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U.S. Strengthens Ties with Vietnam as Philippines Forges Closer Relations with China

The United States and communist Vietnam are committed to the rule of law in the disputed South China Sea, announced U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as longstanding U.S. ally in the region, the Philippines, is strengthening its ties with communist China.

In late May, President Barack Obama lifted a nearly 50-year-old ban on the sale of military equipment to communist Vietnam, a former U.S. enemy.

In Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Kerry met with Executive Secretary Dinh The Huynh, a top figure in Vietnam’s ruling communist party.

“We have many different initiatives that we are working on with Vietnam. We had the pleasure of visiting with President Obama and we met with President [Tran Dai] Quang, where we began a number of new initiatives in terms of emergency response, counterterrorism cooperation, [and] strengthening our ability to stand up for rule of law in the South China Sea,” said Kerry during joint remarks with Secretary Huynh.

“We are working on all of these initiatives now as we strengthen the relationship between the United States and Vietnam, which has really gone through an extraordinary evolution,” he also said, adding that the Southeastern communist country is “engaged in [an] amazing economic endeavor, a capitalist endeavor.”

The Obama administration has been at odds with China over its territorial claims to the South China Sea.

Vietnam, the Philippines, and communist China all have competing claims to the region.

Although the relationship between China and the Philippines has been tense over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, Philippine President President Rodrigo Duterte is taking a different approach, pushing that issue aside as he tries to forge closer ties with China.

Meanwhile, the Philippines and the United States have grown apart over the Obama administration’s criticism of the thousands of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and users under the Duterte administration. China has praised the executions.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” President Duterte told business leaders in Beijing earlier this month. “And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”

Kerry said he and Secretary Huynh would discuss “human rights and freedom of people to be able to organize in labor unions.” Human rights are still a sore point in the relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam.

The U.S. secretary also said that the U.S. and Vietnam are planning to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which has been criticized by members of both major parties in the United States.

“We both share a commitment to the peaceful use and respect for rule of law in the South China Sea,” said Kerry, referring to Vietnam, adding, “We’re very committed to ratifying the TPP, a critical relationship, reflecting modern practices in our conduct of trade and economic affairs.”

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