Story by Tu Anh

April 21, 2021




In his three-and a half years in Vietnam, the US ambassador used three words to describe his sentiments: “gratitude”, “pride” and “optimism”. He said it’s a privilege to work in this country as the US ambassador to promote the two countries’ partnership.

The US diplomat went over some outstanding achievements starting with trade. The US - Vietnam total bilateral trade has increased largely, reaching almost US$90 billion from a few hundreds of millions of dollars in 1994. Currently, the US is Vietnam's largest export market. “You're one of our fastest-growing export markets in the world,” noted the US diplomat.


Besides, bilateral cooperation in education, health care and security also made huge progress. The two sides have collaborated closely in solving war aftermath. The dioxin remediation in Danang airport has been completed, while a similar project at Bien Hoa airport has been finished phase 1. The removal of unexploded ordnance in central Vietnam is going on. Both countries have joined hands actively in the search for the remains of soldiers missing in action during the American war in Vietnam. The US continues to provide significant assistance to Vietnam military and coast guard in maintaining security as well as building maritime safeguard capability.

Kritenbrink’s tenure witnessed some “the firsts”.  Two US aircraft carriers docked in Vietnam, marking the first time such capital ship visited the Southeast Asian nation since the American war in Vietnam.

Kritenbrink is also the first US ambassador to visit two cemeteries of fallen Vietnamese soldiers in the central province of Quang Tri and Ho Chi Minh City. During his trip to Quang Tri province, a major theater of war, he paid respects to the fallen troops at Truong Son Cemetery by burning incense sticks and ringing a bell. He also witnessed American and Vietnamese veterans hand in hand crossing the Ham Rong Bridge -  a target of US bombing during the war. “Through doing these activities together, we build further trust between the two countries,” he explained these “firsts”. 


Kritenbrink showed great optimistic about the future of Vietnam and US ties. He touched on his inspiring story by quoting Pete Peterson – first US Ambassador to Vietnam, that what Vietnam and the US have accomplished, is not a nature miracle, but it came about thanks to the really hard work of leaders and people on both sides to overcome the past and step forward. He showed confidence that, the two countries can believe in a bright future, basing on what they have achieved together during the past 25 years.

According to him, many common things between the two countries laid bricks for this belief. “Our interests in fundamental areas are largely aligned. We’re united in our strategic vision of the kind of region and world in which we want to live,” he stressed. 


Vietnam and the US share common strategic vision of regional and global landscape, and address differences in a responsible manner, Kritenbrink said. Both countries have maintained high-level contacts under the Biden administration. President Joe Biden sent a letter to top Vietnamese leaders, while Secretary Antony Blinken and the President’s Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry had telephone talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. The two countries have also worked closely when Vietnam assumed its roles as the Chair of ASEAN in 2020 and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2020-2021.

The picture for both countries cooperation would even brighter, he said, especially after President Biden stressed the need for further developing relations with its allies and partners. “I think the sky is the limit for the US-Vietnam Partnership,” the US diplomat said.


The US wants to work with like-minded partners and friends like Vietnam to promote not an abstract vision, but really concrete policies helping all the countries in the Indo-Pacific region, according to US Ambassador Kritenbrink.

He stressed that the US and its partners would uphold a rules-based international order and support international law so as to avoid conflict, adding that it was in the US's national interest to have strong, successful, prosperous partners, friends and allies.


The US ambassador quoted American leaders as saying that the country can be stronger, safer, and more prosperous when its allies, partners and friends are also secure and stable, strong and successful. The US can be successful when working with its like-minded, successful, strong partners. “That’s certainly how we see Vietnam,” Kritenbrink said. 

The US also sees Vietnam as a capable, successful country playing a leadership role in this region. “Vietnam, together with partners in ASEAN, is really central to our Indo-Pacific strategy,” the US ambassador stressed.

On the South China Sea (called East Sea by Vietnam) issue, the ambassador reaffirmed the US’s consistent stance that all disputes should be solved by peaceful means as well as all maritime claims should be based on international laws. 


Being an ambassador of “the firsts”, Daniel Kritenbrink would leave an unforgettable impression on the Vietnamese people when he learned to make moon cakes, participated in lion dance with children or sung rap in a Lunar new year-greetings video, which has already gone viral all over the world.

Now when the time for his tenure is almost up, the US diplomat confided that there is an endless list of things he would miss when departing this Southeast Asian country, starting with its cuisine. “I can’t imagine one day walking out my door and cannot find Pho [noodle soup with beef or chicken], Bun cha [grilled pork with fresh vermicelli], cha ca [frilled fish] every time I want,” he said. 


The beauty of  numerous places he set feet on during the last three and a half years are numerous, from the country’s southern region to northern area including Sapa in Lao Cai and Ha Giang, further sites in the Central and South of Vietnam like Cantho in the Mekong Delta, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, but there is a lot left in his bucket list. “What an amazing country you have,” he uttered.

Not only beautiful landscapes but also Vietnamese people’s hospitality would remain in the US ambassador’s memory as well. Their amazing kindness, generosity as well as happiness and optimism impact him the most, he said, adding a scene that he would never forget the one of people sitting on blue stools drinking craft beers and sharing their daily stories around Hanoi’s Old Quarters. “Vietnam and Vietnamese people will always have a special place in my heart.”



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