Remarks by the President to Vietnam National University (11/17/00)
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam)
For Immediate Release November 17, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
Vietnam National University
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
3:50 P.M. (L)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, and good afternoon. I can think
of no more fitting place to begin my visit at this hopeful moment in our
common history than here at Hanoi National University. I was given a
Vietnamese phrase; I am going to try to say it. If I mess it up, feel free
to laugh at me. Xin chao cac ban.* (Applause.)
So much of the promise of this youthful nation is embodied with you.
I learned that you have exchanges here with students from nearly 100
universities, from Canada to France to Korea -- and that you are now
hosting more than a dozen full-time students from your partner school in
the United States, the University of California.
I salute your vigorous efforts to engage the world. Of course, like
students everywhere, I know you have things to think about other than your
studies. For example, in September, you had to study for your classes and
watch the Olympic accomplishments of Tran Hieu Ngan in Sydney. And this
week you have to study and cheer Le Huynh Duc and Nguyen Hong Son in
Bangkok at the football matches. (Applause.)
I am honored to be the first American President to see Hanoi, and to
visit this university. But I do so conscious that the histories of our two
nations are deeply intertwined in ways that are both a source of pain for
generations that came before, and a source of promise for generations yet
* Hello, everybody.
Two centuries ago, during the early days of the United States, we
reached across the seas for partners in trade and one of the first nations
we encountered was Vietnam. In fact, one of our founding fathers, Thomas
Jefferson, tried to obtain rice seed from Vietnam to grow on his farm in
Virginia 200 years ago. By the time World War II arrived, the United
States had become a significant consumer of export from Vietnam. In 1945,
at the moment of your country's birth, the words of Thomas Jefferson were
chosen to be echoed in your own Declaration of Independence: "All men are
created equal. The Creator has given us certain inviolable rights -- the
right to life, the right to be free, the right to achieve happiness."
Of course, all of this common history, 200 years of it, has been
obscured in the last few decades by the conflict we call the Vietnam War
and you call the American War. You may know that in Washington, D.C., on
our National Mall, there is a stark black granite wall engraved with the
name of every single American who died in Vietnam. At this solemn
memorial, some American veterans also refer to the "other side of the
wall," the staggering sacrifice of the Vietnamese people on both sides of
that conflict -- more than three million brave soldiers and civilians.
This shared suffering has given our countries a relationship unlike
any other. Because of the conflict, America is now home to one million
Americans of Vietnamese ancestry. Because of the conflict, three million
Americans veterans served in Vietnam, as did many journalists, embassy
personnel, aid workers and others who are forever connected to your
Almost 20 years ago now, a group of American servicemen took the first
step to reestablish contacts between the United States and Vietnam. They
traveled back to Vietnam for the first time since the war, and as they
walked through the streets of Hanoi, they were approached by Vietnamese
citizens who had heard of their visit: Are you the American soldiers, they
asked? Not sure what to expect, our veterans answered, yes, we are. And
to their immense relief, their hosts simply said, welcome to Vietnam.
More veterans followed, including distinguished American veterans and
heroes who serve now in the United States Congress: Senator John McCain,
Senator Bob Kerrey, Senator Chuck Robb, and Senator John Kerry from
Massachusetts, who is here with me today, along with a number of
representatives from our Congress, some of whom are veterans of the Vietnam
When they came here, they were determined to honor those who fought
without refighting the battles; to remember our history, but not to
perpetuate it; to give young people like you in both our countries the
chance to live in your tomorrows, not in our yesterdays. As Ambassador
Pete Peterson has said so eloquently, "We cannot change the past. What we
can change is the future."
Our new relationship gained strength as American veterans launched
nonprofit organizations to work on behalf of the Vietnamese people, such as
providing devices to people with war injuries to help them lead more normal
lives. Vietnam's willingness to help us return the remains of our fallen
servicemen to their families has been the biggest boost to improve ties.
And there are many Americans here who have worked in that endeavor for many
years now, including our Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Hershel Gober.
The desire to be reunited with a lost family member is something we
all understand. It touches the hearts of Americans to know that every
Sunday in Vietnam one of your most-watched television shows features
families seeking viewers' help in finding loved ones they lost in the war
so long ago now. And we are grateful for the Vietnamese villagers who have
helped us to find our missing and, therefore, to give their families the
peace of mind that comes with knowing what actually happened to their loved
No two nations have ever before done the things we are doing together
to find the missing from the Vietnam conflict. Teams of Americans and
Vietnamese work together, sometimes in tight and dangerous places. The
Vietnamese government has offered us access to files and government
information to assist our search. And, in turn, we have been able to give
Vietnam almost 400,000 pages of documents that could assist in your search.
On this trip, I have brought with me another 350,000 pages of documents
that I hope will help Vietnamese families find out what happened to their
missing loved ones.
Today, I was honored to present these to your President, Tran Duc
Luong. And I told him before the year is over, America will provide
another million pages of documents. We will continue to offer our help and
to ask for your help as we both honor our commitment to do whatever we can
for as long as it takes to achieve the fullest possible accounting of our
Your cooperation in that mission over these last eight years has made
it possible for America to support international lending to Vietnam, to
resume trade between our countries, to establish formal diplomatic
relations and, this year, to sign a pivotal trade agreement.
Finally, America is coming to see Vietnam as your people have asked
for years -- as a country, not a war. A country with the highest literacy
rate in Southeast Asia; a country whose young people just won three Gold
Medals at the International Math Olympiad in Seoul; a country of gifted,
hardworking entrepreneurs emerging from years of conflict and uncertainty
to shape a bright future.
Today, the United States and Vietnam open a new chapter in our
relationship, at a time when people all across the world trade more, travel
more, know more about and talk more with each other than ever before. Even
as people take pride in their national independence, we know we are
becoming more and more interdependent. The movement of people, money and
ideas across borders, frankly, breeds suspicion among many good people in
every country. They are worried about globalization because of its
unsettling and unpredictable consequences.
Yet, globalization is not something we can hold off or turn off. It
is the economic equivalent of a force of nature -- like wind or water. We
can harness wind to fill a sail. We can use water to generate energy. We
can work hard to protect people and property from storms and floods. But
there is no point in denying the existence of wind or water, or trying to
make them go away. The same is true for globalization. We can work to
maximize its benefits and minimize its risks, but we cannot ignore it --
and it is not going away.
In the last decade, as the volume of world trade has doubled,
investment flows from wealthy nations to developing ones have increased by
six times, from $25 billion in 1990 to more than $150 billion in 1998.
Nations that have opened their economies to the international trading
system have grown at least twice as fast as nations with closed economies.
Your next job may well depend on foreign trade and investment. Come to
think of it, since I have to leave office in about eight weeks, my next job
may depend on foreign trade and investment.
Over the last 15 years, Vietnam launched its policy of Doi Moi, joined
APEC and ASEAN, normalized relations with the European Union and the United
States, and disbanded collective farming, freeing farmers to grow what they
want and earn the fruits of their own labor. The results were impressive
proof of the power of your markets and the abilities of your people. You
not only conquered malnutrition, you became the world's second largest
exporter of rice and achieved stronger overall economic growth.
Of course, in recent years the rate of growth has slowed and foreign
investment has declined here, showing that any attempt to remain isolated
from the risks of a global economy also guarantees isolation from its
rewards, as well.
General Secretary Le Kha Phieu said this summer, and I quote, "We have
yet to achieve the level of development commensurate with the possibilities
of our country. And there is only one way to further open up the economy."
So this summer, in what I believe will be seen as a pivotal step toward
your future prosperity, Vietnam joined the United States in signing an
historic bilateral trade agreement, building a foundation for Vietnam's
entry eventually into the World Trade Organization.
Under the agreement, Vietnam will grant to its citizens, and over time
to citizens of other countries, rights to import, export and distribute
goods, giving the Vietnamese people expanding rights to determine their own
economic destiny. Vietnam has agreed it will subject important decisions
to the rule of law and the international trading system, increase the flow
of information to its people, and accelerate the rise of a free economy and
the private sector.
Of course, this will be good for Vietnam's foreign partners, like the
United States. But it will be even better for Vietnam's own entrepreneurs,
who are working hard to build businesses of their own. Under this
agreement, Vietnam could be earning, according to the World Bank, another
$1.5 billion each and every year from exports alone.
Both our nations were born with a Declaration of Independence. This
trade agreement is a form of declaration of interdependence, a clear,
unequivocal statement that prosperity in the 21st century depends upon a
nation's economic engagement in the rest of the world.
This new openness is a great opportunity for you. But it does not
guarantee success. What else should be done? Vietnam is such a young
country, with 60 percent of your population under the age of 30, and 1.4
million new people entering your work force every year. Your leaders
realize that government and state-owned businesses cannot generate 1.4
million new jobs every year. They know that the industries driving the
global economy today -- computers, telecommunications, biotechnology --
these are all based on knowledge. That is why economies all over the world
grow faster when young people stay in school longer, when women have the
same educational opportunities that men have, when young people like you
have every opportunity to explore new ideas and then to turn those ideas
into your own business opportunities.
You can be -- indeed, those of you in this hall today must be -- the
engine of Vietnam's future prosperity. As President Tran Duc Luong has
said, the internal strength of the country is the intellect and capacity of
The United States has great respect for your intellect and capacity.
One of our government's largest educational exchange programs is with
Vietnam. And we want to do more. Senator Kerry is right there, and I
mentioned him earlier -- is leading an effort in our United States
Congress, along with Senator John McCain and other veterans of the conflict
here, to establish a new Vietnam Education Foundation. Once enacted, the
foundation would support 100 fellowships every year, either here or in the
United States, for people to study or teach science, math, technology and
We're ready to put more funding in our exchange programs now so this
effort can get underway immediately. I hope some of you in this room will
have a chance to take part. And I want to thank Senator Kerry for this
great idea. Thank you, sir, for what you have done. (Applause.)
Let me say, as important as knowledge is, the benefits of knowledge
are necessarily limited by undue restrictions on its use. We Americans
believe the freedom to explore, to travel, to think, to speak, to shape
decisions that affect our lives enrich the lives of individuals and nations
in ways that go far beyond economics.
Now, America's record is not perfect in this area. After all, it took
us almost a century to banish slavery. It took us even longer to give
women the right to vote. And we are still seeking to live up to the more
perfect union of our founders' dreams and the words of our Declaration of
Independence and Constitution. But along the way over these 226 years --
224 years -- we've learned some lessons. For example, we have seen that
economies work better where newspapers are free to expose corruption, and
independent courts can ensure that contracts are honored, that competition
is robust and fair, that public officials honor the rule of law.
In our experience, guaranteeing the right to religious worship and the
right to political dissent does not threaten the stability of a society.
Instead, it builds people's confidence in the fairness of our institutions,
and enables us to take it when a decision goes in a way we don't agree
with. All this makes our country stronger in good times and bad. In our
experience, young people are much more likely to have confidence in their
future if they have a say in shaping it, in choosing their governmental
leaders and having a government that is accountable to those it serves.
Now, let me say emphatically, we do not seek to impose these ideals,
nor could we. Vietnam is an ancient and enduring country. You have proved
to the world that you will make your own decisions. Only you can decide,
for example, if you will continue to share Vietnam's talents and ideas with
the world; if you will continue to open Vietnam so that you can enrich it
with the insights of others. Only you can decide if you will continue to
open your markets, open your society and strengthen the rule of law. Only
you can decide how to weave individual liberties and human rights into the
rich and strong fabric of Vietnamese national identity.
Your future should be in your hands, the hands of the Vietnam people.
But your future is important to the rest of us, as well. For as Vietnam
succeeds, it will benefit this region and your trading partners and your
friends throughout the world.
We are eager to increase our cooperation with you across the board.
We want to continue our work to clear land mines and unexploded ordnance.
We want to strengthen our common efforts to protect the environment by
phasing out leaded gasoline in Vietnam, maintaining a clean water supply,
saving coral reefs and tropical forests. We want to bolster our efforts on
disaster relief and prevention, including our efforts to help those
suffering from the floods in the Mekong Delta. Yesterday, we presented to
your government satellite imagery from our Global Disaster Information
Network -- images that show in great detail the latest flood levels on the
Delta that can help Vietnam to rebuild.
We want to accelerate our cooperation in science, cooperation focused
this month on our meeting in Singapore to study together the health and
ecological effects of dioxin on the people of Vietnam and the Americans who
were in Vietnam; and cooperation that we are advancing further with the
Science and Technology Agreement our two countries signed just today.
We want to be your ally in the fight against killer diseases like
AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. I am glad to announce that we will nearly
double our support of Vietnam's efforts to contain the AIDS crisis through
education, prevention, care and treatment. We want to work with you to
make Vietnam a safer place by giving you help to reduce preventable
injuries -- on the streets, at home and in the workplace. We want to work
with you to make the most of this trade agreement, by providing technical
assistance to assure its full and smooth implementation, in finding ways to
encourage greater United States investment in your country.
We are, in short, eager to build our partnership with Vietnam. We
believe it's good for both our nations. We believe the Vietnamese people
have the talent to succeed in this new global age as they have in the past.
We know it because we've seen the progress you have made in this last
decade. We have seen the talent and ingenuity of the Vietnamese who have
come to settle in America. Vietnamese-Americans have become elected
officials, judges, leaders in science and in our high-tech industry. Last
year, a Vietnamese-American achieved a mathematical breakthrough that will
make it easier to conduct high-quality video-conferencing. And all America
took notice when Hoang Nhu Tran graduated number one in his class at the
United States Air Force Academy.
Vietnamese-Americans have flourished not just because of their unique
abilities and their good values, but also because they have had the
opportunity to make the most of their abilities and their values. As your
opportunities grow to live, to learn, to express your creativity, there
will be no stopping the people of Vietnam. And you will find, I am
certain, that the American people will be by your side. For in this
interdependent world, we truly do have a stake in your success.
Almost 200 years ago, at the beginning of the relations between the
United States and Vietnam, our two nations made many attempts to negotiate
a treaty of commerce, sort of like the trade agreement that we signed
today. But 200 years ago, they all failed, and no treaty was concluded.
Listen to what one historian said about what happened 200 years ago, and
think how many times it could have been said in the two centuries since.
He said, "These efforts failed because two distant cultures were talking
past each other, and the importance of each to the other was insufficient
to overcome these barriers."
Let the days when we talk past each other be gone for good. Let us
acknowledge our importance to one another. Let us continue to help each
other heal the wounds of war, not by forgetting the bravery shown and the
tragedy suffered by all sides, but by embracing the spirit of
reconciliation and the courage to build better tomorrows for our children.
May our children learn from us that good people, through respectful
dialogue, can discover and rediscover their common humanity, and that a
painful, painful past can be redeemed in a peaceful and prosperous future.
Thank you for welcoming me and my family and our American delegation
to Vietnam. Thank you for your faith in the future. Chuc cac ban suc khoe
va thanh cong.*
Thank you very much.
END 4:17 P.M. (L)
* May you have health and success.
© 2000 MultiEducator, Inc. All rights reserved