Jul 28, 2021 / 19:36

US Defense Secretary arrives in Hanoi

Both countries have been forging defense ties and high-level military exchanges.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III touched down at Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi Wednesday afternoon in the welcome of US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Christopher Klein, and Vietnam’s high-ranking officials.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at Noi Bai International Airport on Tuesday afternoon. Images: US Defense State's Twitter 

The two-day visit, which is made at the invitation by Vietnam’s National Defence Minister Phan Van Giang, is part of his Southeast Asia trip to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

According to the US State of Defense, Austin is the first cabinet-level official in the Biden administration to visit the crucial Southeast Asia area.

Regarding the trip, the Defense State said the international, rules-based order that has allowed the nations of Southeast Asia to prosper, and the US presence in the region helps ensure security via partnerships with the nations involved.

Austin said there are still threats and problems in the region. “'Together with our friends, we face a range of challenges in this region that demand common action, he said in his Fullerton Lecture, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore on July 27.

“Secretary Austin’s visit will demonstrate the importance the Biden-Harris Administration places on Southeast Asia and on ASEAN as an essential part of the Indo-Pacific’s architecture,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon.

Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang of Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a week before Austin’s visit that it continues to strengthen the defense ties and realize agreements reached by senior leaders within the Vietnam-US comprehensive partnership framework.

Dr. Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), named it’s “an important visit to keep the momentum of the US-Vietnam defense relations under Biden administration and with Vietnam’s new leadership.” She tweeted that she expects some solid announcements and tangible cooperation.

Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, said Austin’s Southeast Asia trip shows the US commitment to “work alongside” Singapore and Vietnam “to advanced shared objectives” while the Philippines is a treaty ally.

Secretary Austin’s visit to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines signals a quick reset in US efforts to engage with Southeast Asia.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Christopher Klein. 

Vietnam’s role

Prof Thayer said Vietnam has been “consistently viewed by successive US Administrations, including Obama and Trump, as a constructive and influential contributor to regional (and global) peace and security and a potential security partner.”

"Austin’s discussions with his Vietnamese counterpart and high-level leaders will stress US commitment to stability and security in the South China Sea. They are likely to discuss the sale and/or transfer of military equipment and technology to Vietnam as well as specialist training," Thayer said.

Nominee to be US Ambassador to Vietnam Marc E. Knapper, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing held on July 13, highlighted security in the relations with the Southeast Asian country in his upcoming term, in addition to trade and investment, war legacy, and humanitarian issues, and people-to-people ties.

Vietnam and the US are committed to strengthening defense cooperation between the two countries as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding on Advancing Bilateral Defense Cooperation in 2011 and the US-Vietnam Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations signed in 2015, giving priority to humanitarian cooperation, war legacy issues, maritime security, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.