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Kerry defends Asia trade deal on Vietnam trip

US Secretary of State John Kerry has sought to justify Washington's pact with Asian nations, which the next administration says it will scrap. Kerry was speaking in Vietnam, where he began his last international tour.

Speaking to students in Vietnam on Friday, Kerry defended the 12-nation trade pact that President-elect Donald Trump has said he will do away with.

While he said he could not predict whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would survive, Kerry stressed that US commitments and interests in the region remained unchanged. Stressing his belief in the importance of the deal, Kerry said the United States would not be able to grow if it did not sell goods to the rest of the world.

"It's no secret that the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in itself is uncertain," Kerry told students at the University of Technology and Education in southern Ho Chi Minh City. "So I cannot predict what the new American administration is absolutely going do with respect to trade, but I can tell you that the reasons for the TPP haven't changed."

'Friendship above individuals'

"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," Kerry added that "our friendship doesn't depend on individuals or personalities."

Vietnam has been at the center of President Barack Obama's swing toward Asia, having benefited from the lifting of a decades-long arms embargo and major growth in trade. 

With TPP, Japan and other Asian participants wanted to establish a counterweight to China's expansive policies in the Pacific region, as Beijing is seeking to widen its sphere of economic and political influence there.

Trump has said he will scrap the TPP deal in its current form, arguing that it does not fairly address US interests.

Praise and criticism

Kerry, a Vietnam war veteran, praised relations between the country and the United States, pointing out that two-way trade had jumped from less than $500 million (470 million euros) to more than $45 billion in the 20 years that had passed since US ties with China were normalized.

However, the outgoing secretary of state called for improved human rights in the Communist country.

He urged all sides in a series of maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea to refrain from acts that would exacerbate tensions. China claims a number of island archipelagos and reefs in the sea, which several other countries - including Vietnam - dispute. The United States has challenged China's building of artificial islands in the sea, with incoming Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson asserting that the US should block Chinese access to the islands. Those comments led to consternation in the Chinese press.

Kerry's tour was scheduled to take in the Mekong delta province of Ca Mau, where he was deployed some 50 years ago. He then travels to Paris to attend a conference on peace in the Middle East, ending his tour at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 18, two days before Trump is to be sworn in.

Watch video 01:45

Trump tramples TPP

rc/mm (AP, AFP)

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