HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — American concerns over the arrests of dissidents and other human rights abuses in Vietnam shouldn’t stand in the way of closer military and economic ties with the Southeast Asian nation, the country’s president said Tuesday ahead of talks in Washington with President Barack Obama.
BY CHRIS BRUMMITT / Associated Press Writer / July 23, 2013
President Truong Tan Sang’s remarks, made in emailed responses to questions by The Associated Press, are a sign of Vietnam’s desire to strengthen relations with the United States, a country with which it shares concerns over Chinese assertiveness in the region.
Sang’s trip to the United States is only the second such visit by a head of state since the former foes resumed relations in 1995. He will meet President Obama on Thursday.
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, back center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, back right, watch as military officers shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. AP/Mark Ralston, Pool
The United States is also seeking closer ties with Vietnam, part of its strategic ‘‘rebalancing’’ toward Asia, which is emerging as a vital partner for the sluggish economies of the West. But it wants to see the communist country release dissidents. Some officials have said progress on a closer relationship was contingent on an improved human rights record.
On human rights, Sang said that in Vietnam ‘‘the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people are respected.’’
Asked about American concerns about the arrests of bloggers, he said: ‘‘There are a number of differences between Vietnam and the United States including those on human rights, but this is quite normal.’’
‘‘It is my hope that after five years of no exchanges of high-level visits between the two countries, my official visit to the United States this time will contribute to elevating Vietnam-US relations into a profound, efficient and substantive framework,’’ he said.
The invitation by Obama for talks at the White House took some analysts by surprise, who suggested that Washington’s desire to shift its military and diplomatic focus to Asia had trumped its stated concerns over human rights in Vietnam.
‘‘It looks like the human rights issue is being finessed. Behind closed doors Obama can raise the concerns, but it’s obviously not going to feature prominently,’’ said Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam at the University of New South Wales in Australia. ‘‘For Obama, it is ‘how do you get more jobs for Americans.’ You sell more in Asia, that’s the larger gain.’’
Both sides are expected to discuss a trade pact that Washington is negotiating with Vietnam and 10 other Asia-Pacific nations, which the Obama administration wants signed by the end of the year. Two-way trade between the U.S. and Vietnam totaled $26 billion last year. Vietnam’s leaders, presiding over a stuttering economy, are also under pressure to deliver stronger economic growth.
The U.S. has been forging closer military links with Vietnam in recent years, with port calls and officer exchanges, but has yet to lift an embargo on lethal weapons imposed since 1984. U.S. officials have said they were considering lifting it, but there is no sign of this happening soon. Thayer said Vietnam was unlikely to purchase weapons from the United States, preferring Eastern European sellers, but that the ban was seen as discriminatory by some in the ruling party.
Asked whether he wanted it lifted, Sang said ‘‘I believe it is now the time for our bilateral relations to be fully normalized in all fields in the interests of the two countries, and for peace, cooperation and development in the Asia-Pacific region.’’
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, questioned why Sang would get a White House visit given Vietnam’s record.
‘‘Why would this happen at this time, when there has been such a concerned crackdown on freedom of expression,’’ he said. ‘‘Now the onus is on President Barack Obama to make sure that human rights doesn’t slip from the agenda. The United States has to publicly state its concerns and press the government of Vietnam to make real steps.’’
President Truong Tan Sang (far right) walking with Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (C), and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L), in Hanoi, May 20, 2013. (Photo credit AFP).
President Truong Tan Sang
A WELL-KNOWN Vietnamese blogger, jailed for 12 years for anti-state propaganda, is “very weak” after a month-long hunger strike protesting at his treatment in prison, his family says.
Nguyen Van Hai - a founding member of the banned Free Journalists Club who is better known by his alias Dieu Cay – has not eaten for 30 days, according to his ex-wife Duong Thi Tan.
“He is very weak… He spoke softly and couldn’t sit up unaided,” she told AFP, following a visit to the prison by the couple’s son on Saturday.
She said Dieu Cay went on hunger strike to protest against his treatment in a prison in central Nghe An province, adding that her son had been allowed to talk to his father for five minutes “before they dragged him away”.
“He was kept in solitary confinement for three months when he did not violate any rule,” she said, accusing the jail of having “extremely bad” conditions.
Photo: Blogger Nguyen Van Hai (pen name Dieu Cay) in happier times
“He said he would continue the hunger strike if authorities do not respond to his complaint,” Tan told AFP.
The family were “very worried” that the new hunger strike would endanger his health, she said.
Dieu Cay, whose case has been raised by US President Barack Obama, was sentenced in September 2012 along with two other bloggers who received jail terms of 10 years and four years.
The blogger has been on hunger strike once before for 28 days, in late 2011, also to protest at his treatment in jail. He ended up in hospital in Ho Chi Minh City before agreeing to end his fast.
Dozens of peaceful political activists have been jailed since Vietnam began a new crackdown on dissent in late 2009.
Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to rights groups
Dr. Quan in happier times. He is now in jail in Vietnam.
Above: Prominent Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan — He remains in jail in Vietnam.
Nguyen Phuong Uyen. In jail in Vietnam. Photo by Dan Lam Bao
Vietnamese blogger Dinh Nhat Uy — in jail in Vietnam.
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