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Thayer Vietnam: Preview of President Truong Tan Sang's Visit to Washington

Thayer Vietnam: Preview of President Truong Tan Sang's Visit to Washington

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
Three background briefs provide a preview of the factors behind the short-notice meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang at The White House on July 25, 2013.
Three background briefs provide a preview of the factors behind the short-notice meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang at The White House on July 25, 2013.

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Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Aug 19, 2013
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Background Briefing:Vietnam Preview: PresidentTruong Tan
Sang’s Visit to
WashingtonCarlyle A. ThayerJuly 11, 2013
[client name deleted]We request your assessment of the recent announcement that Vietnam
s President,Truong Tan Sang, will make an official visit to the United States. In particular, werequest your assessment of the meaning of a possible
strategic partnership
 agreement.ASSESSMENT: On 1st June this year,
Vietnam’s Prime Minister announced at the
Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore that Vietnam wanted to establish strategicpartnerships with all five permanent members of the United Nations SecurityCouncil. Vietnam already negotiated strategic partnerships with China, Russia andthe United Kingdom. Now Vietnam was signaling that it was seeking to upgrade itsrelations with the United States and France.In mid-2010 when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Hanoi she declared thatall the fundamentals were in place to take U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relations to the
next level. But, she warned, Vietnam’s record on human rights would have toimprove first. Since Clinton’s visit Vietnam’s human rights record has gotten worse
,especially in the first half of this year.On 11 November 2011, the United States and Vietnam reportedly discussed thepossibility of a strategic partnership on the sidelines of the APEC Summit inHonolulu. However, later in November, Hanoi-based diplomats said that talks on astrategic partnership had stalled over how human rights should be addressed in thedraft agreement. The U.S. side reportedly wanted a separate article on human rights,while Vietnam reportedly wanted human rights subsumed under a more inclusivearticle dealing with political relations.Late the following year (2012), the U.S. abruptly pulled out of the annual humanrights dialogue with Vietnam. The dialogue was rescheduled earlier this year but noimprovement in human rights was noticeable. In June 2013, two senior Obamaofficials testified before Congress on U.S.-Vietnam relations, both stressed theimportance of positive changes (
demonstrable progress
in Vietnam’s human
rights record before progress could be achieved in other fields such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).It was therefore somewhat of a surprise when Agence France Presse revealed on 11July that President Barack Obama had invited his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
Tan Sang, to visit Washington later in the month. Two days prior, Vietnamannounced it was postponing the trial of American-connected high-profile dissidentLe Quoc Quan.Why has the U.S. seemingly changed its position on human rights and invited
Vietnam’s president to the United States? The answer appears to lie in the U.S.
policy of rebalancing and the recent uptick in Sino-Vietnamese relations following
President Sang’s visit to Beijing. Vietnam seeks to balance its relations with China
and the United States. Hanoi has been lobbying for at least a year for a visit byPresident Obama (to reciprocate President Nguyen Minh Triet
s visit to the U.S. in2007). In June 2013, Senior Lt. Gen. Do
Ba Ty, Vietnam’s Chief of the General Staff,
visited Washington with a high-powered delegation. This was the first time thatVietnam
s Chief of the General Staff had visited the United States.Have the two sides reached a quid pro quo? Vietnam may be seeking to step up itsdefence cooperation with the United States. The United States is seeking greateraccess to Vietnam. Some Vietnamese leaders may have concluded that unless thegridlock with the U.S. is broken, Vietnam will have less leverage in dealing withChina.Vietnam wants to have the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation)restrictions removed. At present Vietnam is permitted to purchase non-lethal itemson a case by case basis. This restriction is likely to remain in place. However, ITAR hasbeen amended recently to permit the sale of dual use (military-civilian) equipmentand technology. While it is speculative to conclude that such a trade-off is likely, it ismore certain that the U.S. will assist Vietnam in its first commitment topeacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations. Vietnam
s Prime MinisterNguyen Tan Dung publicly
announced Vietnam’s decision to participate in UN
peacekeeping missions at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this year.
President Sang’s visit to the United States will seek to advance Hanoi’s quest for a
strategic partnership agreement with Washington. President Obama will seek tosecure further Vietnamese commitments on enhancing economic relations throughthe TPP.
President Sang’s visit holds the promise of moving Vietnam’s relations with the
United States to the next level prior to the East Asia Summit in Brunei in October this
year. Perhaps Vietnam’s game plan is to advance the relationship in the coming
months so President Obama can make a side trip to Vietnam where the two sideswill formally sign a strategic partnership agreement. Vietnam will benefit becausethe agreement will be on its soil, the U.S. will benefit because President Obama willbe in Southeast Asia advancing his rebalancing strategy.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam Preview: President Truong Sang’s
 Visit to Washington
Thayer Consultancy Background Brief 
, July 11, 2013. Allbackground briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.
Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues andother research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officiallyregistered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

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