Viewpoint: Barack Obama

Over the past two decades, Vietnam has achieved enormous progress, and today the world can see the strides that you have made. With economic reforms and trade agreements, including with the US, Vietnam has entered the global economy, selling your goods around the world. More foreign investment is coming in, and with one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, Vietnam has moved up to become a middle-income nation. We see Vietnam’s progress in the skyscrapers and high-rises of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and in the new shopping malls and urban centres. We see it in the satellites Vietnam puts into space and a new generation that is online, launching start-ups and running new ventures. 

So all this dynamism has delivered real progress in people’s lives. Here in Vietnam, you have dramatically reduced extreme poverty, you have boosted family incomes and lifted millions into a fast-growing middle class. Hunger, disease, child and maternal mortality are all down. The number of people with clean drinking water and electricity, the number of boys and girls in school, and your literacy rate – these are all up. This is extraordinary progress. This is what you have been able to achieve in a very short time.

And as Vietnam has transformed, so has the relationship between our two nations. We learned a lesson taught by the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, who said, “In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.” In this way, the very war that had divided us became a source for healing. It allowed us to account for the missing and finally bring them home. It allowed us to help remove landmines and unexploded bombs, because no child should ever lose a leg just playing outside. Even as we continue to assist Vietnamese with disabilities, including children, we are also continuing to help remove Agent Orange – a harmful dioxin – so that Vietnam can reclaim more of your land. We are proud of our work together in Da Nang, and we look forward to supporting your efforts in Bien Hoa too. With our new comprehensive partnership, our governments are working more closely together than ever before.  Today, Vietnam and the US are partners. 

I believe our experience holds lessons for the world. At a time when many conflicts seem intractable and as if they will never end, we have shown that hearts can change and that a different future is possible when we refuse to be prisoners of the past. We have shown how peace can be better than war, and that progress and human dignity is best advanced by cooperation and not conflict. 

Now, America’s new partnership with Vietnam is rooted in some basic truths. Vietnam is an independent, sovereign nation, and no other nation can impose its will on you or decide your destiny. The US has an interest here and interest in Vietnam’s success. But our comprehensive partnership is still in its early stages, and I want to share with you the vision that I believe can guide us in the decades ahead. Let us work together to create real opportunity and prosperity for all of our people. We know the ingredients for economic success in the 21st century. In our global economy, investment and trade flows to wherever there is rule of law, because no one wants to pay a bribe to start a business. Nobody wants to sell their goods or go to school if they do not know how they are going to be treated.  In knowledge-based economies, jobs go to where people have the freedom to think for themselves and exchange ideas and innovate.  Real economic partnerships are not just about one country extracting resources from another.  They are about investing in our greatest resource, which is our people and their skills and talents, whether you live in a big city or a village. And that is the kind of partnership that America offers.

The above is an abridged version of former President Obama’s speech on May 24, 2016 at the National Convention Centre Hanoi.