The U.S. and Vietnam on Sunday announced that the two nations would advance their diplomatic relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership, leading to increased engagement between the two countries.
The announcement came as President Biden visited Hanoi, where he met with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and was set to meet other Vietnamese leaders and business officials.
As part of the increased diplomatic ties, the two sides outlined increased efforts to expand the capacity of the semiconductor industry in Vietnam, which would be used to support U.S. industrial needs.
The two countries also announced plans to expand bilateral joint research to identify potential areas of collaboration in artificial intelligence, health and medical science, climate science and biotechnology.
The two sides also outlined plans to expand agricultural trade and for an “enhanced commitment to meaningful dialogue” on human rights and labor issues.
“This is Vietnam’s highest tier of international partnership. It’s important to make this more than words,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told reporters on Air Force One en route to Vietnam. “In a system like Vietnam, it’s a signal to the entire government, to their entire bureaucracy, about the depth of cooperation and alignment with another country.”
The move comes as the U.S. seeks to deepen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese influence in the region. Vietnam has been a particular focus, as the Biden administration has looked to expand cooperation with the nation of roughly 100 million people.
Vice President Harris traveled to the country in 2021 prior to Biden’s visit this week.
The decision to elevate the U.S.-Vietnam partnership is likely to draw criticism from human rights groups and some lawmakers.
The State Department’s 2022 report on human rights in Vietnam noted that national elections were “neither free nor fair,” it cited credible reports of abuse by the government security agency, and it highlighted concerns about violations of privacy.
“The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who abused human rights or engaged in corruption, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity,” the report read.