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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Vietnamese Ambassador and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Visit ODU

By Betsy Hnath

Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy shared their reflections on the U.S.-Vietnam relationship at Old Dominion University on Feb. 22.

Murphy acknowleged that, for some Americans, delegates from the two countries discussing their robust and peaceful affiliation might have seemed impossible.

"Our perspective in the United States about Vietnam has transformed more significantly than any relationship with any country over the last 50 years," Murphy said. "We have gone from enemies on the battlefield to very close strategic partners, and it's a remarkable transformation within one generation."

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive, one of the largest campaigns of the Vietnam war launched by Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam. That was also the year of the highest casualties for both the U.S. and Vietnam in the war between the two nations.

During his youth, Murphy's impressions of Vietnam were limited to how the war impacted his family.

"It was a very singular perspective. And, like many, it had a great impact on me and my family and our discussions. I lost a cousin in the war. We talked about the draft. We didn't know any Vietnamese, so I had no idea about their culture aside from the war reference." Murphy said. "This remained the case until my first visit to the country in 1992, before we re-established diplomatic relations. Then I met real people. I discovered how creative, ingenious and dynamic a place Vietnam is. Today, the country is very youthful. It's not the country I thought it was when I was growing up."

During the hour-long presentation at the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, Murphy expressed both personal and professional admiration for Vinh, who has served as Ambassador during the Obama and Trump administrations.

Growing up in North Vietnam, Vinh never envisioned a career in diplomacy. But following the war, the Vietnamese government needed diplomats. When Foreign Service agents approached Vinh's parents to get their permission for Vinh to work in the agency after he graduated from high school, they agreed.

Vinh graduated from the University of Foreign Affairs, Hanoi, Vietnam in 1980 and earned a post-graduate degree at Canberra College of Advanced Education, Australia in 1985.

"My first trip abroad was in 1983 to New York," Vinh said "One thing I recognized, was that there was so much suffering on both sides of the war. Now, many people from the U.S. come back to Vietnam to heal the wounds of war. It helps us bridge the gap of our two nations. Now we can move on to how we expand the relationship of our two nations."

Part of that relationship includes trade, which has grown from $400 million to over $52 billion annually since 1995.

Another key connection between the countries is education.

There are currently 21,000 Vietnamese students every year who matriculate in U.S. colleges and universities annually, making Vietnam number five in source countries for foreign students studying in America.

In two weeks, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vincent will dock in Vietnam. It will be the first time in 50 years an aircraft carrier has pulled into the nation's port.

Vinh recognizes the symbolic and historic significance of the event.

"We not only have come to a time that reflects a higher level of our relationship, but at the same time we want to send a message of peace of working together in the region with the U.S."

Murphy also sees the opportunity for those on the carrier to visit a country he has come to love.

"Our naval servicemen and women will get the chance to experience the beauty of Vietnam and its people," Murphy said. "One with mountains, beaches and modern cities that rival any country. It's one of America's most important relationships."

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