In new role, Kerry back in Viet­nam’s Mekong Delta

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By MATTHEW LEE in Nam Can, Viet­nam The As­so­ci­ated Press

John Kerry re­turned on Sun­day to the wind­ing wa­ter­ways of Viet­nam’s Mekong Delta re­gion where he once pa­trolled on a naval gun­boat in the search for com­mu­nist in­sur­gents.

But nearly 50 years later, Kerry is pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able aqua­cul­ture and trade in a rapidly ex­pand­ing econ­omy rather than hunt­ing Viet Cong guer­ril­las, as he was at the height of the Viet­nam War.

As Kerry’s boat eased off a jetty onto the Cai Nuoc River, the US sec­re­tary of state told his guide: “I’ve been on this river many times.’’ Asked how he felt about re­turn­ing to the scene of his war­time mil­i­tary ser­vice for the first time, Kerry replied: “Weird, and it’s go­ing to get weirder’’.

On this tour, Kerry was clad in drab olive cargo pants, a blue-and-white plaid longsleeved shirt and sun­glasses in­stead of the uni­form he wore as a Navy of­fi­cer in 1968 and 1969. In a new role, Kerry was re­vis­it­ing the delta’s rivers that made a vivid im­pres­sion on him as a young lieu­tenant.

Kerry, stand­ing next to the cap­tain and sur­vey­ing the brown wa­ter and muddy banks, re­called the smell of burn­ing fire­wood as his boat passed through small fish­ing vil­lages.

At one point, a fam­ily in a sam­pan trav­el­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion smiled and waved. Kerry waved back, and notic­ing the fam­ily had a dog on board, re­marked with a smile: “I had a dog, too. Its name was VC.’’ VC was the ab­bre­vi­a­tion for the Viet Cong forces fight­ing the South Viet­namese and their US al­lies.

Stop­ping in the vil­lage of Kien Vang, Kerry vis­ited a river­front gen­eral store and bought candy for a group of chil­dren.

Kerry ad­dressed a group of older stu­dents and sci­en­tists, de­light­ing them first with a few words of Viet­namese be­fore speak­ing strongly about the need to com­bat cli­mate change.

“It is ob­vi­ously amaz­ing for me to be here to­day,’’ he said. “Decades ago on th­ese very waters, I was one of many who wit­nessed the dif­fi­cult pe­riod in our shared his­tory.’’

“To­day on th­ese waters I am bear­ing wit­ness to how far our two na­tions have come to­gether, and we are talk­ing about the fu­ture and that’s the way it ought to be.’’

That fu­ture, es­pe­cially for the wa­ter-de­pen­dent econ­omy of the mil­lions who live in the Mekong Delta, is threat­ened by ris­ing sea lev­els and planned up­stream con­struc­tion of dams in China and Thai­land.

Kerry said he will make it a per­sonal pri­or­ity to en­sure that none of the coun­tries that share the roughly 4,345- km- long Mekong and de­pend on it for their sur­vival ex­ploit the river at the ex­pense of the oth­ers.

Forty-four years ago, Kerry first set foot in Viet­nam as a US navy of­fi­cer who vol­un­teered for ser­vice be­cause, as he has said, “It was the right thing to do”.

He was dec­o­rated with three Pur­ple Hearts, a Sil­ver Star and a Bronze Star for fight­ing in a con­flict that he came to de­spise and call a “colos­sal mis­take”, one that pro­foundly in­flu­enced his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and strate­gic view.

“When I came home af­ter two tours of duty, I de­cided that the same sense of ser­vice de­manded some­thing more of me,’’ he wrote in his 2003 book, A Call to Ser­vice, as he was un­suc­cess­fully cam­paign­ing for the pres­i­dency.

“The les­son I learned from Viet­nam is that you quickly get into trou­ble if you let for­eign pol­icy or na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy get too far adrift from our val­ues as a coun­try and as a peo­ple.’’

BRIAN SNY­DER / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry greets a shop owner while vis­it­ing her store along the Mekong River Delta in Viet­nam on Sun­day. Kerry re­turned to the wind­ing wa­ter­ways of the area where he once pa­trolled on a naval gun­boat in search of com­mu­nist in­sur­gents.

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