Gates Seeks Expansion of U.S.-Vietnamese Cooperation

HANOI, Viet­nam, Oct. 11, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates today not­ed the lev­el of coop­er­a­tion in the mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Viet­nam and said he sees poten­tial for that rela­tion­ship to expand even fur­ther.

In a speech at Viet­nam Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty, Gates said col­lab­o­ra­tive efforts pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to build knowl­edge and trust between the two nations’ defense insti­tu­tions.

Gates said he and Viet­namese Defense Min­is­ter Lt. Gen. Phung Quang Thanh agreed last year to estab­lish a mech­a­nism to allow senior rep­re­sen­ta­tives from their coun­tries’ defense min­istries to dis­cuss the full range of bilat­er­al, region­al and glob­al secu­ri­ty issues of com­mon inter­est. The first Defense Pol­i­cy Dia­logue held here in August was “the cap­stone achieve­ment” in the grow­ing coop­er­a­tion between the two mil­i­taries, he added.

“This dia­logue brings togeth­er senior-lev­el lead­ers to advance our defense rela­tion­ship through reg­u­lar and open dis­cus­sions – con­ver­sa­tions that we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., next year,” he said. “While we do not and will not always agree, it is crit­i­cal that we remain will­ing to dis­cuss these dif­fer­ences – for exam­ple, on human rights issues – can­did­ly.”

Going for­ward, Gates said, Pen­ta­gon offi­cials are increas­ing­ly look­ing to estab­lish new areas of coop­er­a­tion.

“First, we are work­ing to expand our col­lab­o­ra­tion on human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance oper­a­tions and to sup­port Vietnam’s own devel­op­ment of greater capa­bil­i­ties in this area,” he said. “For exam­ple, the Unit­ed States Pacif­ic Com­mand has respond­ed to a Viet­namese request for assis­tance and is work­ing with the gov­ern­ment of Viet­nam to con­struct med­ical clin­ics in Thua Thien Hue province, build schools and cen­ters for dis­abled chil­dren and pro­vide rel­e­vant train­ing for Viet­namese doc­tors.”

The hos­pi­tal ship USNS Mer­cy has con­duct­ed two med­ical engage­ments in Viet­nam since 2008, Gates not­ed, pro­vid­ing treat­ment and surgery for hun­dreds of patients. The ship’s med­ical staff worked with their Viet­namese coun­ter­parts on approach­es to treat­ment, he added, and tech­ni­cians repaired 35 pieces of med­ical equip­ment worth $4 mil­lion.

Dis­as­ter relief is anoth­er area with poten­tial for expand­ed coop­er­a­tion, the sec­re­tary said. Not­ing that recent flood­ing in Vietnam’s cen­tral provinces left more than 50 peo­ple dead and forced 20,000 more to leave their homes, Gates expressed con­do­lences to those affect­ed and said the Unit­ed States stands ready to help the Viet­namese gov­ern­ment in its response efforts. He point­ed out that col­lab­o­ra­tion on dis­as­ter relief already is well under way.

“An impor­tant com­po­nent of dis­as­ter relief is search and res­cue oper­a­tions,” he said. “Over the past few years, 45 Viet­namese mil­i­tary offi­cers have been cer­ti­fied as com­bat life­saver instruc­tors through the U.S. Army here in Viet­nam, and are now shar­ing their exper­tise with many more. This year, we look for­ward to host­ing two Viet­namese offi­cers at our Search and Res­cue Oper­a­tions and Plan­ning School for the first time.”

Gates cit­ed mar­itime secu­ri­ty as an area of mutu­al con­cern for the Unit­ed States and Viet­nam, and said two U.S. ship vis­its in the past year demon­strate progress in mar­itime coop­er­a­tion between the two nations. He said he is pleased that Viet­nam has par­tic­i­pat­ed in sev­er­al region­al mar­itime exer­cis­es, and he expressed the hope that Viet­nam will par­tic­i­pate in future exer­cis­es.

The bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Viet­nam is impor­tant not only to the two coun­tries, but also to the region. “Today, Asia is home to some of the most dynam­ic, rapid­ly evolv­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic nations in the world – espe­cial­ly here in South­east Asia,” he said. “South­east Asian nations sit astride key glob­al trade routes, are home to diverse eth­nic and reli­gious pop­u­la­tions, are play­ing a lead­ing role in pro­mot­ing Asian region­al insti­tu­tions, and, increas­ing­ly, are step­ping for­ward as vital secu­ri­ty part­ners on a range of region­al and glob­al chal­lenges.”

Core issues in the region such as trade, nat­ur­al dis­as­ters, ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes, ter­ror­ism and pira­cy require mul­ti­lat­er­al coop­er­a­tion, Gates said, and strong bilat­er­al rela­tions among all Pacif­ic nations – crit­i­cal on their own – build the trust and famil­iar­i­ty nec­es­sary for mul­ti­lat­er­al insti­tu­tions and ini­tia­tives to work.

Grow­ing beyond the past means dis­card­ing Cold War ways of think­ing about U.S. defense strat­e­gy and Asia’s over­all secu­ri­ty archi­tec­ture, Gates said. Viet­nam has been a leader in pro­mot­ing mul­ti­lat­er­al coop­er­a­tion, he added, cit­ing Vietnam’s chair­man­ship of the Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations this year as an exam­ple.

“In fact, Vietnam’s vision to push for­ward on such col­lab­o­ra­tion is one rea­son I’m here today,” he said. “The inau­gur­al meet­ing of the ASEAN Defense Min­is­ter Meet­ings Plus Eight is tomor­row. This meet­ing rep­re­sents a his­toric and very wel­come move to a high­er lev­el of region­al secu­ri­ty dia­logue, with defense min­is­ters for­mal­ly com­ing togeth­er for the first time to build tan­gi­ble coop­er­a­tion on a range of issues.

“By allow­ing us to more reg­u­lar­ly exchange views and devel­op oper­a­tional infra­struc­ture for future efforts,” he con­tin­ued, “this forum will build trust and trans­paren­cy region­wide.

It is an impor­tant man­i­fes­ta­tion of the com­mit­ment of all our gov­ern­ments to a secure and peace­ful future for Asia.”

Today’s lev­el of mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion between the Unit­ed States and Viet­nam builds a foun­da­tion for the next gen­er­a­tion of mil­i­tary lead­ers in both coun­tries, the sec­re­tary said.

Next year, he told the audi­ence, Viet­nam plans to send an offi­cer to the U.S. Nation­al War Col­lege and anoth­er offi­cer to the U.S. Naval Staff Col­lege.

“The gen­er­a­tion ris­ing now has lit­tle or no per­son­al mem­o­ry of a time when our nations weren’t friends,” Gates said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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