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Blinken to Visit Vietnam to Boost Bilateral Ties


FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference held as part of a NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania, Nov. 30, 2022.
FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference held as part of a NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania, Nov. 30, 2022.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Vietnam and Japan this week.

Blinken’s first trip to Vietnam as the top U.S. diplomat comes as the two countries look ahead with an eye toward their current leaders’ first formal visits to each other’s capitals, possibly this year, said analysts.

After Vietnam, Blinken heads to Japan on April 16, where foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations will gather in the town of Karuizawa, in the Nagano prefecture, to discuss pressing security issues.

Comprehensive Partnership anniversary

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. The two countries have been discussing how to advance ties to the next level — a strategic partnership.

“We have a very robust security relationship,” Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters during a phone briefing on Monday, citing U.S. naval ship visits and security assistance to Vietnam’s military.

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The U.S. is Vietnam’s number one export market. Vietnam is the U.S.’s eighth-largest trading partner in goods.

Blinken’s meetings with senior Vietnamese officials in Hanoi follow a call between U.S. President Joe Biden and the chief of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, on March 29, when the two leaders agreed to expand the bilateral relationship.

“Part of these discussions include mutual visits by leaders on both sides to each other's capitals. It's to be determined when exactly those will take place, but, based on the call between President Biden and General Secretary Trong, there's certainly a lot of mutual interest in making that happen at some point this year,” Andreyka Natalegawa, an associate fellow for the Southeast Asia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA.

Vietnam, China ties

Vietnam maintains a three-tier diplomatic relationship with other countries: the Comprehensive Partnership, Strategic Partnership and Comprehensive Strategic partnership. The United States is currently ranked as a third-tier partner for Hanoi. China and Russia are among the countries that maintain top tier ties with Vietnam.

Trong was among the first foreign leaders to visit Beijing last October, after Chinese President Xi Jinping started his third term as the Chinese Communist Party leader.

Vietnam maintains an independent foreign policy. Hanoi has made it clear that it does not want to choose sides between Washington and Beijing amid growing tensions and geopolitical competition.

But for some years, the Southeast Asian nation has appeared reluctant to upgrade its ties with the U.S. to a strategic partnership amid concerns of reactions from China.

While in Hanoi, Blinken will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the formal launch of construction of a new U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.

Human rights

Meanwhile, rights groups are calling on Hanoi to end the persecution of critics. More than 160 political prisoners are currently locked up for exercising their basic rights, according to Human Rights Watch.

One of the high-profile cases is jailed journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang — winner of the 2022 International Women of Courage Award hosted by the U.S. State Department.

“There has been a troubling trend of harassment and arrests and harsh sentences with targeted Vietnamese citizens, journalists and activists simply for exercising their right to express their opinions,” Kritenbrink told VOA on Monday, adding that Secretary Blinken will raise “a fair assessment of the human rights situation” in Vietnam, where there have been numerous important “advancements.”

Blinken’s G-7 meetings will discuss issues including Russia’s continued war against Ukraine, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, food and energy security, and advancing an affirmative vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, said the State Department.