PartnershipsSoutheast Asia

U.S.-Vietnam engagement deepens across diplomacy, defense, trade sectors

Tom Abke

The United States and Vietnam, which elevated their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2023, continue to steadily boost engagement on shared interests and security concerns. From diplomacy to trade and defense transfers, the nations are cooperating to strategically address regional security, technology supply management and climate effects, along with education and workforce enhancements.

“Vietnam welcomes the United States’ positive and constructive contributions to our shared peace and prosperity,” Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son said at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late March 2024.

Son said Hanoi hopes the U.S. will further enhance “the economic pillar of [its] Indo-Pacific Strategy” and deepen its comprehensive strategic partnership with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Vietnam. He noted that 2.4 million Vietnamese live in the U.S. and that trade between the nations soared from $450 million in 1995 to $110 billion in 2023.

Son highlighted bilateral programs and initiatives addressing climate, food and health security, anti-terrorism, and nonproliferation. “Vietnam considers the United States one of our leading partners,” he said.

Defense ties had been growing before the partnership upgrade, as evidenced by Vietnam’s inaugural participation in the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific multilateral maritime exercise in 2018 and the initial ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise off the coast of Vietnam’s Ca Mau province in 2019. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also visited Vietnam in 2021.

Additionally, the U.S. has approved major defense asset transfers to Vietnam in recent years, including two refitted high-endurance Coast Guard cutters in 2017 and 2021 through the U.S.’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The vessels are the largest in Vietnam’s Coast Guard fleet. The FMF also assisted with the transfer of 24 Metal Shark high-speed patrol boats to Vietnam. Two Beechcraft T-6 Texan trainer aircraft have been transferred, with 10 more set for delivery by 2027. The U.S.-based manufacturer Boeing, meanwhile, agreed in 2019 to supply six ScanEagle long-endurance surveillance drones to Vietnam to bolster its maritime awareness capabilities.

“Vietnam needs a peaceful, stable and favorable external environment, and, very importantly, the valuable cooperation and support from the international community and major partners, including the United States of America,” Son said.

He also emphasized the increasing bilateral cooperation on investment in semiconductors and other technologies, a focus of the comprehensive strategic partnership.

Vietnam is among the priority countries to receive financial assistance for microchip manufacturing under the U.S.’s CHIPS Act, according to Jose Fernandez, U.S. undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment. U.S.-based tech companies Microsoft and Nvidia have expressed interest in boosting Vietnam’s high-tech capabilities, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council reported.

The U.S. also supports the STEM Champions of Vietnam Initiative and Upskill Vietnam, which seek to enhance Vietnam’s educational and professional capabilities in science and technology, aligning with strategic interests to develop a highly skilled workforce.

Tom Abke is a FORUM correspondent reporting from Singapore.

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