U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Vietnam next week, Senator Jeff Merkley told a news conference in Hanoi on Saturday, as part of Washington’s efforts to move diplomatic relations with Hanoi on to a higher level this year.
Blinken’s visit, which has not yet been officially announced, would come after U.S. President Joe Biden had a phone call last week with the chief of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.
The United States is hoping to upgrade relations with Hanoi this year, ideally to coincide with the 10th anniversary in July of its comprehensive partnership with Vietnam.
“Next week the Secretary of State will be here,” Senator Merkley told reporters during a visit to Vietnam by a delegation of U.S. lawmakers aimed at boosting relations with Hanoi.
Blinken is expected to visit Vietnam, likely on Saturday, before he heads to a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) countries in Japan on April 16-18.
In the call, Biden and Trong agreed to boost ties, according to statements from both parties after their conversation, but no mention was made of a formal upgrade of relations.
Before the call, multiple analysts had said Vietnam was cautious about an upgrade this year fearing that could cause tensions with China.
Though it is Vietnam’s biggest export market, the United States is currently ranked as a third-tier diplomatic partner for Hanoi. Its top tier consists of China, Russia, India and South Korea, while its second tier, which Washington wishes to join, includes European countries and Japan.