Ahead of the 80-year-old US president’s arrival, Hanoi’s central Hoan Kiem Lake area, packed with families out for a weekend stroll, was adorned with American and Vietnamese flags.
Nearby in the city’s old quarter, a souvenir shop sold T-shirts with Biden’s face emblazoned across the front.
“I think the US is a good friend to Vietnam,” said the shop’s 61-year-old owner Truong Thanh Duc.
“With this visit of President Joe Biden, I think he will bring more business contracts and jobs to Vietnamese people.”
In Vietnam, Biden will be juggling strategic interests with the defence of human rights. Government critics face intimidation, harassment and imprisonment after unfair trials, and there are reports of police torture to extract confessions, said Human Rights Watch.
While the president has often criticised China’s human rights record, he has largely stayed quiet on Vietnam and campaigners are fearful he may not press the subject.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said prior to the trip that Biden would raise issues related “to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and other basic human rights”.
His visit comes days after a US government commission on religious freedom harshly criticised Vietnam for “egregious, ongoing, and systematic violations”.
On Saturday, Nguyen Bac Truyen, a legal expert and religious freedom advocate who was sentenced in 2018 to 11 years in prison for subversion, said on Facebook he had been released and allowed to travel to Germany with his wife. Vietnam often releases political prisoners prior to US presidential visits.
Biden’s visit comes on the heels of the G20 summit, where leaders agreed on a joint declaration that papered over deep divisions on the war in Ukraine and tackling climate change, avoiding direct criticism of Moscow and any concrete pledge to phase out polluting fossil fuels.
His Vietnam trip will also include a visit to the memorial of his friend John McCain, the former US senator shot down and held captive during the Vietnam War who in later years helped rebuild ties between the two countries.