Visiting US State Secretary John Kerry (L) shakes hands with Vietnam's newly-elected Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as they meet for talks in Hanoi on Monday. PHOTO: AFP
US Secretary of State John Kerry talked climate change, Mekong river security and East Sea peace during his Vietnam visit that ended Monday.
It was his first visit to Vietnam as the top US diplomat and his fourth trip to Asia since taking the post in February.
His three-day visit to Vietnam began last Saturday in Ho Chi Minh City where he told a conference that since the US lifted its punishing embargo on starving Vietnam in 1995, bilateral trade between the two countries had grown 50-fold to more than US$25 billion a year.
"I can't think of two countries that have worked harder, done more, and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history and change the future and provide a future for people which is now very, very different," he said, adding that Vietnam has potential to become one of the US's leading economic partners in the region.
Kerry said the US will provide an initial investment of $4.2 million for a program to help implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Vietnam as a way to support Vietnam as it grows into a larger role in the global economy.
He said he expects to work with the Vietnamese government towards the establishment of a Fulbright University in Vietnam.
On Sunday, Kerry arrived in the Mekong Delta Province of Ca Mau, whose waters he navigated as commander of a swift boat in 1968 and 1969 during the Vietnam War.
Kerry received combat medals for his role in the Vietnam War, which killed around 58,000 Americans and up to three million Vietnamese that had never attacked his country. He then protested the Vietnam War and built his later political career on an anti-war platform, only to flip-flop and eventually advocate for war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
In Ca Mau's Kien Vang Hamlet, he told local people that the US will contribute $17 million for a US Agency for International Development program to help Delta residents reverse environmental degradation and adapt to climate change.
He said the delta "“ where millions of people work, live and supply food for millions of other people globally "“ is among the two or three areas in the world most seriously at risk of catastrophe due to climate change.
Higher sea levels will bring more salt water into the region. Salt, Kerry said, is not a "friend to rice paddies."
Scientists predict that if no changes are taken against climate change, the sea levels will have risen by almost one meter on average by the end of this century, he said.
He said that even clean-energy development, like hydropower, can lead to negative impacts on the environment without careful planning.
All riparian countries share the benefits of the Mekong River, and it is important to avoid changes in water flow and sediment levels, he said.
He said the decision to develop infrastructure, including dams, in countries that share the river have to be drawn up "carefully, deliberately and transparently."
"No one country has a right to deprive another country of the livelihood and the ecosystem and its capacity for life itself that comes with that river."
Data sharing and open and cooperative dialogue will help ensure that the river's resources continue to benefit people in all riparian countries, not just the country that touches the river first, he said.
The US will address the issue at international meetings, he said.