Remarks at the Fulbright University Vietnam Establishment Ceremony
Secretary of State
SECRETARY KERRY: Chao Vietnam. Chao cac ong cac ba. (Applause.) Ted, thank you. Thank you, Ted, very, very much for a generous introduction, and thank you for all that you have done and that you’re doing every single day to move this relationship forward. I think everybody has great respect for that.
I want to thank all of the distinguished guests that have been introduced so I will not reintroduce, but I’m delighted the former party secretary is here, and needless to say very, very pleased that Dinh La Thang, the current Ho Chi Minh City party secretary is here, and we all are very, very grateful for his support and the prior support which has made today possible. It has been important leadership and we thank you, Mr. Secretary, very much.
I also – I was impressed. I don’t know how you felt. I was impressed by the – I think as we are talking about the founding of a university, to have the American Ben Wilkinson up here speaking Japanese and have the Vietnamese speaking the English was a really nice touch. (Applause.) I thought you guys made a terrific tag team. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, we all have to be honest about the work behind this, and I want to pay tribute today to my good friend Tommy Vallely – (applause) – and the entire Fulbright University Vietnam project team. They have done extraordinary work, but I think all of you know that if it weren’t for Tommy’s relationships, Tommy pushing, Tommy pressing, we wouldn’t be here today. (Laughter.) So Tommy, thank you so much for your incredible work. (Applause.)
And in addition, I want to say something special about the party secretary’s contribution to this effort. This city has donated more than 60 acres of prime land in the Saigon High Tech Park to the university. That is a remarkable contribution, and the Ho Chi Minh City government has embraced this project since day one. We are very, very grateful for this city’s understanding of the future, its commitment to the future, and the relationship with the United States. That’s a remarkable gift.
I also want to recognize my great friend and a fellow – I was going to say inmate but then I – but fellow colleague in the United States Senate, Senator Bob Kerrey, who has agreed to take on responsibility chairman of the Board of Trustees. (Applause.) And Madam Dam Bich Thuy, thank you so much for also – the first president of the university. Your commitment in launching this university is just key to our ability to get this off the ground, and most importantly to ensure its success. So thank you for your leadership. (Applause.)
Now, ladies and gentlemen, as a Yale grad, I got used to representing Harvard. (Laughter.) And the Harvard Vietnam Program has played a central role in launching the Fulbright University Vietnam, so in this case the praise comes very easily. And Ambassador Osius is a Harvard man, folks, so he and his team are doing a pretty outstanding job, so I have to admit that Harvard is finally starting to make a name for itself. (Laughter and applause.)
As I’m sure everybody here knows, the relationship between Vietnam and the United States, the relationship for Tommy, for Bob Kerrey, for myself, has always been personal. And I think it is personal for many people on both sides of the ocean, the Pacific. I first came here in 1968 and I can still remember securing a short pass to come up from the Mekong Delta to then Saigon, and sitting on the deck of this hotel in a momentary pause from all the craziness. And from that vantage point I could look out at the city in the evening, and I did, and I could see flares popping around the city, lighting up the night and the perimeter. And in the distance, you could even hear the bursts of gunfire or occasionally a C-130 with something called Puff the Magic Dragon shooting in the distance. It was literally surreal – an oasis of sorts, but still a war zone. Standing here today, same hotel, same rooftop up there; a very different view, a very different country, a very different time. The traffic outside, the remarkable amount of energy, is just bursting. You feel it and you see it pulsating. And the sounds you hear are of people today energetically joining together peacefully going about the business of their lives.
So the war is an indelible but an increasingly distant memory. And for most, it’s not a memory at all. Certainly, the students who are going to enroll at this university are far more interested in plugging into the world economy than in being stuck in the past or re-living memories of events that took place long before they were born.
And that reality is clearly reflected in the changing relationship between Vietnam and the United States that we saw even changing over the course of the last two and a half days. We just came from a remarkable session of the President of the United States with young people. It was honest. It could not have been more straightforward – the President answering questions. And particularly I was struck by one question about the brain drain, about young people who might be sucked away because of opportunity elsewhere.
And the President nailed the answer absolutely squarely, saying the answer to that is opportunity, opportunity here, making sure that people have the education they need so they don’t feel they need to go somewhere else. That’s what’s happening already.
And I want you just to think of how far we have come since normalization. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 60,000 American visitors to Vietnam. Today, there are nearly eight times that.
Twenty years ago, bilateral trade in goods was only $450 million. Today, it’s 45 billion.
Back then, there were fewer than 800 Vietnamese students studying in the United States. Today, nearly 19,000.
Now, these are not just statistics. They are a measure of the remarkable transformation that is reflected in President Obama’s historic visit here this week, and in the broad bilateral agenda that our two nations have developed together. And it is an agenda that includes clean energy, climate change, health, health care delivery, high-tech, security cooperation, and a landmark trade agreement in the TPP.
So my friends, we have come a long way together. And we also know that to foster real economic opportunity for the Vietnamese people, the kind of thing the President was talking about and that that young person asked about, to have a free market and a free marketplace of ideas, they have to go hand in hand. That freedom starts with education. The single smartest investment we can make in the next generation is education, and that’s what we are doing here today.
The stakes could not be higher. In Vietnam, there are 22 million people under the age of 15 years old. The decisions that they make now and the education that they receive now – not in 10 years but today – will have a pivotal impact on this country’s future and that of the region itself, and even contribute – and this is not some grandiose notion, but contribute to world thinking and to the course of events on this planet where we are all linked together. Much will depend on whether students learn not what to think, but how to think, and whether or not they have the incentive and the ability to innovate and to pursue new ideas.
One way to ensure that they have that opportunity is for Vietnam to create partnerships with top academic institutions, and that is exactly why we are here today.
The United States and Vietnam continue to learn to incorporate additional dimensions into our relationship. Every time I come here – I’ve been coming here a long time now – I feel that we have moved our ties to yet another level. Fulbright University Vietnam represents the next big step forward.
I am absolutely confident that this academic institution is going to make an enormous contribution to Vietnam, yes, and it’s going to become a true center of excellence marked by academic freedom, by meritocracy, transparency, and equal access. It’s also going to make a mark beyond Vietnam.
The university is a logical outgrowth of the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program that I was privileged to help start up with Tom Vallely, um tum Vallely. (Laughter.) And that effort involved the participation of both Vietnamese and American students and have produced some 1,200 Vietnamese alumni who are now helping to guide this country at a critical point in its history.
The university will also build on the investments that we have made through the Vietnam Education Foundation, which has facilitated faculty exchanges and helped nearly 600 Vietnamese students to do masters and doctoral work in the United States.
Now, I have discussed this university idea often with government officials here, and we have agreed that the time is right now to take this step. This is a country that places a very high value on learning. Its students are optimistic and eager to make the most of their talents and skills, and they’re also outward-looking. Today, more than 35 million Vietnamese use Facebook, and millions have grown accustomed to expressing themselves freely on the internet.
This is hugely important because freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, are essential to a 21st century education. This is not a matter of ideology. This is not a matter of one country’s choice over another. This is how the world works today. And if you’re going to be a thriving enterprise, a nation of progress and a nation that’s engaged with people, you have to be able to work at a faster pace, to be able to move freely in this marketplace, not just of goods but of ideas. So it is important that these freedoms flourish in Vietnam and the bilateral relationship between our countries will only grow stronger as it does.
I shared with you earlier my brief recollection of a time here long ago, and I said that that moment seemed surreal. But the war itself was all too real. That was a conflict that should never have happened. It reflected a failure of diplomacy and a failure of understanding and a failure of vision. And it destroyed many lives, deprived us of much that we can never recover, and opened wounds that have taken decades to heal.
Today is about a different kind of reality. Today is about good people from two diverse countries coming together to launch an institution that will contribute positively to the future of thousands, of millions in the end, of young people. Today is about confidence in our ability to adapt to change, to overcome problems, and to take advantage of the openings that the modern era – with all of its technological wonders – presents to all of us. Today reflects a triumph of diplomacy and a triumph of vision on the part of Tommy Vallely and all those in both the United States and in Vietnam and Secretary Thang who have helped to mend relations between our countries and create a platform for progress, not only in education but in countless other arenas.
Folks, it took us 20 years to normalize and almost 20 more to move from healing to building. Think of what we can accomplish in the next 20 years. Any farmer will tell you that if you expect a harvest, you have to plant seeds. Today, we are planting the finest seeds imaginable in the form of an institution dedicated to knowledge and learning. And we do so in the firm conviction that the future harvests will be of immeasurable benefit not only to the students of this country but to the steadily growing friendship between our peoples.
Congratulations to everybody, and thank you. (Applause.)