ADM Phil Davidson
Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Media Roundtable at Ho Chi Minh City
U.S. Consulate's American Center in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Remarks by ADM Davidson
This is my first trip to Vietnam, and I have to tell you I am honored to be here, grateful for the hospitality, and humbled by the reception here for my team.
We arrived in Hanoi on Monday and conducted various office calls with Vietnamese government and military officials.
We flew to Cam Ranh on Wednesday to tour the Khahn Hoa Dermatology Hospital where I participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony for new rooms the U.S. military built to increase the treatment capacity for the people in and around Nha Trang. The Khanh Hoa People’s Committee identified the need and asked the U.S. for support during Pacific Partnership last year. It was an honor to participate in the event.
We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City last evening and met with the Party Committee, and I had the opportunity to speak with U.S. business leaders about growing U.S.-Vietnam economic ties. And, earlier today we visited Hospital 175. We will depart this evening.
Next year the U.S. and Vietnam will mark 25 years of diplomatic relations…remarkable progress and I am encouraged about the future of our relationship. President Trump has already made two visits to Vietnam, and our National Security Advisor, Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense also visited. I am honored to be here today. Our U.S. relationship with Vietnam is one that continues to grow and will certainly be enduring.
After all, our vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific is for all Nations to remain independent, strong, and satellites to none.
We want to support the development of a strong, prosperous, independent Vietnam that contributes to regional AND global prosperity and security, engages in free, fair and reciprocal trade, and respects human rights and the rule of law.
I must commend Vietnam for your growing role in support of security initiatives globally. This is evidenced by the February summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim that occurred in Hanoi.
Vietnam is a key partner in the international efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.
Additionally, Vietnam is playing a constructive role in facilitating diplomatic discussions while simultaneously continuing to block illicit ship-to-ship transfers of North Korean coal in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Vietnam also plays a positive role by sharing with their North Korean counterparts about Vietnam’s experiences with economic reform and normalizing relations with the United States.
As I mentioned, I toured Hospital 175 this morning, and Vietnam’s contribution of a level 2 medical deployment to the South Sudan is an important step in ensuring global stability.
In all, the history of our two nations reveals the possibilities for peace and prosperity. We have moved past conflict towards a flourishing partnership that spans political, economic, security, and people-to-people ties.
Our cooperation on war legacy issues (this includes dioxin remediation, UXO disposal and the accounting for missing personnel) is important for both sides to address. I look forward to maintaining our efforts here.
I commend Vietnam for taking a vocal stand against the malign influence that seeks to constrain international access to the East Sea, or as we say, the South China Sea. I appreciate the continued support of U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations. These FONOPs are intended to assert the right of every nation—small and large alike—to fly, sail, and operate in these waters, consistent with the maritime law and the 1982 UN Convention Law of the Sea.
The militarization by China of the East Sea is concerning not only because of the global economic implications, but for what it suggests about the nation’s broader intent to reshape the international rules-based order that has enabled the astonishing economic rise of this region.
That nation seeks to weaken regional order and the sovereignty of countries, the international rights to the global commons; the flourishing network of allies, partners and friends who seek a Free and Open Indo-Pacific; and it undermines, as well, institutions such as ASEAN and its member states.
Such actions affect the security and the right of all nations to trade, to communicate, to develop their natural resources, and to send their financial information and communications through cables under the sea.
Bottom line – The threat in the region seeks to undermine nation-to-nation stability and the regions overall economic growth.
Our U.S.-Vietnam defense relations remain strong and represent one of the strongest pillars in our bilateral relationship.
Our U.S.-Vietnam defense cooperation is based on our common strategic interests in upholding Vietnam’s sovereignty and independence and promoting a rules-based international order.
Our momentum in defense cooperation accelerated in 2017, when we transferred a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam, and last year with the first aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam. We plan to continue this positive momentum into 2019.
Our security priorities for 2019 focus on two important areas. First, strengthening our bilateral defense relationship by enhancing Vietnam’s military capabilities and pursuing opportunities for mil-to-mil training and cooperation, consistent with Vietnam’s priorities and capacity.
This will help Vietnam protect its sovereignty, deter aggression, and promote regional and global security, both unilaterally and multilaterally, and we intend to focus on Maritime security and maritime domain awareness; HADR; Peacekeeping operations; Increased intelligence sharing through progress on an information sharing agreement; Professional military education, including English language training; Military medicine; and enhanced Search and rescue skills.
Our second priority is to continue to promote Vietnam’s global and regional leadership role, especially as Vietnam prepares to assume the ASEAN chairmanship in 2020.
Vietnam’s leadership of ASEAN will provide a timely opportunity for building consensus and solidarity among ASEAN member states in support of upholding a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
The United States values the substantial and growing role ASEAN plays in regional and global security.
ASEAN is a key component of our efforts to promote the principles enshrined in our vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, to include the respect for sovereignty and independence of all nations; the peaceful resolution of disputes; free, fair and reciprocal trade; and adherence to international rules and norms, including those for freedom of navigation and overflight.
We continue to support all ADMM-Plus ministerial and subordinate mechanisms, and I am looking forward to U.S. participation in the ADMM-Plus maritime security exercise in just a few weeks.
We will continue to support the efforts of Vietnam and other ASEAN member states in insisting that an ASEAN Code of Conduct be consistent with international law and legally binding.
Trade and commerce are also cornerstones of the Comprehensive Partnership between the United States and Vietnam. I know both the U.S. and Vietnam are eager for increased economic ties.
In 2018 alone, the U.S.-Vietnam trade in goods and services was $58.9 billion. The United States exported $9.8 billion worth of goods and services in 2018. That’s more than a four-fold increase in the past decade… Remarkable!
The economic pillar of our Indo-Pacific Vision is all about helping to create the conditions that support private sector firms building infrastructure financed by private capital. The approach enables Vietnam to choose the world’s best quality equipment and construction companies through the kinds of transparent processes that facilitate the most competitive pricing.
The passage of U.S. BUILD Act last year was an important step in implementing that vision. I am pleased to say that the new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation will begin operations on October 1 of this year—a key development in unleashing the strength of U.S. private enterprise to help build the infrastructure necessary for sustained economic growth and development across South-East Asia and beyond.
Last night I met with U.S. business leaders in Ho Chi Minh City to discuss how we can continue to build the economic pillar of our relationship, and encourage private investment along the way.
So where else - should or could – we advance our relationship?
As a part of this, we welcome growing cooperation between Lower Mekong countries, and we look forward to assisting them in building a stronger and more resilient Mekong region together.
We respect the vital role this important river plays in the prosperity, security and sovereignty of Vietnam and its people.
I want to emphasize our commitment to supporting other countries in the Mekong region in strengthening their sovereignty, countering transnational crime, and building sustainable, transparent economies.
All countries, large and small, have a great role to play in the evolving political, economic and security architectures of the 21st Century. U.S. will do our part, and we challenge others to do the same.
Thank you for your time. I am happy to take your questions.