U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on December 16, 2013. They discussed the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership and tensions in the South and East China Seas.
Secretary Kerry: ...First and foremost, we know that education, education of our people-to-people ties, are laying the foundation for a close U.S.-Vietnam partnership in years to come. And we've made great progress in strengthening those ties. Today, more than 16,000 Vietnamese students are studying in the United States, more than almost every other country in the world. In Ho Chi Minh City, I had the opportunity to meet and talk and listen to some of the impressive young men and women who were the alumni among the 4,000 alumni of the Fulbright program here in Vietnam. I take special pride in this program because when I was a younger senator I initiated efforts in the Senate to start this program. And before long, it became the largest Fulbright program in the world. Today, it is the second-largest program in the world. It has been an extraordinary success so far, and we look forward to building on that success by continuing to work with the Vietnamese Government to establish a full-fledged Fulbright University in Vietnam in the near future.
The second area that we are focusing on is trade. Trade is perhaps the clearest example of how far our nations have come in the 18 years since we normalized relations. Two-way trade between the United States and Vietnam has increased since 1995 more than 50-fold. Last week, we launched the Governance for Inclusive Growth program, through which the United States will help support Vietnam's ongoing transition to a more inclusive, market-based economy that is based on the rule of law.
And as I told business leaders in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, the assistance that we provide through this program, this new program, will also help Vietnam to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Once finalized, TPP will raise standards, including labor standards, open markets up. It will create millions of new jobs, not just in the United States and Vietnam but throughout the Asia Pacific. We are working very closely with Vietnam and other regional partners in order to complete the TPP negotiations as quickly as possible. But to realize our potential as a partner and for Vietnam to realize its potential as a thriving economy – and this is something we talked about openly and frankly – Vietnam needs to show a continued progress on human rights and freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of association. I made this point clearly to Deputy Prime Minister Minh, as I have in all my previous discussions with Vietnamese officials.
Third, we are collaborating closely on the environment. Climate change is perhaps the single greatest threat facing most nations on the planet today. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the same waters in the Mekong Delta that I patrolled 45 years ago, and I saw firsthand the ways in which the United States and Vietnam are now working hand in hand to pursue development in a way that is sustainable for the environment, for local economies, and most importantly, sustainable for the climate.
And finally, we are working to strengthen regional security. We are expanding our collaboration on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts as well as on search-and-rescue capabilities. We're also working more closely than ever on peacekeeping efforts. Next year, Vietnam, for the first time, will participate in the United Nations global peacekeeping operations.
No region can be secure in the absence of effective law enforcement in territorial waters. And because of that, today I am also pleased to announce $32.5 million in new U.S. assistance for maritime law enforcement in Southeast Asian states. This assistance will include, among other things, training and new fast-patrol vessels for coast guards. Building on existing efforts like the Gulf of Thailand initiative, this assistance will foster greater regional cooperation on maritime issues and ultimately provide the ability of Southeast Asian nations to carry out humanitarian activities and to police and monitor their waters more effectively.
In particular, peace and stability in the South China Sea is a top priority for us and for countries in the region. We are very concerned by and strongly opposed to coercive and aggressive tactics to advance territorial claims. Claimants have a responsibility to clarify their claims and to align their claims with international law and to pursue those claims within international peaceful institutions. Those countries can engage in arbitration and other means of negotiating disputes peacefully. We support ASEAN's efforts with China to move quickly to conclude a code of conduct. And while a code of conduct is necessary for the long term, nations can also reduce the risk of miscommunication and miscalculation by taking steps today to put crisis prevention arrangements in place. That is an easy way to try and reduce tensions and try to reduce the potential for conflict.
Nowhere is that kind of effort more necessary today than it is in the East China Sea. President Obama and I are obviously very concerned about recent actions that have increased tensions between China and Japan, and we call for intensified negotiations and diplomatic initiatives.
Lastly, in discussing territorial disputes, I raised our deep concerns about China's announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. This move clearly increases the risk of a dangerous miscalculation or an accident, and it could escalate tensions even further. I told the deputy prime minister that the United States does not recognize that zone and does not accept it. China's announcement will not change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.
This is a concern about which we have been very, very candid, and we've been very direct with the Chinese. The zone should not be implemented, and China should refrain from taking similar unilateral actions elsewhere in the region, and particularly over the South China Sea.