Secretary of State John Kerry declared that communist Vietnam is “practicing a raging form of capitalism” after evolving out of the era in which “people were still in black pajamas.”
Speaking at the White House press briefing in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday evening, Kerry reflected on President Obama’s “historic demarcation effort” reflected in the commander in chief’s trip to the country.
“I have to tell you that for many years I have looked forward to a time when people would hear the word ‘Vietnam’ or the name ‘Vietnam’ and think more of a country than a conflict. And with President Obama’s visit this week, with the crowds that we saw along the street today, the remarkably warm and generous welcome, the unbelievable excitement of people that we are here with a president of the United States at this moment is absolutely palpable, and I think it is a demarcation point,” Kerry said.
“I think, clearly, we will never fail to honor the sacrifice of those who fought here and of what their dreams were for this country. But I think one can say genuinely, definitively, without failing to honor past service, that we have reached a new point in our relationship now.”
He reflected on visiting Hanoi around 1990 and seeing few cars or hotels.
“And the transition from that moment — when America decided we were going to sort of start to become engaged — until now is nothing less than stunning,” he added, lauding the nation as “the tiger of this region.”
“This is a prime example of the way in which the United States has been able to forge a new relationship out of the ashes of war and to create real peace.”
Kerry called the lifting of the weapons embargo on Vietnam “normal.”
“We don’t have lethal embargoes or bans for countries that we treat normally. And after 20 years of recognition, it is time to honor that normality. The fact is that it is also a very important decision in terms of making certain that Vietnam has the equipment that it needs in order to be able to defend itself and to stand up as part of ASEAN, as part of a rule of law, a rules-based structure — which is what President Obama has been trying to seek both in TPP, as well as in our overall policy,” he said.
“So this visit and this moment, in my judgment, reaffirms what has been clear for some period of time to many of us: The United States and Vietnam no longer define our relationship by the enmities of a bygone era.”
Kerry acknowledged “our government and the government in Hanoi continue to have differences, obviously.”
Vietnam, for one, barred many human rights activists from a meeting with Obama.
“The fact that we are cooperating in all of these other areas doesn’t mean there is a sudden erasing of fundamental differences in how we organize our governments, how we deal directly with our citizens,” Kerry said. “And so the good news, however, is we’re talking about that. We talk about that very directly. We talked about it today. We talked about it yesterday.”
“…I really think that’s at the center of President Obama’s foreign policy. That’s what we’re doing in Burma. That’s what we’re doing in Cuba. That’s what we’re doing in Iraq and in other places, Afghanistan, where transformation is taking place.”