Kerry de­fends trade pact on his last trip as top U.S. diplo­mat

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - NATION+WORLD - By Yves Dam-Van

HO CHI MINH CITY, VIET­NAM

>> Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, mak­ing his last trip as the top U.S. diplo­mat, on Fri­day de­fended the 12-na­tion trade pact that the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion said it would scrap and urged coun­tries to re­frain from provoca­tive acts in the South China Sea.

“I can’t pre­dict what the new ad­min­is­tra­tion is ab­so­lutely go­ing to do with the trade, but I can ab­so­lutely tell you that the fun­da­men­tal rea­sons for the TPP haven’t changed,” Kerry told stu­dents of Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and Ed­u­ca­tion in south­ern Ho Chi Minh City, re­fer­ring to the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship agree­ment.

He said the U.S can­not grow un­less it’s able to sell goods to the rest of the world.

Kerry ad­mit­ted that the fu­ture of the TPP, the cen­ter­piece of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pivot to Asia, is in doubt when Don­ald Trump is sworn in as pres­i­dent next week. He, how­ever, be­lieved that U.S com­mit­ments to the re­gion will not change.

“Shift in our ad­min­is­tra­tions in Washington is not go­ing to al­ter or fun­da­men­tally un­der­mine the com­mit­ments of the United States to pros­per­ity and sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity of the Asia-Pa­cific,” he said, adding that “our friend­ship doesn’t de­pend on in­di­vid­u­als or per­son­al­i­ties.”

Kerry also said that the U.S. and Viet­nam have shared sup­port for se­cu­rity and free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and over­flight in the South China Sea, which Viet­nam along with China and four other gov­ern­ment claims in whole or in part.

“We be­lieve all coun­tries in the re­gion, whether big or small, that they all re­frain from provoca­tive acts that add to ten­sions or might lead to greater mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the area,” he said.

He also re­peated the U.S. op­po­si­tion to co­er­cion or threat of force “by any state to as­sert its claim over an­other... and I’m con­fi­dent that the next ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue to ad­here with the same good faith to that pol­icy.”

China claims vir­tu­ally the en­tire South China Sea. The U.S. has chal­lenged Beijing’s as­sertive­ness and the con­struc­tion of is­lands in the dis­puted wa­ters by send­ing war­ships close to the man­made fea­tures.

Kerry, a Viet­nam War vet­eran, also praised re­la­tions with his for­mer foes, say­ing two-way trade had jumped from just $451 mil­lion 20 years ago, when U.S.-Viet­namese ties were nor­mal­ized, to more than $45 bil­lion.

The num­ber of Viet­namese stu­dents study­ing in the U.S. also has in­creased from 800 to 21,000, while Amer­i­can visi­tors to the com­mu­nist coun­try rose from 60,000 to half a mil­lion.

Kerry, how­ever, urged greater re­spect for hu­man rights in Viet­nam.

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