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Vietnamese leader focuses on China, climate change

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung meets with US leaders in Washington.

Kerry and Dung also discussed global warming, another area where Chinese and Vietnamese interests run counter to each other. China’s rapid industrialization has relied on power plants burning coal and other fossil fuels, which add to the threat of climate change. Vietnam, a low-lying nation, would suffer greatly from rising sea levels brought on by warming, especially if the rice fields of the Mekong River delta, which serves as the region’s food basket, were to be inundated by saltwater. And Chinese dams on the upper Mekong, siphoning water from the river, add to downstream problems.

The Vietnamese “are very threatened” and “they are feeling threatened” by global warming, said Kerry. Other countries in Asia and Africa are more likely to listen to warnings about climate change when it comes from a fellow developing nation, like Vietnam, he noted, than from a developed country like the U.S.

“That’s the secret of how we progress,” said Kerry, a leader on climate change legislation in the Senate.

The economic bonds between the United States and Vietnam have grown at a pace few imagined 15 years ago, when the Clinton administration opened diplomatic ties.

There are still trouble spots in the relationship. In Hanoi this week, Hormats urged the Vietnamese to keep making progress toward guaranteeing human rights, press and internet freedom, and toward an open, market-oriented economy. He objected, specifically, to Vietnamese proposals to use price controls to battle inflation.

“Where price controls have been tried, they do not work — and cause long-term distortion that lasts for years and is difficult to unwind,” Hormats said. “Please look at the experiences of other countries before you embark on that path.”

The Obama administration recognizes that, as the U.S. has been preoccupied with Islamic terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s been seen as disinterested in Southeast Asia. But “the United States is back,” Hillary Clinton promised last year. She is scheduled to visit Vietnam this year.