This article was originally published on the Lao Dong Online Newspaper on 9 Feb 2020. English translation by Ngo Xuan Hien at Project RENEW.
In a New Year conversation with Lao Dong, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel J. Kritenbrink mentioned his visit to Truong Son national cemetery as a symbol of reconciliation and affirmed that the most extraordinary thing that Vietnam and the U.S. have done over the past 25 years is to have built trust to reinforce this partnership.
In many of your speeches in Vietnam, Ambassador said that the U.S. invested in the success and prosperity of Vietnam. Mr. Ambassador, what are the benefits of the U.S. in doing so?
– I think the U.S. foreign policy has been affirmed based on the fact that we can become stronger, more prosperous and safer when we have powerful, prosperous and independent allies, partners and friends. And that is what Vietnam can bring for us.
We keep talking about “America first”, but “first” doesn’t mean “alone” but totally opposite. In the foreign policy of the U.S., we seek partners and friends who are like-minded. We promote cooperation for shared benefits. I think both the U.S. and Vietnam want to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific, where all nations, big and small, follow the rule: big countries don’t bully smaller ones. That is what we want all nations to build together, not only the U.S. and Vietnam, but all like-minded partners.
That is the reason why the U.S. benefits when Vietnam succeeds. That is the reason our mission in Vietnam is to support Vietnam to become wealthy, prosperous and independent because such a Vietnam will be a great partner of the U.S. From that, we together promote trade, security and human exchanges. We together succeed.
We know that Ambassador has overseen the negation of two joint statements about a comprehensive partnership with Vietnam. Can you share a memory of this process? What do you expect from the prospect of upgrading the Vietnam-U.S. relationship in the coming time?
– Those are beautiful memories. The first time I had an opportunity to closely cooperate with Vietnamese friends was in 2015. Since then, during the past five years, I have been honored to assist Vietnam’s high ranking officials’ visit to the U.S. and vice versa, of course including the very successful visit of President Donald Trump to Vietnam.
I think, the most memorable thing about these experiences is the very joint statements we have negotiated during the past years, which reflect how deep is the mutual cooperative partnership. Those statements were rather long but thorough, comprehensive and strategic in our mutual vision of peace and prosperity in the region and the world.
I really had many beautiful moments, most of which were all night working sessions with friends and fact-checked the last night before signing to make sure everything was ready. However, those experiences were really exciting and meaningful because they themselves created a mutual partnership. We all wanted to do what was best for the two nations and peoples.
I am so proud of these joint statements as well as what we two nations have achieved. At the same time, I am very optimistic about our future. It is one of our most important partnerships in the world, a strategic partnership in the essence of what we have cooperated together. What we have done and achieved are undeniable and I am proud of that.
Last August, Ambassador paid a respect visit to Truong Son National Cemetery, the first time a U.S. Ambassador came to burn incense for over 10,000 fallen soldiers and visited Hien Luong bridge. Was this a sooner or later action and how did that mean in the reconciliation?
– A good question. Right, I think it really symbolized reconciliation. First, I want to say that, the visit to Truong Son Cemetery and Hien Luong bridge was one of the most meaningful, emotional and influential trips of my career in general and during my tenure in Vietnam in particular.
I think that we all want to achieve something together. Immediately, I took part in the trip with a spirit of mutual respect and reconciliation. Just recently, I have visited the Friendship Village – where Vietnamese veterans are being helped – of course, we are pleased to be side by side to assist them. That is significant to me in honoring fallen ones. That was one of the purposes of my visit.
Secondly, not only did I want to come to Truong Son cemetery but also to Quang Tri Province in general, because I wanted to emphasize great achievements that Vietnam and the U.S. have been making in humanitarian issues as well as the war legacies. I am convinced that what we are cooperating in this area is an obvious demonstration to build a foundation for that trust. We are still working together to locate missing soldiers during the war on both sides. We are expanding resources to clear unexploded ordnance in places like Quang Tri. We have launched a project to remediate dioxin contamination in Bien Hoa airbase and continue providing support to the treatment of Agent Orange victims in different provinces of Vietnam. Therefore, I wanted to visit places such as Truong Son. Yes, I wanted to honor veterans, but I also wanted to stress that there remain pending issues in the past. It is important that we have to be accountable for the issues from the past. And that is what I believe we will continue doing.
My third objective was to emphasize and memorize what we have achieved in the Vietnam – U.S. relationship. I think that I was allowed to visit such places like Truong Son cemetery is evidence of how we became partners and friends.
Never will I forget that trip which I was grateful for having an opportunity to take part in. I am so honored to be the first Ambassador who embarked on this trip so many years after the war, once again, clear evidence of our sustainable relationship.
By this story, is it true that the trust between the two countries has increased, Mr. Ambassador?
– I think so. As I said before, the most impressive thing during the past 25 years is that we have become partners and friends. But it can be said that the most extraordinary that we have done during the past 25 years is that we have built a trust that is needed to foster this partnership. And I really think that cooperation to address the war legacies can be the most important thing that we have done to build that trust.
In addition, we have done many other things. I keep telling my business friends that once you have become partners and friends, you have to always consolidate and demonstrate why you trust them and that is a two-way path.
We are proud of the fact that we have made efforts to build trust by addressing the war legacies such as UXO clearance, dioxin remediation, and treatment of Agent Orange victims. Vietnam also has had the confidence of the U.S. through cooperation with us to address the war legacies. Additionally, Vietnam is a good partner in the implementation of the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions of North Korea, promoting shared concerns in the East Sea, working to build an economic and commercial relationship that is free, fair and reciprocal. Vietnam has sacrificed for the international community by sending peacekeeping troops to South Sudan.
Not to mention that I am always surprised that Vietnam has given us your most precious resource – your young students. It is a great thing that many young Vietnamese come to the U.S. to have a good experience and return to Vietnam. On the contrary, I am sure that you have seen that there are many American tourists in all over Vietnam. Many American veterans have visited Vietnam and all of them have had wonderful experiences. All of those things contribute to our friendship and trustful partnership.
Thank you so much, Mr. Ambassador!
Project RENEW was established in 2001 as a joint effort between the government of Quang Tri Province and interested INGOs to “restore the environment and neutralize the effects of the war” – with the main focus on unexploded ordinance.