Obama Hosts Vietnam Communist Party Chief

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), July 8, 2015 | Go to article overview

Obama Hosts Vietnam Communist Party Chief


Byline: Jim Kuhnhenn Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Bolstered by new trade negotiating powers from Congress, President Barack Obama held an unprecedented meeting Tuesday with the head of Vietnam's Communist Party as the U.S. pressed ahead to conclude talks on a groundbreaking Asia-Pacific economic pact.

Twenty years after normalizing diplomatic ties with its one-time foe, Obama sat down at the White House with Nguyen Phu Trong in hopes of drawing closer to a trade deal and strengthening a relationship that U.S. officials see as a linchpin in Obama's Asia policy. As a front-line country nervous about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, Vietnam would also welcome the U.S. taking a tough line against Beijing.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would drop economic barriers along a 12-nation swath from Chile all the way around the Pacific to Australia, is a central element of Obama's efforts to boost U.S. influence in Asia and to serve as an economic counterweight to China.

Following his meeting with Trong, Obama cast the trade deal as an opportunity to raise labor and environmental standards and said it "could potentially create significant job growth and prosperity for both the Vietnamese and the American people."

Trong, the de facto leader of Vietnam despite holding no official government post, was less effusive, saying both men discussed their differences and the way forward on trade talks and on other issues "in a constructive and candid manner."

The meeting came in the aftermath of Obama's successful legislative fight in Congress for fast-track negotiating authority, which cleared the way for the Obama administration to deal with the most difficult remaining aspects of the negotiations.

Sticking points with Vietnam center on lower tariffs and on reducing the role of state-owned businesses that can cause trade distortions.

"It's down to a few very sensitive issues," said Myron Brilliant, the head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which was hosting Trong at a dinner. …

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