Former US Ambassadors to Vietnam told VietNamNet about their expectation of the success of the ongoing visit to the United States by Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

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First US Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson


What do you think about the meaning of this visit to the Vietnam - US relations?

I think it's historic. Because in our system, we have a president. In Vietnam, there's equivalent a president, but here is a general secretary. We've always had difficulties in American side to this difference. Because we've never really talked a political party, we always talk to a government officer.

So we jumped to a point of making a transition, I think it's a start. And I think this visit will fruit to people and leaders of America that party secretary has a very important task and an important role to play in Vietnam. And that, if we want to continue to work with Vietnam in a right progress and a right future potential, we have to accommodate to the differences in political systems.

As the first US Ambassador to Vietnam, I guess that you had a very difficult time dealing with the doubts and skeptical thoughts from both sides, did you ever think about the possibility of a communist party leader coming to the US talking with the US president?

Actually I did. I knew General Secretary Do Muoi very well. We had a common factor, we both spent time in Hoa Lo prison. He spent time under the French, I spent time under the Vietnamese. And there was a time when he and I talked about this quite a lot.

I did see the potential, and I would frankly have expected it maybe 5 years ago. But I think the Vietnamese were quite cautious, and I think they wanted to make sure that the relationship between our two countries was strong enough, and that we understood each side better as two political systems, and accepted.

I think they pick the right time, and I'm very much looking forward to the success of the visit. He is the right person to go, he had a wonderful job in the National Assembly, and also as the General Secretary. I think he's gonna take the experience and he will probably be able to communicate with the American people and government better.

Former US Ambassador Michael Michalak


As a former US Ambassador to Vietnam, how do you think of the meaning of a visit by the top leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam to the US?

As an observer of Vietnam for many years, I think it's another step in the mutual respect and the mutual cooperation between our two sides. The comprehensive partnership calls for the respect of both sides' political systems, and I think this is the implementation of that statement. It shows that in fact, we do have mutual respect to each other's system.

So, let's stop talking about that part of the relationship, and let's get on to talk about how the two of us can become better partners in various types of sectors and issues that affect us going forward.

I hope this visit will be another step towards the kind of mutual interest that let us get even deeper cooperation between our two countries.

This year, there are many activities happening between Vietnam and the US marking the 20th anniversary of normalization, and there can be thoughts that Vietnam seem to be moving closer to the US, and it might be intimidating to China. What is your opinion about that?

If China is intimidated by a stronger cooperation between the US and Vietnam, that would be very interesting. But I don't think it's intimidating to anybody, Vietnam is increasing its cooperation not only with the United States, but it's also in the middle of FTA negotiations with the EU, working hard on ASEAN... We are one of many in terms of foreign policy of Vietnam.

We found many potential areas of cooperation, and it's only natural that we should work on those as hard as we can. The US is not known for being shy, and quite frankly, Vietnam is not known for being shy, so you have two very dynamic countries and so it's only natural that our relationship would be a very dynamic one.

So are you excited about the hint from Ambassador Ted Osius that President Obama may come to visit Vietnam this year?

I would be tremendously excited by such a visit. I believe that if Ambassador Osius said it's gonna happen, I'm hopeful that it will happen.

Emeritus Professor Carlyle Thayer (Australian Defence Force Academy)



General Secretary Trong’s visit is a recognition by the United States of the role of the Vietnam Communist Party in Vietnam’s political system.

More particularly, since bilateral relations come under the framework of the 2013 Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership, the visit by the General Secretary raises relations to a higher level. It sets a precedent for the future.

General Secretary Trong’s visit is important because its strengthens Vietnam’s hand in its relations with China (and vice versa the Secretary General’s visit to China strengthens Vietnam’s hand in its relations with the United States).

Because Vietnam is preparing key policy documents for the 12th party congress to cover the next five to ten years, it is important for all of Vietnam’s top leaders to have a correct assessment of the policies and intentions of the major power, including China and the United States, on a wide range of issue, including political-diplomatic, economic and security and defence relations.

Chung Hoang