The global battle against COVID-19 is expected to be top of mind for Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc when he travels to the United States for the U.N. General Assembly session next week, following a weekend stopover in Cuba. It remains unclear whether he will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden or other Western leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. session.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry announced plans for the visit Wednesday, saying Phuc will pay an official visit to Cuba from September 18 to September 20 before arriving in New York to attend the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. He will be in the United States from September 21 to September 24.
In his first overseas trip since being elected president by the National Assembly in April, Phuc is expected to introduce Vietnam's diplomatic policy to the United Nations. In an interview Thursday with Vietnamese media, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dang Hoang Giang stressed that Phuc would express Vietnam's desire to work with other countries on COVID-19 prevention and other urgent problems.
Giang said Phuc will meet with other leaders in New York to discuss ways of controlling the pandemic and speeding economic recovery. The former prime minister also will meet with leading U.S. vaccine manufacturers to seek the "earliest, fastest, and most effective possible delivery commitments for Vietnam, as well as medicine, equipment, and medical supplies to prevent COVID-19."
Aside from the pandemic, analysts will be paying close attention to see who Phuc meets on the sidelines of the General Assembly debate, particularly since this will be the first U.S. visit by a Vietnamese leader since the 13th National Party Congress in late January.
The visit coincides with Biden's first in-person meeting with his fellow QUAD leaders — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Phuc held phone talks Wednesday with Suga, but it remained unclear whether he will meet in New York with Biden or any of the other QUAD leaders.
A source familiar with the matter told VOA that Phuc is expected to meet in New York with Korean President Moon Jae In. VOA also learned that Vietnam has been trying to arrange such a meeting with the U.S. side.
Vietnam considers the annual U.N. session in New York, which attracts dozens of world leaders, as a good opportunity for party-to-party and people-to-people diplomacy. Phuc also may reach out to thank Americans who have worked to help Vietnam overcome the impact of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange, which was widely used by the United States during the Vietnam War.
"Bilateral activities in the United States are expected to make important contributions to enhancing the cooperation between Vietnam and the new U.S. administration, promoting the well-developed Comprehensive Partnership, and be consistent with the shared goals and interests of both Vietnam and the United States," Giang said Thursday.
He said Phuc also will meet with members of the U.S. business community to "inform about Vietnam's efforts in controlling and repelling the pandemic and restoring production, thereby helping strengthen confidence and attract more investment from U.S. investors, businesses and partners."
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh received U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Christopher Klein and representatives from U.S. enterprises and investors in Hanoi. The Americans told the Vietnamese leader about their operations in Vietnam, describing their problems and making proposals related to supply chains, logistics, work permits and access to vaccines.
Chinh affirmed Vietnam's commitment to its vaccination campaign and said the country will double down on efforts to advance the proposals made by the U.S. businesses.
Vietnamese state media reported that Chinh also asked the Americans "to boost closer coordination with Vietnamese ministries, sectors and localities so as to effectively implement pandemic containment measures, maintain production activities, ensure social welfare for workers and facilitate Vietnamese businesses' investment in the U.S."