U.S., Vietnam partnership raised to top level during Biden's visit

The United States and Vietnam on Sunday agreed to elevate their relations to a "comprehensive strategic partnership" -- the Southeast Asian country's highest diplomatic ranking, on par with what it has with China and Russia.

The upgrade from the "comprehensive partnership" formed a decade ago, skipping the "strategic partnership" phase, was announced following U.S. President Joe Biden's talks with Vietnam's most powerful leader, the Communist Party's General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, in Hanoi.

"I think we have an enormous opportunity," Biden told Trong at the Vietnamese ruling party's headquarters. "Vietnam and the United States are critical partners at what I would argue is a very critical time. I'm not saying that to be polite. I'm saying it because I mean it from the bottom of my heart."

Under the new framework, in addition to maritime security cooperation, the United States and Vietnam are expected to work more closely in enhancing supply chains for semiconductors and critical minerals such as rare earths, as well as further promoting trade, investment, clean energy transition and educational exchanges.

Meeting the press with Biden following their talks, Trong said the framework will create "favorable conditions" for the two countries to "develop next steps," adding that paving the way for increased cooperation in technology and science is especially a "breakthrough."

Biden visited Vietnam, which is embroiled in a long-standing territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, for the first time since taking office in 2021 after attending a two-day summit of the Group of 20 major economies in India through Sunday.

The visit took place as U.S. officials increasingly see that forging stronger ties with Vietnam will be significant in countering China's growing military and economic clout in the Indo-Pacific region. Washington normalized diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995, about two decades after the end of a protracted war.

"We can trace a 50-year arc of progress between our nations, from conflict to normalization, to this new elevated status," Biden told the press following the meeting, adding that he also touched on the importance of human rights during their discussions.

Trong, meanwhile, said that respecting international law and territorial integrity is essential, but suggested he will never allow other countries to interfere in Vietnam's domestic affairs.

Later, Biden held a separate press conference by himself in the Vietnamese capital, and said in response to many questions about China that he wants to see Chinese President Xi Jinping "soon."

Biden reiterated that the United States is not seeking to hurt China, stressing, "We're all better off if China does well" economically and acts in line with international rules.

He said he believes Xi's hands are "full right now" due to economic difficulties at home, such as "overwhelming unemployment" among younger people and the country's slumping real estate market.

Without elaborating, Biden said he talked about "stability" and developing-country issues with China's "No. 2" leader, most likely referring to Premier Li Qiang, who took part in the G-20 summit in lieu of Xi, while the U.S. president was in the Indian capital.

© Kyodo News