The Vice President's News Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I'm going to give a few remarks and then I'll take questions.
First, I want to thank our Vietnamese hosts for so warmly welcoming us to Vietnam. As many of you know, I am the first Vice President to visit Vietnam since diplomatic relations were established in 1995. And I believe that this trip signals the beginning of the next chapter in the relationship between the United States and Vietnam.
We have had an enduring commitment to this relationship because it matters to the people, to the security, and to the prosperity of the American people and, we believe, the people of Vietnam.
In fact, our cooperation on a whole host of issues today shows that the trajectory of our relationship since the normalization has been nothing short of remarkable when we think about where we have been, where we are, and where we are headed.
Now we are strengthening our partnership. Together we will take on the traditional issues and challenges, and we will take on those of the future, seeing within those challenges also the opportunities that we have to forge new aspects of our relationship.
First, I know that the COVID-19 surge is the number-one issue for the Vietnamese people right now, as evidenced by the trip we took recently, just this afternoon, to the National Institutes of Hygiene to deliver 1 million vaccines from the United States to the people of Vietnam, on top of the 5 million that we've already shared.
Just as you stood with us -- and I say this to the people of Vietnam -- during the earliest days of the pandemic, as early as the spring of 2020, we now are here for you in this moment of need. More United States-sourced vaccinations arrived through COVAX in Hanoi this morning.
We are also supplying freezers to distribute the vaccines, and providing millions in public health assistance -- millions of dollars in public health assistance.
And we opened a new CDC Southeast Asia Regional Office.
We do intend and hope that the people of Vietnam know that we will be with you as you battle this surge.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, we will continue to partner together to strengthen our economic ties. For example, during our meetings with the officials and leaders here in Vietnam, I advocated for a reduction of tariffs on American agricultural goods, and there was a positive reaction. And we're looking forward to following up on that conversation.
We also launched initiatives that will help Vietnam transition to a more digital economy, and it will help grow women- and ethnic minority-owned businesses.
As part of our economic partnership, we have also reached agreements about the importance of addressing the climate crisis and collaborating toward a clean energy future. In addition to the extensive conversations that I've had with the leaders of the Vietnamese government, I've also had conversations with young leaders who are working in the community on this very issue.
We launched, as part of our initiative on working together in partnership on the climate crisis, the Mekong Coastal Habitat Conservation program to help with the issues that are impacting the Mekong Delta region.
And I welcomed Vietnam in joining the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate, because we know we need to accelerate the adoption of climate-smart agriculture.
And, in fact, I had extensive conversations also with the Prime Minister yesterday about the connection between that technology and the work that we are doing in the United States, in terms of space program. And the Prime Minister expressed a real interest in working together with us, understanding that part of that program would include what we can do around satellite technology, helping farmers, in terms of predicting weather cycles.
We all agree -- and certainly, the U.N. published the report in the last couple of weeks -- that the climate issue has reached crisis proportions, when, as we all know, the United Nations issued a report with broad global consensus that by the year 2030 we could see temperatures rise as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. And the cri- -- the crisis then is urgent, and we are proud to stand with Vietnam, and other partners and allies around the globe, in meeting this moment.
Throughout my visit here, I also reaffirmed the commitment that the United States has to our common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States will continue our high-level security cooperation in support of a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam.
And we will continue to work with Vietnam to push back against threats to freedom of navigation and the rule-based international order.
I also raised the issue of human rights. In my meetings, I made clear the importance that the United States places on human rights. We will always be true to our values and will not shy away from speaking out, even when those conversations may be difficult to have and perhaps difficult to hear.
When we talk about opening up the next chapter, we also are very proud that, during this trip, we were able to sign a lease for 99 years to establish the United States Embassy here in Hanoi. And we take, as a point of pride, that it is a 99-year lease as evidence of our enduring commitment to the partnership we have with Vietnam.
In the same vein, our commitment, as I've said at the beginning of this trip, is in full appreciation and pride of the role of the United States as a member of the Indo-Pacific region, understanding that Southeast Asia is at the seat of this region and that the country of Vietnam holds a particular importance and significance to the United States, as does the first stop on this trip, which is when we were in the country of Singapore.
Whether in Singapore or Vietnam, Southeast Asia or the Indo-Pacific region, the United States intends to strengthen our participation and partnership with our partners and allies, and further and strengthen our interests in a way that is collaborative, meeting the challenges of the moment and the challenges of tomorrow, together.
Throughout this trip and in many meetings with government officials, business leaders, or civil society, I was reminded about just how much potential there is in this region and, dare I say, the potential that we all have when we have the ability to see what is possible, and then have the ambition to achieve what is possible around common interests and common goals.
We know it matter deeply to the wellbeing of the American people that we maintain and strengthen these partnerships. And that's why, in the years ahead, we will be coming back, time and time again, as we follow through and chart this next chapter in the partnership and the relationship we have with the spirit of understanding that it is mutually beneficial and that there is much that we can do together.
With that, I'll take questions.
MS. SANDERS: Our first question will come from Nguyen Khanh from Tuoi Tre.
Q: (As interpreted.) You have raised the question about the partnership between the U.S. and Vietnam to the strategic level. Could you please collaborate with us, share with us what you mean by that? Any details you could share with that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. So, the relationship that we have with Vietnam is a relationship that really is built on the foundation of understanding what is in our mutual desire to strengthen both our nations' security and economic standing, and our ability to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
As I said, there were extensive conversations and a joining of perspective during the meetings that we held here, and particularly yesterday, with Vietnamese officials, where we talked, for example, about the issue of COVID as just the current example of a global public health crisis and what we can do together to join forces to not only deal with the current moment -- as I've said and previously mentioned, the issue of vaccines and what we can do; Vietnam helped the United States out around PPE; we are helping Vietnam with vaccines -- but also what we can do together to be prepared -- we call it "preparedness" -- for the inevitable next pandemic.
That is part of what it means to strengthen this relationship strategically -- "strategically," meaning thinking about what might be our challenges, but also what are our opportunities.
For example, we also spent a lot of time talking about what we can do together as it relates to the supply chain, and how we understand and know that, one, there's a connection between a global public health crisis like COVID and the production, then, of necessary goods and how that can have a global impact on economies but also the workforce.
We talked extensively, for example, about what that means in terms of increasing the strength of our workforce, but also increasing the strength of our supply chain.
So those are some of the many examples. But, again, going through the list, it relates to that, it really relates to what we can do together on the issue of climate.
I will tell you that it was a very productive and in-depth conversation about how we share the concerns. If you look at the Mekong River and what is happening in terms of erosion there, we're seeing the same kind of issues in the United States and what we can do together that's both about an investment in innovation and technology, and also thinking about how we can grow our economies around thinking about things like renewable energy.
So that's what -- that's what that conversation was, and those are examples of what it means to strengthen the strategic relationship.
MS. SANDERS: Our next question will come from Alex Jaffe of the Associated Press.
Q: Hi. Thank you, Madam Vice President. Before I get to my question, I think it's important to follow up on the Havana Syndrome incident that delayed your travel here. Do you have any sense of who was behind that?
And considering that these incidents have happened all over the world over the past five years, what do you say to diplomats that are concerned for their safety? And is the U.S. doing anything to address that situation?
And then I have a follow-up on Afghanistan.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. On the issue of the health incidents -- and we call them anomalous, as you've mentioned, health incidents -- I will tell you that we're looking into it, and I'm not able to share much more at this time.
But on your point about embassy staff, I met with them today and then also saw them yesterday during the lease signing ceremony. And I will tell you that the people who work in our embassies, be it here in mission Vietnam or around the globe, are some of the most courageous and selfless public servants that you can meet.
I talked with them extensively about the importance of their work and also a recognition of the sacrifices they make. For example, during the last year and a half, around the COVID crisis, many of them, sadly, were unable to go home even when they lost family members to COVID.
We talked about the significance of their work in doing the groundwork that we need to do around the globe with our partners and our allies of strengthening the relationships around people-to-people ties and relationships. And that is the work they do, and their safety and security is one of the highest priorities.
Q: But just on Afghanistan -- because you yourself have said throughout this trip that the evacuation is at the top of mind for most Americans. So, when we're talking about the evacuation, how does the U.S. measure success? I mean, what does the completion of that mission look like? Is it a matter of simply evacuating all Americans? Is there a number of Afghans that we're hoping to evacuate?
And with that in mind, now that we're seeing that there are terrorist threats against the Kabul airport -- there's sort of an increasingly difficult security situation there -- can you affirm that Americans are safer today than they were before the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As I've said before, and as you've noted, our highest priority right now is evacuating American citizens, evacuating Afghans who worked with us and Afghans who are at risk, with a priority around women and children. And we have made significant progress in that regard. I believe since August 14th, I believe, we have evacuated over 80,000 people.
And, as you know, each day and night, we continue to evacuate thousands of people, understanding that it is -- it is risky for them to be there. It is a -- it is a dangerous and difficult mission, but it must be seen through, and we intend to see it through as best as we can.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you. Our next question will come from Jenny Leonard from Bloomberg.
Q: Thank you, Madam Vice President. You spent part of your day today -- I'm over here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, hi. (Laughs.) Thank you. Sorry.
Q: You spent part of your day today with civil society leaders and discussed their efforts to increase human and political rights in this country. And during this trip, you've spoken about how Vietnam is a key partner as the U.S. pursues a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, as you just reiterated.
Freedom House, however, rates Vietnam as not free, citing increasing arrests of journalists and human rights activists, restrictions on political activism, and a lack of democracy. So my question for you is: Given that Vietnam and China have very similar political systems, what makes Vietnam a key U.S. partner and China a threat to the region?
And then, did you get any commitments in your meetings with government leaders to secure the release of Vietnamese dissidents or any other tangible result?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, on your last point, those issues were raised and discussed, as was the issue of human rights -- both with the leaders of the Vietnamese government, as well as with civil society leaders -- because it is a real concern for the United States.
And as I said in my opening comments, we're not going to shy away from difficult conversations. Difficult conversations often must be had with the people that you otherwise may have a partnership with. And we do have a partnership with Vietnam.
In addition to concerns about human rights issues, we have a partnership as it relates to, for example, again -- and I've said -- the reciprocal relationship that we've had around assisting the citizens of each of our countries during this global health crisis called COVID-19.
We have a relationship with Vietnam when it comes to issues that relate to our economic strength, including, for example, the concern that American farmers have about tariffs. And that is why I raised the issue of the possibility of a reduction of tariffs around American agricultural goods.
So there is a lot of work to be done -- there's no question about it -- that is both about strengthening our nations and, in particular, our security concerns. And as you said, freedom of navigation is a high priority for us; it relates not only to security, but also to commerce. And what we must do to continue to speak up when necessary about human rights issues. And we'll continue to do that.
MS. SANDERS: Our next question will come from Tarini Parti of the Wall Street Journal. And Tarini is right over there.
Q: Madam Vice President, you called out China this week for its bullying and aggressive maritime actions. If China continues its aggression in the region, particularly in Taiwan, what is the Biden administration prepared to do differently to deter it, given that nothing seems to be working so far? Would the administration consider significantly increasing its military presence in the South China Sea, or sanctions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah -- and this relates to the last question as well. When it comes to Beijing, let me be very clear -- and the President has been very clear: We welcome stiff competition. We do not seek conflict. But on issues like you raised -- the South China Sea -- we're going to speak up. We're going to speak up when there are actions that Beijing takes that threaten the rules-based international order -- again, such as activity in the South China Sea.
And the issue, in particular, of freedom of navigation in that regard is a vital issue for this region. I spoke of it both in Singapore and here in Vietnam.
And we are going to continue to do what we can to make sure that we stay committed to our partners and our allies on these important kinds of issues.
But our policy is much broader than the South China Sea. And the partnership that we have here in Southeast Asia, again -- and I will repeat myself -- has to do with a number of issues that are about productivity and about strengthening the standing of each of our countries.
MS. SANDERS: And our final question will come from Sally Bronston from NBC. Sally is right over there.
Q: Madam Vice President, you've been a strong advocate for women and children throughout your career. What specific options does the U.S. have to continue helping at-risk women and girls -- who are not part of formal U.S. programs -- leave Afghanistan after the August 31st deadline, if they wish to do so? What will the administration do to support women who are not permitted to leave Afghanistan? The Taliban claims it will respect women's rights within Islamic law. How will the U.S. hold the Taliban accountable on this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, you are right -- I have worked almost my entire career on a number of issues but with a particular emphasis on the protection of women and children. And there's no question that any of us who are paying attention are concerned about that issue in Afghanistan.
We have said before, and I will say again, that we are going to do what we are able to do in terms of the evacuation process, but in addition to that, what we are able to do politically and diplomatically to secure and to continue to work on the protection of women and children in that region, including working with our allies.
And it is no secret that many of our allies are prepared to join with us in ensuring that we keep a focus on that issue, in that region, and do everything that we can, and to do it together as a global community.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, everyone. That concludes our press conference.
Kamala Harris, The Vice President's News Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/351999