WASHINGTON — One of Vietnam's top leaders says his country will continue to open up to the international community in coming years, a shift that he claims will benefit both Vietnam and the United States.
Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party, also told the audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that military and security needs of his country are "huge" and likely to lead to expanded military partnerships with the US.
Trong's comments came as part of a broader visit to the Washington area, highlighted by a meeting in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama, the highest level meeting between the two nations since relations stabilized 20 years ago. He also met with members of the Senate. The visit coincided with events honoring the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
The selection of Vietnam's 12th Party Congress, expected in early 2016, will provide an opportunity for the country to continue reforms laid out in its 2013 constitution, Trong noted.
"Vietnam in particular would like the United States to recognize the market economic status of Vietnam, open up its market for more Vietnamese goods and remove all barriers which still exist today," he said. "On its part, Vietnam will open up our market and welcome American goods, especially those of high-technology density."
Technology sharing would benefit his country in the oil and gas exploration fields, Trong said, but also in the realm of military and security.
Asked about what military technology he hopes to procure from the US, Trong avoided specifics. But he made it clear that is a priority for his nation, in particular because of the massive South China Sea area that is contested with an increasingly aggressive China.
During a May visit to Vietnam, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the government would supply Vietnam with $18 million to procure coast guard patrol boats.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has indicated a desire to ease the sale of weapons to Vietnam.
Human rights remains an issue in the relationship between the two countries, however. While addressing that issue in his comments Wednesday, Trong did not back away from his nation's policies.
"Our most recent constitution from 2013, there is a separate chapter on human rights, and we are now improving and amending our laws to make them in line with this new constitution," he said. "At the same time we must recognize that the rights of each individual must be put in the context of the collective rights of the community. So each person has a responsibility to defend and protect the rights of others, and of the community."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.