offer any alternative. And many people in arms control and others have actually pointed that out. So while I completely respect everybody’s individual right to make a choice, I obviously differ and disagree with the choice made, and I don’t think the facts bear out that in fact there is a 10-year limit or otherwise here.
FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) With regard to your question, at the moment, we – Vietnam and U.S. have comprehensive partnership set in 2013. And we hope that the relations will be built on political trust, exchange of visits between leaders, high-level leaders. On trade and economic cooperation, we hope that the economic cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S. will grow further and the U.S. will become number-one trading partner of Vietnam as well as number-one investor in Vietnam. In scientific cooperation and education and training, we hope we will enjoy further cooperation, and we really expect our stronger cooperation in advanced scientific cooperation so that Vietnam could become an industrialized and modernized country in the future.
In defense and security cooperation, U.S. haven’t fully lifted their embargo on the sale of lethal weapons imposed on Vietnam. And we hope that the U.S. will eventually fully lift the embargo on the sale of lethal weapons. As Mr. Secretary mentioned, in both multilateral or bilateral cooperation, we attach great importance to the role that the U.S. play in maintaining peace and security in the region. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) The press conference has now come to an end. I would like to thank Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Secretary John Kerry.