WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is heading to Vietnam next month to meet with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and other Vietnamese leaders, the White House announced on Monday.
The president will travel to Hanoi on Sept. 10, tacking on the one-day visit to the Vietnamese capital after attending the annual Group of 20 leaders’ summit in India.
“The leaders will explore opportunities to promote the growth of a technology-focused and innovation-driven Vietnamese economy, expand our people-to-people ties through education exchanges and workforce development programs, combat climate change, and increase peace, prosperity, and stability in the region,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
The White House also announced on Monday that Biden will stop in Alaska on his way home from Vietnam to mark the the 22nd anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. He will take part in a memorial ceremony at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage with members of the military, first responders and their families, Jean-Pierre said.
The announcement about Vietnam comes after weeks of Biden hinting at a possible visit. He said at a July 29 campaign reception in Freeport, Maine, that Vietnam’s leader wanted to meet him. He then told donors at a New Mexico reception earlier this month that he would “be going to Vietnam shortly because Vietnam wants to change our relationship and become a partner.”
“I’ve gotten a call from the head of Vietnam, desperately wants to meet me when I go to the G20,” Biden said at the Freeport reception. “He wants to elevate us to a major partner, along with Russia and China. What do you think that’s about? No, I’m not joking.”
Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam. Human rights groups have raised concerns in the past about the Vietnamese curtailing freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and the arrests of dozens of critics of the government.
Asked about Vietnam’s rights record, Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden “never shies away” from bringing up human rights with any leader.
Biden has put a premium on improving and expanding relationships in southeast Asia throughout his time in office amid growing U.S. concern about China’s growing military and economic influence in the region.
At the same time, Biden and his aides have repeatedly said they seek to improve communication between the two governments to work on issues on which the Democratic administration says they have common interest — such as global efforts to combat climate change — and avoid unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding.
The United States for years has sought to strengthen relations with Vietnam, which has cautiously approached entreaties by Washington. Both China and Russia have long served as key trading partners for Vietnam.
China’s border is less than 60 miles (96 kilometers) from Hanoi and Vietnam, like many of China’s neighbors, has had maritime and territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea. The two sides fought a brief war in 1979. But China is Vietnam’s biggest trading partner.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Vietnam weeks after the 50th anniversary of the U.S. troop withdrawal that marked the end of America’s direct military involvement in Vietnam. He pledged to boost relations to new levels. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in July also travelled to Hanoi.
Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were only restored in 1995. Since then, bilateral trade has grown, reaching a high of $138 billion in goods trade last year.
Vietnam has become a major export production hub for global manufacturers like South Korea’s LG and Samsung Electronics, suppliers to Apple, Inc. and auto makers like Honda and Toyota. Vietnam’s star has risen as manufacturers look to shift production from China, because of geopolitical tensions and a push in many industries to diversify supply chains that were strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Vietnam visit was announced after Biden earlier this month hosted the leaders of Japan and South Korea for a historic summit at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David to cement a new economic and security agreement.
Biden has worked to bring South Korea and Japan — historic rivals — closer together amid their shared concerns about Chinese assertiveness in the Pacific and North Korea’s nuclear program.