Skip to Content

Menu ×

Senator Tom Cotton Speaks About the Future of the U.S.-Vietnam Relationship

June 30, 2015

It is an honor to be here for the opening of this trade office, which marks a major step in the new sister relationship between the state of Arkansas and Dong Nai province of Vietnam.  It is our hope that this office will not only strengthen trade ties between Vietnam and Arkansas, but also the ties between Vietnam and the United States as a whole.

The expansion in trade between our nations has been rapid and vigorous.  In 1991, when a bilateral trade agreement between our countries took effect, our total trade was a paltry $1.5 billion.  By 2013, that increased more than twenty-fold to $29.6 billion.  And make no mistake, trade between our nations has created jobs, reduced prices, and raised the standards of living for both our peoples. This office will, we hope, promote the benefits of our burgeoning trade relationship right here in Arkansas.

The opening of this office is yet another step forward in the relationship between the United States and Vietnam.  In a short time in the history of nations, our relationship has risen out of a dark period.  That period was marked by deep distrust, bloodshed, and personal sacrifice and tragedy on both sides.  Such wounds heal slowly, but heal they must if we are to turn our eyes toward a new era that would benefit both our peoples.  And they have begun to heal.

My own family is a humble, living testimony to this journey.  In 1968, my dad volunteered to fight in Vietnam despite having a valid deferment from our military draft.  Leaving behind his new wife, my mother, so soon after they were married was no doubt difficult. As a new husband and father myself, I know this more fully now.  But my father volunteered for a number of reasons—chief among them that, when your country, when our country, is at war, it's never a mistake to go and fight.  I obeyed that command myself, to the initial chagrin of my father and mother.  Now today, nearly 50 years after he set that example, I'm able to stand here with representatives of his former adversary-turned-ally to celebrate a symbol of the peace and prosperity my father so desired.  I'm proud that both my mother and father can be here with us today.

In a few days, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam.  It is remarkable to look back on the past few decades to see how far our nations have come.  And while we look back on the past, we must stay focused on how important the U.S.-Vietnam relationship is to our shared future.  

We share a common vision for our future as Pacific nations and for the future of the region as a whole.  We both seek a peaceful region, where disputes are settled by discussion and agreed-upon law, not by force of arms.  We both seek a region that is knit together by trade ties, with diminishing poverty, and rising prosperity.  And we seek a region not dominated by a single power, but where each nation is given a voice on regional issues, accorded respect, and retains the sovereign power to determine its own course, free from coercion.

To realize this vision, the U.S.-Vietnam relationship must continue to grow and strengthen in three main areas.

The first is on trade.  As evidenced by the opening of this office, our nations have made great progress on our trading relationship.  Those bilateral efforts must continue.  And in multilateral negotiations, we must continue to seek a regional trade agreement that promotes truly free trade and opens up opportunities for businesses to compete and win on the merits.  

Second, our nations must continue to deepen military cooperation.  We have seen China take aggressive action to compromise Vietnam's interests, particularly with Beijing's claims to large portions of the South China Sea.  This is deeply concerning.  The United States has an abiding interest in Vietnam's national sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity.  It is important that our defense cooperation be sufficient to deter dangerous behavior that threatens to upend regional peace.  Military cooperation and strength is key to our diplomatic efforts to channel any disputes toward a peaceful settlement framework.

Third, the United States and Vietnam must continue our productive and open dialogue regarding democracy and human rights.  It is in the fertile soil of shared values that enduring relationships between nations take root and flourish.  It is my hope that the U.S-Vietnam relationship will plant its roots in that soil.  If it does, it will grow as healthy, be as sturdy, and stand as long as many of the old pine trees that dot the horizon here in Arkansas or the bamboo trees that span the Vietnamese countryside.

Thank you to the Tinnghai Vietnam Trade Representative's Office for inviting me to speak today, and welcome to Arkansas.  You will find our people to be kind, hospitable, and big-hearted.  God bless you, God bless America, and may God bless a just and lasting peace and reconciliation between our two countries.