Clinton Eyes Vietnam Trade as US Pushes Exports
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday for talks on boosting trade as the United States bids to shore up its stuttering economy with an Asia-focused export drive.
She landed in Hanoi after a trip to Mongolia, where vast natural resources including coal are fueling an economic boom on China’s doorstep.
Clinton held talks with Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and will meet other senior Vietnamese officials, including the prime minister, and speak to students and members of the US and Vietnamese business communities.
There have been “remarkable” changes in Vietnam and the cooperation between the two countries is “steadily growing,” Clinton said, adding that they shared “important strategic interests” on issues like the South China Sea.
Vietnam has made clear it welcomes a closer relationship with its former wartime enemies in Washington amid tensions with historic rival China over territorial disputes.
Vietnam’s Minh said the two sides agreed disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved through “peaceful measures” and said he hoped the bilateral relationship would “grow rigorously” in years to come.
“There are many opportunities for trade and investment that will be open after this visit. Investment and trade issues will always be a driving force in our bilateral relations,” he said.
Later this week Clinton will host the largest ever gathering of American business leaders in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap to discuss ways of boosting US exports to the region.
“I think one of the keys here is if you look at Asean, it’s one of the fastest-growing middle classes in the world,” a top State Department official told reporters traveling with Clinton, referring to the Southeast Asian bloc.
“And as you consider what will be an important ingredient in American economic revival, clearly the role of exports will be central, and particularly in Asia,” the official added, asking to remain anonymous.
Clinton said bilateral trade had increased from “practically nothing in 1995 to more than $22 billion today,” but said there was potential for much more.
Vietnam, where the pace of economic growth slowed to a three-year-low of 4.38 percent in the first half of 2012, could benefit significantly if the regional Trans-Pacific Partnership was finalized by the end of the year, she said.
But the agreement called for “higher standards”, with Vietnam needing to “create more space for the free exchange of ideas, strengthen the rule of law, and respect the universal rights of all its workers, including to unionize freely.”
Underscoring comments she made Monday in Mongolia, Clinton said Asian nations with closed political systems had to heed calls for greater democracy, saying it would only help boost their economies.
“Some argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first, and worry about democracy later. But that is a short-sighted bargain. Democracy and prosperity go hand-in-hand. Political reform and economic growth are linked.”
“America’s deepening engagement in this region will support progress on both tracks,” she added.
Clinton is coming under pressure to speak out more on human rights, with one US congressman Monday demanding the removal of Washington’s ambassador to Vietnam, accusing the envoy of failing to press the issue.
Human Rights Watch in a Tuesday statement called on Clinton to push Vietnam to ease its tight restrictions on the Internet and to release dozens of imprisoned bloggers.
Clinton said that she had raised US concerns about rights “including the continued jailing of activists, lawyers, and bloggers for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas,” but did not publicly mention specific names.
During her Asia tour, Clinton will also head to the one-party state of Laos, in the first visit there by the top US diplomat in 57 years.