By Foster Klug and Nancy Benac
The Associated Press
HANOI, Vietnam — May 24, 2016, 6:09 AM ET
President Barack Obama on Tuesday pressed Vietnam to allow greater freedoms for its citizens, arguing that better human rights would improve the communist country’s economy, stability and regional power.
On his second full day in the southeast Asian nation, Obama also met with activists as part of a push for closer ties with the fast-growing, strategically crucial country that included the lifting of one of the last vestiges of Vietnam War-era antagonism: a five-decades-old arms sale embargo.
In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to balance a desire for a stronger relationship with Vietnam with efforts to hold its leadership to account over what activists call an abysmal treatment of government critics.
Nations are more successful when people can freely express themselves, assemble without harassment and access the internet and social media, Obama said.
“Upholding these rights is not a threat to stability but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress,” Obama told the audience of more than 2,000, including government officials and students from five universities across the Hanoi area. “Vietnam will do it differently than the United States does … But there are these basic principles that I think we all have to try to work on and improve.”
Freedom of expression is where new ideas happen, Obama said. “That’s how a Facebook starts. That’s how some of our greatest companies began.”
Journalists and bloggers can “shine a light on injustice or abuse” when they are allowed to operate free of government interference or intimidation, he added. And, stability is encouraged when voters get to choose their leaders in free and fair elections “because citizens know that their voices count and that peaceful change is possible. And it brings new people into the system,” Obama said.
Obama also traced the transformation of the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship, from wartime enemies to cooperation. He said the governments are working more closely together than ever before on a range of issues.
“Now we can say something that was once unimaginable: Today, Vietnam and the Unites States are partners,” he said, adding that their experience was teaching the world that “hearts can change.”
Earlier Tuesday, Obama met with six activists, including a pastor and advocates for the disabled and sexual minorities. He said several others were prevented from coming. “Vietnam has made remarkable strides in many ways,” Obama said, but “there are still areas of significant concern.”
Obama, in his speech, also referred to China’s growing aggression in the region, something that worries many in Vietnam, which has territorial disputes in the South China Sea with Beijing.
Obama got a round of applause when he declared that “big nations should not bully smaller ones,” an allusion to China’s attempt to push its rivals out of disputed territory. Obama said the United States will continue to freely navigate the region and support the right of other countries to do the same.
After Hanoi, Obama flew to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. He visited the Jade Emperor Pagoda, considered one of the most beautiful pagodas in southern Vietnam and a repository of religious documents that includes more than 300 statues and other relics. A strong smell of incense hung in the air as visitors frequently burn incense outside the main temple to announce to the heavens their arrival.
As Obama paused before one statue, a guide explained that if he wanted to have a son, he should pray to her.
“I like daughters,” Obama replied.
Shifting from the historical to the modern, Obama was also stopping by the Dreamplex business complex in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, a space for startup entrepreneurs that fits with Obama’s message about the potential benefits of closer ties to Vietnam’s growing economy and its burgeoning middle class.
Obama’s meeting with entrepreneurs will let him talk up the benefits of what he says will be enhanced trade under a 12-nation trade deal that is stalled in Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates. Obama said during his address that the agreement would give Vietnamese workers the right to form labor unions and would prohibit forced and child labor. He also predicted that the pact, if ratified, would lead to greater regional cooperation.
“Vietnam will be less dependent on any one trading partner and enjoy broader ties with more partners, including the United States,” Obama said.
Human Rights Watch Pleads With Vietnam To Rethink Prosecutions of Citizens Forcibly Returned from Australia
The Limits of Human Rights in Vietnam: Obama says only “modest” human rights improvements have been made — China Daily says Obama’s visit “bodes ill for regional peace and stability”
Vietnam: President Obama enjoys a night out with Anthony Bourdain (And thousands of their Vietnamese friends)
Obama, With Grace and Humor, Talks About Better Human Rights in Vietnam
South China Sea: China Denies “Unsafe” Air Intercept, Continues To Push Sea and Air Claims in Defiance of International Law
U.S. Lifts Arms Embargo on Vietnam (Includes links to several articles, same topic)
President Barack Obama waves after addressing his speech to the Vietnamese people at the National Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam Tuesday, May 24, 2016. In a speech at the National Convention Center, Obama sought to ease fears that Washington wanted to dictate terms to Vietnam on improving rights. (Kham/Pool Photo via AP)
The Associated Press
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — May 24, 2016, 7:04 AM ET
The Latest on U.S. President Barack Obama’s first visit to Vietnam (all times local):
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain say President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam proves that old enemies can become new partners.
Kerry, McCain and former Sen. Bob Kerrey all served in the Vietnam War. They say in a joint op-ed that there are few easy answers about what lessons were learned from the war.
The three veterans say the U.S. must never again confuse a war with its warriors. They say U.S. leaders must be honest about the goals when deploying troops. And they say the U.S. must approach foreign cultures with humility.
Writing in the New York Times, they say they could never have imagined during the war that the countries would one day cooperate on trade and even security. They say mutual interests will drive the future partnership.
President Barack Obama is talking with Vietnamese entrepreneurs about their business ideas and roadblocks to their eventual success.
The conversation is taking place at the Dreamplex, a shared office space in Ho Chi Minh City that rents workstations and rooms to startup entrepreneurs.
Obama is telling his audience that their success will send a message about Vietnam’s potential for innovation to the world.
He says the Dreamplex is where ideas are “becoming reality” and that the young people who use the space are “making things happen.”
Obama is also using the appearance to pitch a 12-nation, trans-Pacific trade agreement that’s stalled in the U.S. Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates. He says the pact will accelerate economic reforms in Vietnam, boost its economic competitiveness and open up new markets.
President Barack Obama had a quick comeback for a Buddhist monk who urged him to pray to a certain statue if he’d like to have a son.
“I like daughters,” quipped Obama, who is the father of teenagers Malia and Sasha.
Obama was touring the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of the most notable and most visited cultural destinations in Ho Chi Minh City.
The pink-colored building with a turquoise tiled roof was built in the early 1900s by the immigrant Chinese community and today serves multiple faiths.
Obama headed straight for the pagoda after landing in Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi, where he spent the opening days of his first visit to Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Ngoc Hoang (Jade Emperor or King of Heaven)
President Barack Obama has arrived in Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s the second stop on Obama’s three-day visit to America’s former wartime enemy.
Ho Chi Minh City is formerly known and still referred to as Saigon, and is famous for its role in the Vietnam War as the capital of U.S.-backed South Vietnam.
Obama plans to do some sightseeing by taking in the Jade Emperor Pagoda. It’s considered to be one of the most beautiful pagodas in southern Vietnam. It’s also a repository for religious documents and includes more than 300 statues and other relics.
Obama also scheduled a tour of the Dreamplex, a shared office space that rents workstations and rooms to startup entrepreneurs.
Obama spent the opening days of his trip in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. He arrived late Sunday.
President Barack Obama taped the second part of an interview with CNN personality Anthony Bourdain before leaving the Vietnamese capital for his next stop: Ho Chi Minh City.
Bourdain’s “Part Unknown” food travelogue is one of the network’s most popular nonfiction series.
Obama and Bourdain met in a small complex in Hanoi’s Me Tri neighborhood in a heavy downpour.
The two met over a restaurant dinner on Monday to discuss Obama’s trip to Asia and his interest in the people, food and culture of Vietnam, CNN said.
CNN has aired Bourdain’s show since 2013. He travels to a different part of the world for each episode to explore that area’s culture, primarily by sharing in the area’s distinct native cuisine.
The interview with Obama will be featured in the eighth season of “Parts Unknown,” which begins in September.
President Barack Obama is pressing Vietnam to respect rights to freedom of speech, a free press, and to associate and demonstrate that are written into the country’s constitution.
Obama says Vietnam has nothing to fear from upholding these rights. He says doing so reinforces stability and doesn’t threaten it. Obama also says nations are more successful when these rights are respected.
Vietnam is routinely criticized for its human rights record.
The communist nation holds about 100 political prisoners. There have also been more detentions this year, including some in the past week.
The government in Hanoi says that only lawbreakers are punished.
President Barack Obama is pushing for ratification of a 12-nation, free-trade agreement as he speaks to the Vietnamese people, saying it will lessen reliance on one trading partner and broaden ties with more partners, including the United States.
Obama says the Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to regional cooperation among participating nations and bring about higher wages for Vietnam’s workers. He says that would help them buy more goods from the United States.
He notes that the agreement gives workers the right to form unions and prohibits forced labor and child labor.
Obama is pitching a trade agreement that is stalled in Congress and opposed by the leading U.S. presidential candidates.
He says the U.S. is ready to help Vietnam as it works to fully implement its commitments under the agreement.
President Barack Obama says improved relations with Vietnam, America’s former wartime foe, is teaching the world a few lessons.
Obama is in the midst of a historic visit to the southeast Asian nation and is delivering an address to the Vietnamese people.
Obama says what was once unimaginable has come true – that Vietnam and the United States are partners in a thriving relationship.
And it’s a partnership that he says is teaching the world that hearts can change.
Obama says it’s also showing the world that peace is better than war.
Obama is speaking at the National Convention Center in Hanoi.
President Barack Obama is taking his push for closer ties with Vietnam directly to the people.
A day after knocking down one of the last vestiges of Cold War antagonism with a former war enemy, he faces calls Tuesday to more strongly address what’s seen as Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record.
Obama plans meetings with civil society members and entrepreneurs and then a speech aimed at the people of Vietnam.
On Monday he announced the lifting of a five-decade-old arms sales embargo that’s meant to help forge a new economic and security relationship.
Obama must balance this push for better ties with efforts to hold Vietnam’s communist leadership to account for charges of widespread abuse of dissidents.
From Hanoi, Obama will fly to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.