VIETNAM HUMAN RIGHTS ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - July 14, 2004)
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 1587) to promote freedom and democracy in Vietnam, as amended.
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The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Foley). Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) each will control 20 minutes.
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I am opposed to the motion.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) opposed to the motion?
Mr. LANTOS. No, Mr. Speaker, I am in favor of the motion.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under clause 1 of rule XV, the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Evans) will be recognized for 20 minutes in opposition to the motion.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith).
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present to the House H.R. 1587, the Vietnam Human Rights Act, a bill designed to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam and to give hope to those voices of freedom who today are systematically oppressed and silenced.
Mr. Speaker, the legislation we are considering today is almost identical to that which has cleared the House twice, one as a stand-alone bill which I sponsored a couple of years ago and a second time as an amendment to the State Department bill, the reauthorization bill.
The Vietnam Human Rights Act initially cleared the House by an overwhelming majority, 410 to 1, in September of 2001, coinciding with legislation to ratify the bilateral trade agreement with Vietnam. Despite the near unanimous vote, the Vietnam Human Rights Act was subsequently blocked and never voted on in the Senate.
The message then, Mr. Speaker, as it is today, is that human rights are central, are at the core of our relationship with governments and the people they purport to represent. The United States of America will not turn a blind eye to the oppression of a people, any people in any region of the world.
As the Vietnam Human Rights Act languished in the Senate a couple of years ago, many thought, and I would say naively but with good faith, that the bilateral trade agreement with Vietnam would lead to improved human rights conditions in Vietnam. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and for many Vietnamese the situation is dramatically worse than it was just 3 years ago.
The government of Vietnam, Mr. Speaker, has scoffed at the Vietnam Human Rights Act and dismissed charges of human rights abuses, pleading the tired mantra of interference in the internal affairs of their government and that our struggle is some way related to the war in Vietnam. They say, Vietnam is a country, not a war. That is their protest, and I would say that is precisely the issue.
Today's debate is about the shameful human rights record of a country, more accurately, of a government, and it is not about the war. And, of course, Vietnam is a country with millions of wonderful people who yearn to breathe free and to enjoy the blessings of liberty. We say, behave like an honorable government, stop bringing dishonor and shame to your government by abusing your own people and start abiding by internationally recognized U.N. covenants that you have signed.
We know, Mr. Speaker, from the State Department Human Rights Reports and leading international human rights organizations that the government of Vietnam inflicts terrible suffering on countless people.
It is a regime that arrests and imprisons writers, scientists, academics, religious leaders and even veteran communists in their own homes and lately in Internet cafes for speaking out for freedom and against corruption.
It is a government that crushes thousands of Montagnard protestors, as they did in the Central Highlands during the Easter weekend, killing and beating many peaceful protestors.
They have, the government, forcibly closed over 400 Christian churches in the Central Highlands, and the government continues to force tens of thousands of Christians to renounce their faith. I am happy to say that many of these folks have resisted those pressures. One pastor put it at 90 percent have refused to renounce their Christian faith, but the government is trying to compel them to renounce their faith.
This is a government that has detained the leadership of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and continues to attempt to control the leadership of the Catholic church.
This is a government that has imprisoned a Catholic priest by the name of Father Ly and meted out a 10-year prison sentence. Why? Because he submitted testimony to the International Religious Commission on Human Rights. For that, for writing a couple of pages of facts and his opinion, he got 10 years of prison.
My speech today, Mr. Speaker, on this floor would easily fetch me a 15-year prison sentence replete with torture if I were a Vietnamese national making these comments in Vietnam.
And in yet another Orwellian move, Vietnam on Monday, this past Monday, July 12, promulgated an Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions which goes into effect on November 15. This new anti-religious law will further worsen religious persecution in Vietnam.
Amazingly, it bans the so-called abuse of the right to religious freedom to undermine peace, independence, and national unity, whatever that is. This new law is the most capricious and arbitrary policy imaginable, designed to ensnare and incarcerate believers for undermining, again, peace, independence and national unity, whatever that means.
Moreover, Mr. Speaker, if a religious person "disseminates information against the laws of the State," in other words, disagrees with anything that the Communist government enacts, such dissemination is a punishable crime.
When is enough, enough, Mr. Speaker? Vietnam needs to come out of the dark ages of repression, brutality and abuse and embrace freedom, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights.
I respectfully submit that the legislation we are considering today offers a clear framework for improving human rights in Vietnam. It is a bipartisan piece of legislation, and I hope the membership will support it.
H.R. 1587 requires the President to certify each year on the progress or the lack of it of the regime towards respecting human rights based on an extensive report required by the law. Specifically, to avoid possible sanction against Vietnam, the President would have to certify substantial progress by Vietnam towards releasing all political prisoners and religious prisoners, respect for religious freedom in general, and return of confiscated property.
The bill requires substantial progress by the government towards allowing Vietnam nationals free and open access to U.S. refugee programs and calls for respect for the ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands.
The bill seeks to ensure that the government is not complicit in human trafficking. Today Vietnam is on the State Department's Tier II Watch List due to the government's failure to provide evidence of efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking, particularly its inadequate control of two state-controlled labor companies that sent workers to American Samoa from 1999 to 2001.
Unless the regime shows improvement in human rights, they will be unable to receive an increase over 2004 levels in nonhumanitarian U.S. foreign assistance. This is a modest but not insignificant penalty to a government that is brutalizing its own people.
H.R. 1587 also authorizes funds for NGOs to promote democracy in Vietnam and to help to overcome the jamming of Radio Free Asia.
Mr. Speaker, I hope all Members will support this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for my long-time colleague and friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith). We have worked together for the veterans of America for many years. However, I do not see eye to eye with him on this issue as the best way to address human rights in Vietnam.
I am also afraid that this resolution and the sanctions enclosed will damage relations between our two countries. I also feel that this resolution will only embolden hardliners within Vietnam.
Mr. Speaker, yes, Vietnam can improve its human rights record, but I also believe it is a very complex relationship. It is a relationship built on dialogue and gradual steps, not sanctions. The country of Vietnam has provided unparalleled assistance to recover our soldiers' remains. The Vietnamese are working hard to protect intellectual property rights and improve the climate for foreign investment. Vietnam is also the 15th focus country of the President's HIV/AIDS initiative. These are three important steps that would be endangered by the shift in relations under this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, we can make progress with Vietnam, but this resolution is not the proper way. The Members supporting this legislation are good friends, and I respect their commitments. However, I hope that we work with each other to advance human rights in Vietnam. But I do not believe that this legislation is the proper vehicle. I urge my colleagues to vote against this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Rohrabacher).
Mr. ROHRABACHER. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 1587; and I would like to personally thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) for the terrific job not only for Vietnam but for people who are suffering under torture and under oppression throughout the world. He is truly the conscience of this body, and he makes sure that we never forget that people all over the world are looking to us. We are their only hope, just like in the past century when those people who suffered under Nazism and Communism knew that the only hope they had was the United States that was committed to its ideals.
Today, this bill, H.R. 1587, is consistent with that concept. It is consistent with the ideals of America, and it is telling the world we still believe in human rights and freedom and democracy, just like George Washington and our other Founding Fathers.
This bill, however, does not represent necessarily the opinion of every American. Let us note that just 3 years ago we made an agreement with this government of Vietnam, this monstrous abuser of human rights, we made a trade agreement and a business agreement with them. And we are always told, if we just do business with the Vietnamese or if we just do business with the Chinese, their dictatorial government will morph into a democratic society and people's liberties will be protected.
What have we seen? The situation in China is worse today than it has ever been. The situation in Vietnam is disintegrating when it comes to democracy and human rights. The latest victims have been the Montagnard people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
I have a personal attachment to the Montagnards. In 1967, I spent considerable time with them in the Highlands near Pleiku. They protected Americans. They gave their own lives so American soldiers would not die. And I will tell you that they are brave, wonderful people, just like the other people in Vietnam. They just simply want to believe in God and have the right to worship God and to speak and to have the right to gather together.
We should support the people of Vietnam, and that is what this does and the people everywhere who long for freedom. It puts us on their side.
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller).
(Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me time. I rise in opposition to H.R. 1587 and urge a no vote by the House.
There is no one in this House who does not wish to see improvements on Vietnam's policies on democracy and freedom. I have visited the nation on four occasions in the last 5 years, meeting with everyone from workers in shoe factories to high-level government ministers. There are many and I would say a growing number of Vietnamese who share the hope of a more open and democratic society and who are working to achieve these goals.
This legislation will not help them.
There are many in our own veterans' organizations who are working closely with the Vietnamese on the POW/MIA issue. I have gone to the excavation sites and seen the close cooperation that has resulted in the repatriation of over 500 remains of their loved ones here in the United States.
This legislation will not help in that effort.
Our government is working closely with the Vietnamese to address the issues of infectious disease control, including AIDS and SARS, which are real issues because of the heavy travel between our countries. We know that many Vietnamese acted quickly in the case of the SARS crisis and controlled what might have been a far more severe pandemic.
This legislation will not promote improved cooperation on health policy.
Throughout Vietnam, in the aftermath of the normalization of relationships, the passage of the Bilateral Trade Agreement, U.S. businesses are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to build a better trade, to provide jobs, and to improve the economic relations between our countries.
This legislation is not going to enhance those investments or those benefits.
I have been working with the international labor organizations and U.S. companies to improve Vietnam's compliance with basic labor rights and standards, and we have seen improvements in many areas, although much additional work remains to be done.
This bill is not going to provide or achieve those goals.
On these, and many other areas, we are working to improve our relationship and improve the nature of the society in Vietnam for the benefit of its residents, who include the family members of millions of U.S. residents and citizens.
This bill will set back those efforts. It provides the harshest elements in the Vietnamese government with the rationale for reacting to our pressure. Does anyone in this Chamber, after our long experience in Vietnam, seriously believe that the Congress ordering them to change an internal policy in the nation, however desirous we may be of seeing that change, is going to persuade the government in Hanoi to do it because we so order it?
We all share the hope that Vietnam will evolve into a freer and more open, democratic nation. We hold the same goals for other nations in the region and around the world where records of human, labor and religious rights are no better than in Vietnam and, in some cases, worse.
Just earlier today, prior to this legislation, we considered legislation criticizing China, whose record on religious freedom, political democracy, and labor rights is certainly as unacceptable as Vietnam's, but it would not withdraw the nonhumanitarian assistance as this bill does. It urges them to improve their record on intellectual property.
We know why this legislation periodically resurfaces. We understand that there are areas in this Nation with large concentrations of Vietnamese expatriates who remain embittered about the outcome of the war and the government in control in Hanoi. Many of those same expatriates send hundreds of millions of dollars back each year to Vietnam to assist their relatives who still live in that nation. I understand their viewpoint, and I was one of the Congressmen sent in the 1970s to inspect the refugee exodus from Vietnam.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the distinguished gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lofgren).
(Ms. LOFGREN asked and was given permission to revise and extend her remarks.)
Ms. LOFGREN. Mr. Speaker, we need to pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act to send a message to Vietnam's Communist government. Vietnam cannot continue to violate human rights and expect further normalization of the relationship between Vietnam and the United States.
Just 2 months ago, on Easter week, Human Rights Watch reported that peaceful protests by indigenous minority Christian Montagnards turned violent when police used tear gas, electric truncheons, and water cannons on protestors.
Reports indicate that police arrested several individuals, many of whose whereabouts are still unknown. Worse yet, there are reports of torture, police beatings, and deaths associated with this crackdown on the Montagnards.
In recent weeks, reports indicate that the Vietnamese government has taken the vice president and the secretary general of the Vietnam Mennonite Church into custody for simply conducting a peaceful criticism. We know that they have also harassed and detained leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the Catholic Church.
Religious leaders and followers are not alone. The Vietnamese Communists have come down on the press and have censored 2,000 of Vietnam's 5,000 Web sites; and worse yet, they arrested a Vietnamese writer and journalist just because he submitted written testimony to the United States Congress. How about that?
We have repeatedly passed resolutions addressing the violations on Vietnam Human Rights Day. We introduced a resolution recognizing those in Vietnam who have been tortured and imprisoned; and last November, we passed a resolution calling for religious freedom and protection of human rights. We have introduced a resolution objecting to the treatment of Father Ly. Now it is time to pass a bill, not just a resolution, that will give us the tools we need to not only send a message to Vietnam but to take action against Vietnam for their continuous human rights violations.
We need to pass this bill. Vietnam cannot expect a friendship with us until they finally respect the rights of their citizens.
I thank the gentleman for yielding me the time.
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I only have one more speaker, and I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos), the distinguished ranking member on the Committee on International Relations, my good friend and colleague.
Mr. LANTOS. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Vietnam Human Rights Act, and I urge all of my colleagues to do so as well.
I first would like to commend the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), my good friend and most distinguished colleague, for introducing this important legislation and for doggedly pursuing the Vietnam human rights issue as he does, the human rights issues across the globe.
None of us here today should be under any illusions about the government of Vietnam. According to the Department of State's human rights report, the Vietnamese government is an unrepentant, authoritarian regime which does not allow political opposition. Freedom of expression does not exist in Vietnam. Vietnamese are locked in prison for simply expressing their political opinions.
The Vietnamese government also places severe restrictions on the expression of religious beliefs, particularly upon Buddhists who do not worship as part of the official church and upon Christians in the Vietnamese highlands.
With the approval of the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement 3 years ago, the political security and economic relationship between the United States and Vietnam has become increasingly complex, but we must continue to send a strong signal to Hanoi that the United States continues to make it a top priority to promote internationally recognized human rights in Vietnam.
Passage of the Smith legislation will indicate to the administration and to the Vietnamese government that the Congress expects to see real progress on the human rights front in Vietnam and that we have not forgotten those Vietnamese who are being persecuted for their beliefs.
Our legislation will ensure that there is not a rollback in our trade and aid relationship with Vietnam, only a cap on the level of our nonhumanitarian aid to the Vietnamese, unless human rights conditions are met.
Mr. Speaker, I again commend my colleague from New Jersey, and I urge all of my colleagues to support the passage of this important bill.
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I have one last speaker, and I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Simmons).
(Mr. SIMMONS asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks, and include extraneous material.)
Mr. SIMMONS. Mr. Speaker, I will place in the RECORD the text of U.S. Ambassador Raymond Burghardt's March 4 speech on U.S.-Vietnam relations, a letter from the American Chamber of Commerce Hanoi, and an article from the National Catholic Reporter following my remarks.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition today to H.R. 1587, the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2003, and I do so with the greatest amount of respect for my colleague, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs. I appreciate his tireless efforts on behalf of human rights and religious freedom around the world; and as a Vietnam veteran, I very much appreciate his courageous leadership on veterans issues.
My concern with taking up this legislation at this time regards several issues.
First, during this 108th Congress alone we have had already three House resolutions that address alleged human rights and religious freedom issues regarding Vietnam. I cannot think of any other country that has as much negative attention by this body as Vietnam. Surely, there are other countries around the world that deserve a little bit of attention from us. I do not think it is fair that we spend this amount of time and this number of resolutions on Vietnam.
Second, Mr. Speaker, I believe we are at an important crossroads in our relationship with Vietnam. As we approach the 10th anniversary of normal relations, I think it is time to examine some of the good things that have occurred between our two countries: tourism, trade, educational exchanges. I think it is time that we begin to send a positive, clear message to the Vietnamese people that we are serious about working together in a positive and constructive fashion on issues of mutual benefit.
I mentioned, Mr. Speaker, that I am a Vietnam veteran. I served there for 20 months. I spent almost 2 years there as a civilian, and I made a commitment as a Vietnam veteran to my fallen comrades and to their families to bring their remains home to their families.
I am holding in my hand a commemorative bracelet that commemorates Army Captain Arnold Edward Holm. Arnie Holm was born and raised in Waterford, Connecticut. He was an outstanding athlete in high school. He lost his life in June 1972 when his light observation helicopter was shot down in the central highlands. The family still lives in my district; and 2 years ago, they asked me to assist them in locating his remains.
A year ago, I traveled to Vietnam for the first time in 30 years in an effort to locate Arnie Holm's crash site. Working with both American and Vietnamese officials, we spent hundreds of man-hours in the sweltering jungle looking for Arnie. Although we failed at the time, the search goes on; and the only way we will ever be able to bring closure to the family of Arnie Holm is through the continued cooperation of the Vietnamese government.
I have seen firsthand their commitment to this important humanitarian recovery effort, and I thank them for it.
My colleagues may be surprised to learn that since the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, began recovering American remains in Vietnam, 16 U.S. and Vietnamese officers have died. Eight Americans and eight Vietnamese were killed when a helicopter crashed on April 7, 2001. That is right. Eight Vietnamese officials died while searching for the very men that were killing their own countrymen 30 years before.
Up to May of this year, the U.S. and Vietnam have conducted 93 joint missions, resulting in the recovery of 822 remains. They have identified and returned over 500 U.S. personnel remains to their loved ones. That is 500 American families in 43 States that have been provided closure thanks to the Vietnamese, and that includes the family of Major Peter M. Cleary who lives in Colchester, Connecticut, just a few miles from my home.
If this program, Mr. Speaker, does not reflect the humanitarian spirit of the Vietnamese people, I do not know what does; and given the long and bitter experience that they had with the American war in Vietnam, their willingness to cooperate in this program merits special attention.
Just this past month, Jerry Gennings, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for POW-MIA Affairs, returned and said that the outcome of his discussions in Vietnam is promising and the Vietnam government offers us the opportunity to achieve significant results.
Last November, the USS Vandergrift returned to Ho Chi Minh City, the first time in 30 years that a U.S. Navy ship has been to Vietnam, and another ship plans to visit Danang this year.
I would also remind my colleagues that President Bush announced just last month that Vietnam would be added as the 15th focus country of the emergency plan for HIV/AIDS. The President said, "Now, after long analysis by our staff, we believe that Vietnam deserves this special help. We're putting a history of bitterness behind us." Then he continued, "Together we'll fight the disease. You've got a friend in America." The President of the United States has said, "You've got a friend in America."
This resolution before us this evening conveys no such message. I realize, Mr. Speaker, that the intent of this legislation is to promote freedom and democracy in Vietnam; but the question is, does it do it in a useful manner?
The State Department has said this bill is a "blunt instrument that risks inhibiting progress in bilateral trade, counterterrorism, POW-MIA accounting, counternarcotic and refugee processing/resettlement." They go on to say, "Imposition of unilateral sanctions will not lead to an improved GVN human rights record."
Mr. Speaker, I think we should be concerned that our own State Department does not support this legislation and is concerned that it will damage progress in our bilateral relations.
My friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), expresses his concern about the issue of human rights, and this is an important issue; but let us not forget the fact that for many years our country rained devastation upon the Vietnamese people and their country. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives were lost, many more wounded; and the countryside was devastated. Let us not forget that thousands of Vietnamese children are born today with birth defects, perhaps because of the millions of gallons of Agent Orange that we spread across their country, and let us not forget that the remains of tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers have not been recovered, even as the Vietnamese people help us to recover the remains of our own servicemen.
The issues of human rights cut in both directions. The United States itself must be held accountable for its own moral obligation to the Vietnamese people for our past policies and practices.
As the gospel of John says, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone." I encourage my colleagues not to judge the Vietnamese too harshly in the realm of human rights lest they judge us harshly in return.
Mr. Speaker, I believe we are making progress in our relations with the Vietnamese people and with their government; and I believe this bill, in the words of our own State Department, is a blunt instrument that may do more harm than good. I urge my colleagues to vote "no" to show the people that the war is over. It is time to bind up the wounds of the war and to show them, in the words of our own President, that they have a friend in America.
Mr. Speaker, I submit for the RECORD the documentation I referred to earlier on this topic:
Hanoi, Vietnam, March 4, 2004.
U.S.-Vietnam Relations: 30 Years After the War, 10 Years After Normalization
Yesterday afternoon I walked over to the Hong Kong Art Museum and looked at the Asia Society's excellent exhibition of "Images from the War." The exhibition reminded me that today in Vietnam, nearly 30 years after the war, the past still permeates the present. The memory of the war certainly remains among the half of the population that endured it.
But, I also was struck by how much those pictures captured a past that most people in Vietnam do not dwell on very much. The Vietnamese people and leaders live in the present and look to the future. They deserve a great deal of admiration for their ability to put the past behind them.
I was in Vietnam during the war, not as a soldier, but as a diplomat. I was in Saigon from 1970 to 1973. Now that I am back in Vietnam 30 years later, I am conscious of that history every day. But like the Vietnamese people and their leaders, I keep my focus on the present and the future.
Talking about Vietnam while in Hong Kong also evokes memories for me of the tough period in Vietnam's history that immediately followed the war. In 1979, when war broke out between China and Vietnam, I was working at our Consulate here in Hong Kong. Afterwards, thousands of boat people arrived from Vietnam and I spent the better part of a year interviewing them to learn why they had come to Hong Kong or Macau. I also worked with NGOs like Catholic Relief Service to feed and clothe the refugees in the camps. During that period, we came up with what became the Orderly Departure Program as a way to stop the flow of refugees. The ODP was modeled on and named after a program created by the Hong Kong Government to bring ethnic Chinese from Haiphong and Cholon, Saigon's Chinese quarter, to join family members in this city.
In the last ten years, a new chapter has opened between the United States and Vietnam. The U.S.-Vietnam relationship is still young. President Clinton only lifted the embargo in 1994. We established a liaison office in January 1995, and we normalized relations in July 1995. We opened our consulate in Ho Chi Minh City in 1997. Our first Ambassador came in 1997 and I am only the second Ambassador to a unified Vietnam. Our presence in Vietnam has grown rapidly, to a medium-sized embassy in Hanoi and consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. And, we will probably grow a little more in the future.
Our relationship began by building trust on issues left over from the war, such as the accounting for MIAs, reuniting families of refugees, and humanitarian programs. But then, after normalization, we sought to widen the relationship with strengthened commercial and economic ties that benefit both countries. The fruits of that thinking, the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA), took four years to negotiate and finally took effect on December 10, 2001, five days before my arrival.
During the past year, we have seen further remarkable progress on a widening range of bilateral issues. A year ago, the focus was almost exclusively on the commercial benefits of our bilateral relations, while there was little progress on other aspects of a normal relationship; In mid-year, Vietnam's leadership decided to give greater priority and attention to relations with the United States. The result has been easier access to the leaders for Mission officers and visitors from Washington and progress on many fronts.
Last year was a very good year for U.S.-Vietnam relations. In the fall we had an important series of high-level Vietnamese government visitors to the U.S. culminating with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan in December. These included the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Planning and Investment. The November visit to Washington by Defense Minister Pham Van Tra represented the normalization of our military ties and was followed a week later by the first U.S. Navy ship visit to Vietnam in thirty years. My wife and I traveled up the Saigon River on that ship and experienced the excitement of the American sailors at what they knew was an historic journey as well as the excitement of the crowds of Vietnamese who greeted our arrival.
Breakthroughs in 2003 enabled us to conclude several agreements that had been underway for years without apparent progress. These were the civil aviation agreement that will permit air service on U.S. or Vietnamese carriers between Vietnam and the U.S. That could include between Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City within the next year. Our new counter narcotics agreement will enable the U.S. and Vietnam to work together to stem the flow of illegal drugs through Vietnam, as well as carry out other law enforcement and counter-terrorism training. And our textile agreement established parameters from the import of textiles to the U.S. We now anticipate more dialogue and cooperation with Vietnam in dealing with regional and transnational issues such as fighting against narcotics, trafficking in persons, and terrorism.
In the midst of this progress, we do still have differences in our viewpoints on some important areas including human rights and religious freedom. The Communist Party retains a monopoly on political power in Vietnam. Advocacy of a multi-party system is forbidden. Even basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion guaranteed in Vietnam's own Constitution are sometimes superseded in the interest of what the Government calls "national solidarity." We've seen several cases over the past year in which people who did nothing more than exchange critical e-mails received heavy prison sentences. We also have raised with the Vietnamese government our concerns about the harassment of ethnic minority Protestants in the Central and Northwest Highlands. This harassment includes cases of forced renunciation of faith, the closing of house churches, and a very slow process of allowing churches to legally register. The U.S. House of Representatives has now twice passed versions of a Vietnam Human Rights Act that would cap non-humanitarian assistance from the USG at current levels. Although neither bill passed the Senate, Congressional concerns remain strong. Senator Brownback held Foreign Relation Committee Meetings just a little over a week ago which focused on human rights. These human rights issues certainly do affect the pace at which we can develop bilateral relations. But I nonetheless remain confident that we will be able to deal with those issues while further developing our overall relationship. We speak frankly about our disagreements while recognizing that the longer-term trend since the beginning of Vietnam's economic renovation policy in 1986 has in fact been a dramatic expansion of personal freedoms.
The foreign community in Vietnam, both multilateral agencies and bilateral donors like the U.S., are actively involved in helping Vietnam carry out its economic reforms. The U.S. assistance program in Vietnam predates our formal diplomatic relations. The two largest parts of it today are to counter the spread of HIV/AIDS-where we are the largest bilateral donor-and to provide technical assistance in helping Vietnam to implement the BTA and to prepare for accession to the WTO. Our assistance programs promote civil society development, rule of law, advocacy for persons with disabilities and those living with HIV/AIDS, environmental management, and trade reform.
In working with Vietnam to create a more genuine system of rule by law, to train judges and lawyers, and to build new standards of transparency and accountability, we are having a major impact, not only on bringing Vietnam up to the level of international trading norms, but also fundamentally changing, for the better, the relations between the citizens and the State.
As the scope of our relationship with Vietnam broadens, mutual understanding becomes even more critical. Because of the legacy of war and Vietnam's long period of isolation, understanding can be particularly difficult for both countries. Our cultural and educational exchanges have grown dramatically. We have the largest U.S. Government-funded Fulbright program in the world, training economists, businessmen, public policy experts, English-teachers, and professors in the Social Sciences and Humanities. We now have a new program unique to Vietnam called the Vietnam Educational Foundation, which is focused on scientific training. The combined budgets of the Fulbright Program and the Vietnam Education Foundation total nearly $10 million per year-more than the U.S. contributes towards higher education in any other country in the world.
In our burgeoning economic relationship, the Bilateral Trade Agreement-the (BTA)--is a key foundation and presents enormous opportunities for expanded cooperation. This agreement binds Vietnam to an unprecedented array of reform commitments in its legal and regulatory structure and has become an important catalyst for change. The BTA eliminates non-tariff barriers, cuts tariffs on a number of U.S. exports and gives Vietnam MFN access to the U.S. market. It also provides for effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, opens Vietnam's market to U.S. service providers, and creates fair and transparent rules and regulations for U.S. investors.
Vietnam is lagging behind in some of its BTA commitments and enforcement remains weak, but the country has made progress in opening its markets to many U.S. products, such as aircraft, machinery and cotton. Unfortunately, its market still remains relatively closed to U.S. intellectual property industry products despite some progress in revising legislation related to intellectual property rights.
The BTA has had a significant impact on our bilateral trade, which has grown sharply in the first two years. In 2003, two-way trade soared again by over 100%, reaching an estimated $6 billion. As a result of our tariff reductions, Vietnam's exports to the U.S. have risen by about 125% each in the first two years, while our exports to Vietnam, boosted by the sale of some Boeing aircraft, have also risen markedly. Vietnam's official figures on U.S. investment in Vietnam has also risen to a current total of just over $1 billion, but this seriously understates the true figure. This data does not include investments by U.S. subsidiaries in Singapore and elsewhere in the region, such as nearly over $800 million by Conoco-Phillips alone.
Our deepening economic, commercial, and assistance relationship with Vietnam promotes civil society, encourages economic reform, draws the country further into the rules-based international trading system, and promotes interests of American workers, consumers, farmers, and business people.
We strongly support Vietnam's decision to adopt WTO provisions as the basis for its trade regime. The Vietnamese government must now demonstrate that it is prepared to undertake the commitments that are necessary to become a WTO member. Vietnam's implementation of a rules-based trading system based on WTO principles of transparency and its continued pursuit of structural economic reforms should accelerate the development of the private sector, enhance the rule of law, and improve the atmosphere for progress in democracy and human rights.
So, let me conclude my comments on the past and the present with a word about the future. Vietnam today is a dynamic, rapidly developing economy, an increasingly popular tourist destination, and an attractive site for foreign investment. I expect that Vietnam will continue its journey towards a more efficient economy with greater individual freedom and that today's children will be better off than their parents. And I hope-and fully expect-that U.S.-Vietnam relations will continue to broaden and deepen mutual understanding to the benefit of both of our nations.
Raymond F. Burghardt,
Ambassador, Asia Society,
Hong Kong Center.
THE AMERICAN CHAMBER
Hanoi, Vietnam, July 14, 2004.
Hon. ROB SIMMONS,
Member, House International Relations Committee, Washington, DC.
DEAR REPRESENTATIVE SIMMONS: On behalf of the membership of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi, I express our regards to you and your colleagues in the Congress.
As members of the American business and development community, we strongly believe that positive engagement is the way to move the U.S. bilateral relationship with Vietnam forward. Therefore, we feel compelled to bring to your attention the Vietnam Human Rights Act (H.R. 1587) sponsored by Representative Chris Smith that will be voted on today.
The sanctions-based approach of H.R. 1587 to improving the situation in Vietnam is counter-productive and will not result in constructive dialogue or action. Much of the aid funds that would be cut go directly to legal reform programs that strengthen due process and basic legal rights. In fact, Vietnam continues to make progress on human rights issues, and while we agree there is room for further improvement, we do not feel this amendment will effect positive change. Furthermore, it is unclear whether the imposition of unilateral sanctions would lead to improved conditions for those vulnerable to human rights abuses in Vietnam. In fact, it could have the opposite effect by drawing increased attention to those groups and individuals.
The restrictions outlined in the bill would also limit U.S. ability to assist the Vietnamese with implementation of structural and legal reforms called for in the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA). The BTA, which addresses issues relating to trade in goods and farm products, trade in services, intellectual property rights and foreign investment, creates more open market access, greater transparency and lower tariffs for U.S. exporters and investors in Vietnam. U.S. business views Vietnam, the thirteenth most populous country in the world with over 80 million people, as an important potential market for U.S. exports and investment. Increased U.S. exports to and investment in Vietnam that result from progress towards an open, market-oriented economy, in turn, translate into increased jobs for American workers.
The reforms currently underway will move Vietnam towards better rule of law. Delays in BTA implementation and economic reform will damage American business interests in Vietnam by reversing growth in bilateral trade since the BTA's entry into force in December 2001.
U.S. Government policy since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1995 has been to work with Vietnam to normalize incrementally our bilateral political, economic and consular relationship. This positive approach builds on Vietnam's own policy of political and economic reintegration in the world. U.S. engagement will promote the development of a prosperous Vietnam integrated into world markets and regional organizations that, in turn, will contribute to regional stability. With every new step, the United States has taken with respect to Vietnam, such as ending the trade embargo in 1994, normalizing diplomatic relations in 1995, appointing our first ambassador in 1997, issuing the first Jackson-Vanik waiver in 1998, and entering into the BTA in 2001, Vietnam has responded by opening further its society and economy. In fact, even military to military relations have resumed and an American Navy ship will be visiting Danang later this month.
Many in the American NGO community in Vietnam are also opposed to this bill for the same reasons. They strongly believe that increased contact with the outside world and positive engagement are better ways to promote progress on human rights and development issues. The NGO community strongly endorses recent constructive steps taken by the U.S. government to promote human development in Vietnam, such as opening the USAID office, approving Department of Agriculture commodity monetization programs, and providing OFDA assistance to Vietnam during natural disasters. These and other positive steps will do far more to promote civil society and improve human rights than the Smith bill. Furthermore, passage of H.R. 1587 could jeopardize the ability of American NGOs to implement their programs in Vietnam by creating suspicion that they are monitoring human rights on behalf of the U.S. Government, which would likely create restrictions of their humanitarian work here.
Accordingly, on behalf of the growing US business and development community in Vietnam, we appeal for your understanding and action in continuing the good work that you have already done to move the bilateral relationship forward. AmCham Hanoi urges you to prevent this damaging bill from becoming law.
With appreciation, in advance, for your consideration, I remain
[From the National Catholic Reporter, June 4, 2004]
Program Aims To Foster U.S.-Vietnam Catholic Ties
(By Thomas C. Fox)
Vietnamese ministers from the Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese will come to Boston College in the fall for training as part of an extensive program aimed at fostering cultural ties between the United States and Vietnam. The program also will eventually meet some pressing pastoral needs in Vietnam.
The new program, to last at least a decade, is significant because it has the blessing of government officials in Vietnam, where once strained church-state relations have warmed in recent years.
With the church in Vietnam slowly emerging from many years of isolation and government hostility, the Ho Chi Minh archdiocese-Boston College "partnership," as it is being called, is a hopeful sign that Vietnamese Catholics will be allowed by the government to play a greater role in providing social services.
Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City since 1998, supports the program, maintaining that his church's number one challenge today is training pastoral ministers.
The initial phase of the program calls for two women religious, Daughters of Charity, to study health care ministries while two priests will study various parish related ministries. All will earn master's degrees.
Since 1975, when the war ended, the communist-led government seized church properties, closed Catholic hospitals and schools, limited ordinations and scrutinized most aspects of church life. During the 1990s, Hanoi slowly loosened its grip on society, opening Vietnam to foreign investments and visitors. Restrictions on Catholic life also loosened. Catholic nuns, for example, were allowed to run day care centers and to be more involved in providing health care.
With the 1998 appointment of Man, cooperation between the church and government grew. Man is viewed as a moderate with deep pastoral instincts. He believes the church in Vietnam has much to gain by working in tandem with the government, providing much-needed social services.
In 1996 Washington and Hanoi officially established diplomatic relations.
As openings for Vietnamese Catholics gained ground in the mid-1990s, Jesuit Fr. Julio Giulietti, then director at Georgetown University's Center for Intercultural Education and Development, began building bridges between Vietnamese Catholics and those in the outside world. He began working with Vietnamese Jesuits and developing other church contacts. His efforts took him back to Vietnam 18 times since 1994.
Now head of the Ignatian Institute at Boston College, Giulietti's passion is to bring Western Catholics into contact with those in developing nations.
It was during a visit in March 2003 that Giulietti and Man first began to talk about their proposed partnership. Those discussions in Ho Chi Minh City led to Giulietti's extending an invitation to Man in July 2003 to visit Boston College the following November.
Just weeks before he visited, Man was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, an indication of the key role he plays in the Vietnamese church.
Some 8 percent of Vietnam's estimated 70 million people are Catholic. Half of these Catholics reside in the Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese.
One evening last year at his residence, Man told NCR in an interview about the complexities of leading a church in a communist nation. The key to effective evangelization, he said, involves developing clergy, religious and laity to become skilled pastoral ministers. He said that new opportunities are opening for Catholic involvement in nation building. Becoming involved in these areas, he said, the church can show government authorities it is not a threat, but a potential partner.
In an important indicator of better church-state relations, Ho Chi Minh City officials last year returned a piece of property to the archdiocese that had once housed a seminary. Man hopes this property might one day become a pastoral ministry center.
With two to four Vietnamese ministry students coming to Boston College each year for the next decade, the partners hope that a core group of Vietnamese ministers will learn modern skills in pastoral care.
Giulietti emphasized the word "partnership." The initial needs all come from Man, he said. But the program will go two days. While Vietnamese will learn skills in the United States they cannot learn in Vietnam, they will also share their culture and ideas on church with students and faculty at Boston College.
According to Giulietti, half the funding will come from Boston College. The other half will have to come from outside sources. He said he is hopeful U.S. Catholics will respond, recognizing the importance of building effective ties among Catholics while doing something positive for the church in Vietnam. Giulietti is treasurer of the NCR board of directors.