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Washington Updates 2005-2006

Washington Update May 2006
Down to the wire: the final round of US-Vietnam WTO negotiations end successfully but time is tight for the US Congress to grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations, which will enable Vietnam to enter the WTO this year. However, business groups; NGO’s; diplomats from both countries; and Congress itself are moving rapidly toward the PNTR debate and vote. Meanwhile, legislative relief in the form of trade preferences for Cambodia, Laos and other Asian-Pacific LDC’s looks increasingly unlikely as this Congress heads into the homestretch. Cambodia and the United States reach a watershed when they agree to launch a Peace Corps program in 2007. On another front, the plaintiffs’ appeal in the lawsuit on behalf of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange appears bogged down in the courts, with no hearing likely until late in the year.
--Catharin Dalpino, Washington Representative

·  US and Vietnam Complete 12th and Final WTO Round

The May 14 announcement that the United States and Vietnam had reached agreement in principle on outstanding trade issues related to Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization, marked the finish of Hanoi’s series of bilateral negotiations on WTO accession. Vietnam began bilateral rounds in 1995, and talks with the United States were the last to be completed.. The highlights of the final round, conducted in Washington May 9-13, were Vietnam’s agreement to lower tariffs on US industrial and farm products and to remove non-tariff barriers to US services. Vietnam has also agreed to abolish subsidies for its export garment industry. The two countries expect to sign an agreement in June. This will most likely be accomplished when incoming US Trade Representative Susan Schwab visits Hanoi that month for an APEC trade ministers’ meeting.
Vietnam must be given PNTR status because it is subject to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in US trade law, which places tariffs and other restrictions on imports from some communist and former communist countries. By granting PNTR, Congress will essentially be terminating Vietnam’s Jackson-Vanik status. Pressure is mounting on Congress to pass PNTR before the August recess, since Vietnam will request WTO entry in the second half of this year. Strictly speaking, Vietnam’s accession to the WTO does not depend upon PNTR; rather, without PNTR the US would be denied access to Vietnamese markets comparable to other WTO members once Vietnam has joined the WTO. However, such a scenario would deliver a major economic blow to Vietnam, and so both Vietnamese and US policymakers view PNTR as necessary for Hanoi’s entry into the WTO.
Although Congress will not formally consider PNTR for Vietnam until an agreement is signed, a significant amount of groundwork is already underway. In mid- April Speaker of the US House of Representatives Dennis Hastert led a Congressional delegation to Vietnam and informally signaled his support for PNTR. Senator Max Baucus, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, has also stated his support for PNTR in a statement released almost simultaneously with the US Trade Representative’s announcement of the conclusion of talks on May 14.
Despite these early and encouraging statements, PNTR is not automatically assured. In April the House Subcommittee on International Human Rights, chaired by Congressman Chris Smith, held hearings on human rights in Vietnam, which was tacitly understood to be a warning that Vietnam’s Congressional critics may attempt to place conditions on a PNTR bill. As well, on May 3 the US Commission on International Religious Freedom called for renewal of Vietnam’s designation as a Country of Particular Concern on religious freedom issues.
The non-governmental community is also preparing for the PNTR debate. A US-Vietnam WTO Coalition, shepherded by the US-ASEAN Business Council has been established. For information, click here.
In addition, FRD is circulating a petition to Congress urging PNTR passage.

·  Bill Gates Visits Vietnam

In April Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates made a two-day visit to Vietnam, with a two-pronged agenda: to assess the country’s potential as an outsourcing center for information technology, and to urge officials to increase their efforts to stem software piracy. Gates met with Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and other high-ranking government officials, and spoke at the Hanoi University of Technology. His visit underscored the potential of Vietnam’s IT sector, which the government estimates is growing at a rate of 30% per year. With its labor force increasing by 1 million people per year, Vietnam hopes one day to rival India as an IT outsourcing center.

·  Cambodia Survives Abolition of Textile Quotas But Outlook for US Trade Bill Grim

Statistics released by the International Monetary Fund indicate that Cambodia’s GDP for 2005 was 12%, a gain over 2004. Since Cambodia’s economic growth is still heavily dependent on its garment exports, this suggests that the damage to the Cambodian textile industry anticipated when quotas were abolished for WTO members in January 2005 is less than had been expected. There are several reasons for this: Cambodia’s relatively low labor costs and relatively high labor standards, as well as US and European Union restrictions placed on Chinese textiles.
However, this optimistic trend is likely to slow this year as competition for low-priced textiles increases and oil prices rise. Moreover, the outlook for continued economic stability in Cambodia, as well as in Laos and other Asian-Pacific least-developed countries, is dimmer as the Trade Act of 2005 – which would lower tariffs for Asian-Pacific LDC’s similar to benefits granted to their economic counterparts in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America – seems to be in stalemate in Congress. If the Act is not passed by the end of the year it will lapse and would need to be revived by a new Congress in 2007.

·  Peace Corps To Inaugurate First-Ever Program in Cambodia

On March 29 Peace Corps Director Gaddhi Vasquez and Meng Eang Nay, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Cambodian Embassy in Washington, announced that Peace Corps would establish its first program in Cambodia in early 2007. The first volunteers are likely to focus on English teaching and health education. Prior to their arrival, Peace Corps will establish an office in Phnom Penh and begin training staff.
Discussions on a possible Peace Corps program are also in progress with Vietnam, and US observers believe a program in that country, as well as in Indonesia, could be launched in 2007.

·  Hearing on Vietnam Agent Orange Suit Delayed in US Court

For the third time, the Second US Court of Appeals has set a new time frame for a hearing on the appeal of the lawsuit brought by the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) and other plaintiffs against Dow, Monsanto and other American manufacturers of the defoliants and herbicides used during the Vietnam war. The new parameter for a hearing is between August 5 and December 5 of this year, but no definite date as been set. Lawyers familiar with the Federal Court system note that delays of civil appeals hearings for procedural reasons are not unusual.
Despite the lagging judicial process, awareness of the impact of Agent Orange in Vietnam has been growing in recent months. In March FRD co- sponsored the first international conference on the social, economic and psychological impact of Agent Orange, held in Hanoi. The conference was coordinated by the Center for Gender, Family and Environment in Development, a Vietnamese research organization. (Click here for proceedings of the conference.)
Proceedings from a subsequent VAVA conference of persons from several countries who believe they are suffering from the effects of Agent Orange will also be available on the FRD website.
US Secretary for Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson was questioned vigorously by the international press on the US policy toward Vietnamese Agent Orange victims when he visited Vietnam in April.
FRD has launched an on-line petition to President Bush urging he announce two practical steps to address this sensitive bilateral issue during his November visit to Vietnam.
Washington Update March 2006
US-Vietnam relations have shown clear momentum is recent weeks as WTO negotiations advance and the diplomatic dialogue on human rights resumes. One positive form of pressure on the relationship is the planned visit of President Bush to Hanoi in November, for the APEC Summit. In Cambodia, the War Crimes Tribunal is launched, thirty years after Khmer Rouge rule.
--Catharin Dalpino, Washington Representative
   
  • Khmer Rouge Tribunal Goes Into Gear

On February 6 the UN tribunal for the Khmer Rouge was officially established, after five years of negotiation and a decade prior to that of advocacy by both government and private actors. Although a $10 million shortfall on the Cambodian side still hampers funding, reallocations are under discussion. A short list of candidates for judges and prosecutors has been compiled, and the international slate is expected to be announced this spring; a list of thirty potential jurists from the Cambodian judiciary is circulating. Some key tribunal personnel have been hired, including directors for security and public relations. A “group of interested states” is shepherding the process. US leadership on the tribunal has been distinctly lacking in recent years, but a policy review is reportedly underway.

Policy brief by Craig Etcheson
  • Human Rights Take Positive Turn in US-Vietnam Relations

In February the United States and Vietnam resumed the governmental dialogue on human rights with a meeting in Hanoi. This marked the resumption of the dialogue after a three-year hiatus that had been initiated by the US. Barry Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, praised a constructive approach on the Vietnamese side and noted, “These were not discussions of throwing accusations at each other.” Lowenkron also pointed to improvements in religious freedom in Vietnam in recent months.

These views were echoed and extended on March 16 when US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine indicated that the US is “exploring conditions under which CPC (the ’Country of Particular Concern’ designation for religious freedom) could be lifted.” Marine recently visited the Central Highlands, where the Christian ethnic minority tends to attract particular US attention. He noted that some previously banned churches had been allowed to open and that the number of allegations of forced renunciations had “dropped precipitously.”
The State Department’s 2005 Human Rights Reports, released in March, contributed little new perspective one way or another. The reports marked no dramatic changes positively or negatively for Vietnam or Laos. It reported a worsening of rights in Cambodia, but that situation has changed with the release of human rights activists in January and the growing reconciliation between opposition leader Sam Rainsy and the government coalition.

  • New WTO Round for Vietnam To Open in Geneva

In late March the 11th multilateral round of negotiations on Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization will convene in Geneva. The substantive focus of the meeting will be on international treaties and state subsidies. On the margins, Vietnam expects to conclude bilateral negotiations with Mexico, Honduras and Dominica, with only a bilateral agreement with the United States outstanding. Vietnamese and US officials are planning a subsequent negotiation later in the spring, either in Geneva or Washington. Although the ultimate timing of the conclusion of US talks is still to be determined, American policymakers and legislators are looking ahead to the Congressional process of granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations status to Vietnam. If Hanoi is to enter the WTO this year, PNTR must be granted this summer or in the early fall.

FRD is encouraging non-governmental organizations and educational institutions that have programs with Vietnam to support passage of PNTR in messages to Congress. For further information, contact Deputy Director Susan Hammond at shammond@ffrd.org

CEIM opens Vietnam Economic Portal
  • Intel Makes Substantive and Symbolic Commitment to Vietnam

In February Vietnam approved a license to Intel Corp, the world’s largest microchip manufacturer, to build a $605 million plant in Ho Chi Minh City’s Saigon Hi- Tech Park. With the approval, Intel became Vietnam’s first foreign investor in the field of high technology, and its entry is expected to draw other foreign companies in the field. Vietnam projects $2 billion worth of electronic product exports for 2006, up 40% from 2005 levels.

Intel statement
  • Overseas Remittances Up to Vietnam

According to the State Bank of Vietnam, remittances from overseas Vietnamese have surged in the past year, growing by 20-25%, and now total an estimated US $4 billion annually. This quantum leap is attributed to the collective impact of legal and structural reforms in recent years, such as the abolition of limits on overseas remittances; lifting taxes on these funds; and permits that enable overseas Vietnamese to purchase property in Vietnam. Accompanying the increase in funds is a dramatic jump in the number of foreign and domestic companies involved in processing remittances, from 40 last year to 100 this year..

Vietnamese American NGOs web page
  • US-ASEAN Summit: Seven, Nine or Ten?

In an attempt to increase its involvement and profile with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the United States has proposed a US- ASEAN Summit in Hanoi in November, on the margins of the APEC Summit. Washington’s exclusion from the inaugural meeting of the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur in December raised warning flags with US policymakers, as did the China-ASEAN framework agreement for a free trade area.

However, the US proposal presents problems, since only seven ASEAN members are also APEC members – a ten-year moratorium on new members was imposed in 1997, excluding Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The ASEAN-7 framework would enable the US to avoid including Myanmar, which is under heavy US sanctions, but Washington has no desire to exclude Cambodia or Laos. Under discussion are several formulations: for an APEC-only meeting; for a summit with the ASEAN-9 (including Cambodia and Laos); and for a meeting with the full ASEAN membership. Observers rate the possibility of an ASEAN-7 or ASEAN-9 meeting equally, but hold out little chance for a summit with the ASEAN-10.

  • Battlefields into Baseball Fields?

In late January the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the Quang Tri Province People’s Committee inaugurated a “Bringing Baseball of Vietnam” program in the province, with a demonstration and baseball clinic led by Major League Baseball pitcher Danny Graves. Graves was born in Vietnam to a Vietnamese mother and American serviceman, and was returning to the country for the first time in 30 years. The two organizations’ “baseball diplomacy” initiative complements a mine action program, Project Renew, managed jointly by the Fund and the Quang Tri Province People’s Committee. Prior to the clinic, Project Renew staff removed 13 different kinds of unexploded ordnance in clearing a baseball field.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
  • Laos Makes Dramatic Gains in Opium Eradication

In February the Lao government declared the country to be free of opium produced for commercial purposes, confirming what the United Nations has termed “momentous” progress in opium eradication. In 1998 the UN listed Laos as the world’s third- largest producer of heroin, which is derived from poppy production, with an estimated 27,000 hectares under cultivation. Since then, however, cultivation has been slashed by 93%, with the remaining 1800 hectares primarily in areas where opium is used in traditional medicines. This dramatic drop is attributed to multiple policies: destruction of poppy fields; pursuit of traffickers; education and treatment programs; and donor-supported crop substitution projects.

  • Korean Agent Orange Case: Pressure and Precedent for Chemical Companies?

On January 26 a South Korean court ordered two American manufacturers of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War – Dow Chemical and Monsanto – to pay $62 million in compensation to 6,800 South Korean veterans of the war and their families. South Koreans contributed the largest number of allied troops to the war, sending 320,000. The court noted a “causal connection” between exposure to dioxin and eleven diseases, but did not recognize a connection to peripheral neuropathy, which medical scientists consider to be the most wide-spread disease of Agent Orange sufferers. Both sides are considering appeals: the chemical companies to overturn the compensation ruling, and the plaintiffs, to include peripheral neuropathy.

The South Korean case has no formal connection to the ongoing class action suit against 30 American chemical manufacturers, brought by the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange, but it will clearly place more public pressure on the companies. The US case is in the appeals process, and oral arguments are scheduled for April.

Photo of Agent Orange exposed father with his son taken by Don Edwards in A Luoi Valley.

FRD Agent Orange pages
  • Dueling Conferences: JFK Library and U/Mass Revisit the Vietnam War

In March, a two-day conference on “Vietnam and the Presidency” was organized in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Library, so-sponsored by all of the Presidential libraries – from Hoover to Clinton – and the Foundation for the National Archives. Panelists and speakers included former President Jimmy Carter; cabinet-level officials from the Vietnam era; as well as prominent journalists and scholars.

In the lead-up to the conference, however, some Vietnam scholars and Vietnamese-Americans protested the omission on the podium of Vietnamese and others affected by the war in letters to the Kennedy Library, op eds and editorials on NPR. To fill this gap, the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts/Boston organized an alternative conference entitled “Vietnam: Looking Forward, Looking Back” for the same timeframe. Billed as a forum where “those who have experienced the consequences of Presidential decision-making may be heard,” the conference included Vietnamese, veterans and anti-war activities. Session topics included the legacy of Agent Orange; Indochinese refugees; veterans’ experiences; the draft; and the Vietnam War and minorities.
The Kennedy Library conference was taped and subsequently broadcast by C-Span. Sessions can be viewed in streaming video from the C-SPAN on-line archives or by purchase from C-SPAN. The Joiner Center conference was not televised, but videotapes were made which can be obtained from the Center .
At the JFK Library conference, with respect to the specific legacy of Agent Orange, former Secretary of State Al Haig responded to a question with a strong statement of US moral responsibility to assist victims in Vietnam of unintended consequences of the use of Agent Orange. Former Ambassador Pete Peterson, replying to another question, told the audience that Agent Orange was a strongly-felt grass roots concern among Vietnamese that needed to be addressed by the US, initially by cleaning up hot spots.

Washington Indochina Update January 2006
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in this issue
-- Vietnam Looks to 2006 for WTO Admission
-- American Airlines-Vietnam Air Forge Agreement
-- Nam Theun II Dam Underway
-- Post-NTR Workshop Stimulates US-Lao Trade
-- Vietnam Stays on CPC List, But Administration Hints at Removal
-- Congressman Smith Announces Linkage
-- Freedom House Rates Vietnamese Civil Rights Improved
-- Foreign Operations Conference Bill Silent on KR Tribunal
-- Bush Administration Removes Vietnam from Drug List
-- US and Vietnam Cooperate on Drug Arrests
-- Government and Vietnamese-American Groups Unite to Aid Hurricane Victims
-- Vietnamese Officials and Vietnamese American NGOs Conduct Historic Meeting
-- Agent Orange Lawsuit Goes to Appeal
-- Agent Orange Victims Tour US

2005 was a dream deferred for Vietnam's quest to enter the World Trade Organization. The sticking point has been US approval, but both sides are tacitly preparing for a mid-2006 accession. In the meantime, the long-awaited launch of the Nam Theun II dam took place in Laos. The Khmer Rouge Tribunal still lacks crucial funding, but the prospects for a US contribution could be improving.
-- Catharin Dalpino


Vietnam Looks to 2006 for WTO Admission
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In early December Hoang Van Dung, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry acknowledged that Vietnam did not expect to enter the World Trade Organization at the group's meeting in Hong Kong later in the month. Dung cited the complexities of the WTO's China experience, and pointed out that entrance rules have been much stiffer since Beijing's accession in 2001. In this context, the most challenging bilateral negotiations for Vietnam's WTO admission are those with the United States.

However, both sides are hopeful that talks can be concluded in early 2006 and Permanent Normal Trade Relations granted to Vietnam in the summer. In December, a seven-member delegation from the US Senate visited Vietnam, led by Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. Meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung, the delegation expressed support for the country's accession to WTO. They also remarked on Vietnam's continued economic growth, which reached 8.45% in 2005


American Airlines-Vietnam Air Forge Agreement
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American Airlines, the largest airline carrier in the United States, has applied to the US Department of Transportation for approval to sign a cooperative agreement with Vietnam Air to sell seats on one another's international flights, and on selected domestic flights. This code-sharing arrangement will enable either airline to sell one ticket which enables a traveler to fly between the two countries over various routes. If approval is granted, the arrangement is expect to go into effect in early 2006.


Nam Theun II Dam Underway
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On November 17 LPDR Prime Minister Bounnhang Vorachit and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra broke ground on the Nam Theun II dam, a $1.25 billion project that is expected to supply power to 17 Thai provinces. The dam - to be constructed by 4000 workers from 30 countries - is scheduled to be operational by 2009. Laos expects to reap revenues from the dam of approximately $150 million per year.


Post-NTR Workshop Stimulates US-Lao Trade
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In December the Fund for Reconciliation and Development organized a landmark three-day meeting, "Laos-US Business Opportunities: Making NTR A Reality" to help deepen and accelerate bilateral trade in the start-up period following the 2004 decision to grant Normal Trade Relations to Laos. Held in Vientiane, the workshop was co-sponsored by the Lao Ministry of Commerce and the Lao Chamber of Commerce, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and a variety of American and Asian business councils. The 200 participants included 70 Laotian-Americans from eight states. Over 100 Lao businesses were represented, as were US businesses based in Laos and Thailand.

Following the formal meeting, participants had the opportunity to visit several provinces and meet with local officials and businesses. Beyond the inherent value of the exchanges, the meeting also explored several avenues for follow-up. Apart from the obvious boost to trade created by NTR, a slate of large-scale infrastructure projects on mainland Southeast Asia that involve Laos will create opportunities for US business, in both equipment and expertise. Further information about the Vientiane workshop can be obtained from FRD Deputy Director Susan Hammond<shammond@ffrd.org>.

Click here for a longer report on the workshop


Vietnam Stays on CPC List, But Administration Hints at Removal
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In November the State Department released the 7th annual Report on Religious Freedom, and announced the re-designation of eight countries as "Countries of Particular Concern," one of which was Vietnam. However, in the press briefing that released the report, both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford noted that religious freedom conditions in Vietnam have improved noticeably, and that continued progress could lead to the designation's removal. The report's Vietnam chapter echoed this view and noted that significant progress had been made, but that legal improvements relating to Vietnam's religious environment are in the early stages of implementation.

Click here for more on the religious freedom debate


Congressman Smith Announces Linkage
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Representative Christopher Smith, Chair of the Global Human Rights Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee visited Vietnam December 1-3, in part to meet with Vietnamese government and religious leaders to discuss human rights and religious freedom issues. Smith reported that he met with over 60 religious leaders of numerous faiths and noted improvements, such as the registration and re-opening of several churches, and an increase in faith-based charitable work. However, he remains critical of Vietnam's overall religious environment and supports its continued CPC designation. Moreover, in a statement released upon his return to Washington, Smith announced that he would seek to link Permanent Normal Trade Relations designation for Vietnam to human rights and religious freedom conditions when PNTR comes up for debate, presumably this summer.


Freedom House Rates Vietnamese Civil Rights Improved
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The general impression in the US policy community of the strengthening of personal rights in Vietnam was reinforced by the Freedom House 2006 Survey, released on December 19. Although Freedom House maintained Vietnam's designation as a "Not Free" country, it indicated improvements in civil rights by moving the country from a "6" rating to a "5." Ratings for Laos remained at previous levels, also with a "Not Free" ranking; Laos received a "7" for political rights and "6" for civil rights. Cambodia too was ranked "Not Free," with a "6" for political rights and "5" for civil rights. Vietnam was one of the few Southeast Asian countries with an upward trend in the Freedom House rankings. The Philippines was downgraded from "Free" to "Partly Free" this year; in recent years, the FH ratings also noted backsliding in Thailand.

Click here for Viet Nam's White Paper on Human Rights


Foreign Operations Conference Bill Silent on KR Tribunal
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For the first time in two years the conference bill for the Foreign Operations Act, agreed upon by Congress in November, did not contain a prohibition against US funding for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. Although obviously not an affirmative commitment of US funds, it appears to remove one obstacle for potential US support in Fiscal Year 2006, which ends on September 30. However, other measures are available to the legislature if opposition to funding the tribunal arises. Some observers think it likely that opposition would appear, especially after arrests of three Cambodian human rights activists for defamation in late December. Withholding US support for the tribunal has long been held as a sign of Congressional disapproval of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Click here for Policy Brief on Khmer Rouge tribunal


Bush Administration Removes Vietnam from Drug List
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In September the Bush administration released its annual list of countries designated as major transit points or major sources of illicit drug production. Vietnam was removed from the list, as was China. The administration's designation noted, in the oblique language that often characterizes rankings, that there was "insufficient evidence to refute claims from the Government of Vietnam of total poppy eradication." Laos remained on the list; the State Department's 2005 annual report on counter- narcotics strategy noted that drug control was gradually improving, but that corruption was severe. Cambodia is not on the list, and the 2005 report indicated that counter-narcotics efforts had increased.


US and Vietnam Cooperate on Drug Arrests
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In a separate and subsequent action, cooperation between the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security and the US Drug Enforcement Agency produced the first major group of arrests in pursuit of an international drug cartel. On November 17, the arrest of over 300 international drug gang members involved the work of US agents and an undercover Vietnamese police officer. The probe focused on a drug network that stretched from North America to Vietnam


Government and Vietnamese-American Groups Unite to Aid Hurricane Victims
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Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in late August, Louisiana was home to more than 25,000 Vietnamese-Americans, while southern Mississippi had approximately 7,000 Asian-American residents, most of them Vietnamese. An estimated 10,000 Vietnamese-Americans from New Orleans were relocated to Houston. The Government of Vietnam responded to the tragedy with financial contributions, as did the Vietnam Red Cross. Vietnamese-American organizations rallied to provide material support, interpretation services and a variety of other forms of assistance. In December, a concert of popular singers from Vietnam, sponsored by the Embassy of Vietnam in Washington, donated a portion of the proceedings to help both the victims of Hurricane Katrina and victims of the typhoon in Vietnam that struck in late 2005.


Vietnamese Officials and Vietnamese American NGOs Conduct Historic Meeting
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In November the first-ever formal meeting between Vietnamese government officials and representatives from Vietnamese-American philanthropic groups took place in northern California. Convened by the Pacific Links Foundation with support from the Ford, Gerbode and Asia Foundations, the conference brought together more than 130 Vietnamese-American groups that operate in Vietnam. In the course of the meeting, 24 NGO's formed the Vietnamese-American Non-Governmental Organization Network; as one activity, the Network agreed to identify one Vietnamese city to which all members would contribute programs next year. In response to criticism from hardline elements of the Vietnamese- American community who opposed meeting with Vietnamese government officials, conference organizers pointed out that such dialogues are the best means to encourage greater Vietnamese government transparency with the non-governmental community.


Agent Orange Lawsuit Goes to Appeal
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On September 30 lawyers for the Vietnam Association for the Victims of Agent Orange /Dioxin (VAVA) and other plaintiffs appealed the decision rendered on their class action suit against 30 US chemical companies. In March 2005, all counts of the lawsuit were dismissed in the United States District Court. In early September a team of US lawyers visited Vietnam to meet with the plaintiffs. According to attorney Jonathan Moore, the appeal alleges that the District Court misconstrued the facts of the case, by focusing on the use of Agent Orange as a herbicide. Moore said, "This herbicide was not simply a weed killer. It was a chemical laced with poisons that did not have to be there---and therefore we conclude that the chemical companies intentionally left that poison there." Oral arguments will take place in April at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

[Photo by Don North of Agent Orange exposed father with his disabled son in A Luoi valley.]

Click here for FRD web pages on Agent Orange


Agent Orange Victims Tour US
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In November a delegation of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims embarked upon a month-long speaking tour of the United States, to raise awareness of the continuing impact of Agent Orange, urge support for the class action lawsuit, and encourage financial contributions for victims. The group visited ten cities, including New York, Washington and San Francisco. The delegation included Professor Nguyen Trang Nhan, Vice President of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (and former President of the Vietnam Red Cross); two Agent Orange victims: Ho Sy Hai from northern Thai Binh province and Dang Thi Hong Nhut from Ho Chi Minh City; and Vu Binh of the Vietnam-USA Society. The tour was facilitated by the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. During the Washington leg, the group were hosted at a policy forum co-sponsored by FRD and the Asian Studies Program of Georgetown University.

WASHINGTON INDOCHINA UPDATE 

July-August, 2005

Early July was dominated by celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnamese relations.In the second half of the month, Congress pushed toward the August recess with a reappearance of the Vietnam Human Rights Act and lower foreign assistance appropriations for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.In the meantime, new legal life has been breathed into the Agent Orange issue as plaintiffs prepare an appeal for the class action lawsuit dismissed earlier this year.

Diplomacy

Hanoi and Washington Celebrate Anniversary

The tenth anniversary of the normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam was marked by the two countries with diplomatic and cultural events on both sides of the Pacific.In Washington, the Vietnamese embassy hosted an artistic performance that was repeated at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, before the troupe departed to perform in New York and San Francisco.Ceremonies at the Freer included an address by Jim R. Nicholson, US Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a Vietnam war veteran.Secretary Nicholson expressed his desire to return to Vietnam for a visit, and maintained that Vietnam and the United States “must press forward to resolve the full range of issues that remain from the war.”In that regard, however, Secretary Nicholson mentioned only continued accounting for American MIA’s as an item on that agenda.His speech can be read athttp://www.va.gov/opa/feature/secyspchs/US-Vietnam-10 years-07-10-05.htm.

In Hanoi, a series of events was capped by a reception featuring U.S. Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon Mansfield, also a Vietnam veteran; Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien; and U.S. Ambassador Mike Marine. (Ambassador Marine’s speech can be found at http://hanoi.usembassy.gov/wwwhamb050712.html.)The reception, held at theMuseum of Fine Arts, also featured a photographic exhibit of works resulting from the partnership of Peter Steinhauer and Nguyen Hoai Linh.Vietnam Development Gateway reported that in an earlier meeting Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly Nguyen Phuc Thanh told Mansfield that “both sides should take more efforts to solve the consequences of the war.”At a press conference, Mansfield expressed confidence in the vigorous development of U.S.-Vietnam relations and noted that officials on both sides believed they would jointly resolve outstanding issues, emphasizing that “by being partners, the U.S. and Vietnam would gain more fruits of cooperation in the future.”

Zoellick Visits Vientiane

Robert Zoellick made his first official visit to Laos in his new capacity as Deputy Secretary of State July 27-29.He was the U.S. representative to the annual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), held in Vientiane on the heels of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.Laos is chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year.Zoellick’s attendance was the result of a controversial decision by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to skip the ARF gathering.The Rice no-show has variously been interpreted as a criticism of the ASEAN plan to allow Burma to take the chair in 2006 (although Rangoon officially withdrew from that responsibility at the Ministerial), and of ASEAN as a regional institution.There is no evidence that Rice intended to shun Laos itself, but analysts have pointed out she forfeited an opportunity to visit one of Asia’s least-developed countries, at a time when the Bush administration had paid special attention to African LDC’s through the G-8 Summit debt package, and to Caribbean LDC’s through its support for the Caribbean Free Trade Area.

Human Rights and Political Development

Vietnam Human Rights Act Introduced for Third Time

On June 30 H.R.3190, the Vietnam Human Rights Act, was introduced into the House of Representatives by Representative Christopher Smith and a number of co-sponsors, including Frank Wolf, Dana Rohrabacher and Loretta Sanchez.The bill closely follows the format of its two predecessors (in 2001 and 2004), both of which passed in the House but failed to go forward in the Senate.The findings of the new bill acknowledge positive elements, such as the assertiveness of the Vietnamese National Assembly, but echo previous drafts with a primary emphasis on religious freedom issues and the Central Highlands.With regard to the latter area, the bill focuses on “indigenous Montagnards,” a term often employed by Westerners but seldom used by Vietnamese themselves.

The bill’s primary aim is to prohibit non-humanitarian US assistance to Vietnam unless the State Department certifies that specific markers have been met, but also includes funds for pro-democracy groups and increased support for Radio Free Asia.As in previous years, the bill would require the Department to submit an annual report to Congress on human rights in Vietnam and, in doing so, consult with Vietnamese and international non-governmental organizations.The bill has been referred to the House Committee on International Relations and is awaiting response from the Senate.

Vietnam is also cross-hatched in H.R. 2216, known as the Global Internet Freedom Act, introduced into the House on May 10, 2005.Sponsored by Representative Christopher Cox, with co-sponsors including Tom Lantos and Gary Ackerman, the bill charges that the governments of several countries, including Vietnam, Laos, China and Saudi Arabia, take “active measures to prevent their citizens from freely accessing the Internet and from obtaining international political, religious and economic news and information.”With respect to Vietnam, some specialists object to the legislative language and maintain that it paints a misleading picture of categorical attempts to block access to the Internet for the general populationThe bill does not stipulate sanctions but proposes to establish an Office of Internet Freedom within the International Broadcasting Bureau to give greater attention to this issue.

Although discussion of Vietnamese human rights on Capitol Hill will be dominated by these bills in the short-term, developments in other sectors could also influence the issue.The official U.S.-Vietnam human rights dialogue is scheduled to resume, at Hanoi’s request, in the early fall.In addition, Christopher Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement, visited the Central Highlands in late June, on a visit to Vietnam and Laos.The Institute was established by Robert Seiple, the State Department’s first Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, and takes a pragmatic, country-specific approach to policy issues such as religious freedom.

ABA Strengthens Ties with Laos

Representatives of the American Bar Association (ABA) visited Vientiane June 30-July 5 to discuss expanding cooperation with the Laotian judicial sector.Through its Asian Law Initiative, based in Bangkok, the ABA has focused on drafting and enforcing anti-corruption laws and codes in recent years.In April the National Assembly of Laos passed the country’s first anti-corruption law.

Trade

Vietnam Approaches New Round of WTO Talks

This week Hanoi will participate in its ninth round of World Trade Organization negotiations in Geneva, in preparation for entry into the WTO.Vietnam expects to conclude several bilateral talks at what will be the last WTO round of the year before the Hong Kong meeting in December.Thusfar, negotiations have been completed with the European Union, Cuba,Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Singapore, and were conducted last week with Japan.Vietnamese officials have indicated that they are still aiming for admission this December, although talks are not yet complete with the United States, which is pressing for legal and service sector reforms.

One key element of Vietnam’s accession to the WTO will be Congressional approval for Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Hanoi.Congress must grant PNTR to Vietnambefore it enters the WTO, or resort to a non-application clause of the WTO agreement which would enable Hanoi to enter prior to that, but with restrictions.If US-Vietnam WTO talks conclude in the ninth round, Congressional aides estimate that the PNTR bill, which would be referred to the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committees, could be considered in late September or early October.The U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council has made additional information on the WTO/PNTR process available athttp://uvtc.org/trade/WTO/PNTR%20_WTO_FAQ28July2005.pdf.

Vietnamese Fish Win Taste Test

In July researchers at Mississippi State University released the results of a three-year study comparing Vietnamese basa (known in other quarters as catfish) to American farm-raised catfish.The two varieties of fish were found to have essentially the same nutritional value, but 75% of blind tasters picked Vietnamese basa over American catfish for taste.Basa is exported to the United States under tariffs as high as 64% after US catfish farmers brought an anti-dumping suit against Vietnam.The Catfish Farmers of America and the Catfish Institute, both Mississippi-based organizations, have criticized the study.

Congressional Leaders Laud Cambodian Labor Practices

Cambodia’s linkage of ILO-monitored labor standards with trade drew bipartisan praise in a two-day July conference – “Promoting Cambodia’s Competitiveness in a Post-MFA World” -co-sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Global Fairness and Oxam America.Republican Senator Gordon Smith and Congressman Jim Kolbe, and Democratic Representative Sander Levin joined representatives of Gap, Nike, Target and Wal-Mart in affirming Cambodia’s competitive advantage, due in part to its reputation for maintaining reasonable work place standards despite the termination of quota benefits under the Multi-Fiber Agreement last January.However, Cambodian Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh noted that even a good reputation could not overcome the economic advantages of China and India.He appealed for passage of the Trade Act of 2005 which would giveCambodia, Laos and thirteen other least-developed Asian and Pacific countries the same low tariffs offered their economic counterparts in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.For additional information, see “Cambodia Blazes A New Path for Economic Growth and Job Creation,” by Carnegie Senior Associate Sandra Polaski, athttp://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/inde/cfm?fa=view&id=15891.

Economic Development

Funding Levels Drop for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

Bush Administration requests for development assistance through the US Agency for International Development for Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos in Fiscal Year 2006 are all lower than FY 2005 appropriations for these countries.FY 2006 levels are expected to be $44 million for Cambodia (versus $55 million in FY 2005 and $49 million in FY 2004); $17.72 million for Vietnam (a slight decline from $18.42 million in FY 2005) and nothing for Laos (down from $2 million in FY 2005).Laos, however, is likely to receive funds from regional USAID programs for the environment and human trafficking.

Lower levels are most likely the reflection of greater Administration priorities elsewhere, in “front line” states, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the Millennium Challenge Account.Thusfar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are not eligible for MCA funds, although Vietnam could technically be designated as a “threshold” country (but has not been) by the administration.

In substance, if not in funding levels, the Congressional appropriation for Cambodia this month closely followed the practice of previous years.Although the largest earmark for development assistance is for prevention of HIV/AIDS, funds are also allocated for political party development and other democracy programs.Assistance to basic education has dropped from $6 million in FY 2005 to $1.25 million for next year.As has been the case for the past several years, bilateral non-humanitarian assistance is prohibited, although there are numerous exceptions: for programs in HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, rule of law, counter-narcotics, human trafficking and anti-corruption.As in previous years, the Secretary of the Treasury is also directed to instruct the American representatives to international development banks to oppose loans for non-humanitarian purposes to Cambodia, but these efforts seldom, if ever, block funding.

Security

Vietnam Defense Staff to Visit PACOM

In September staff from the External Relations Division of the Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense will visit the US Pacific Command (PACOM) in Honolulu, the first-ever visit of Vietnamese officials to the US naval facility.The visit will also be the occasion for the second round of the U.S.-Vietnam security dialogue.Informal dialogue between the defense sectors of the two countries has been building in recent years, but last year regular and formal talks at the working level were initiated.The dialogue is intended to broaden and deepen defense relations that have been boosted in recent years by high-level visits at the ministerial level.

Legacy Issues

VAVA Readies Agent Orange Appeal

The Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) and other plaintiffs are preparing to file an appeal in their class action suit against 37 American chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange and other defoliants used in the war in the 1960’s and 1970’s.The plaintiffs’ brief is to be filed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals no later than September 30 of this year, and the defendants will have until January 16, 2006 to submit their brief.Oral arguments for the appeal will be scheduled no earlier than March 1, 2006.

The lawsuit, brought before the Federal Court in New York in January, 2004 was dismissed on all counts on March 10, 2005.Parallel to the lawsuit, Vietnamese and international groups are seeking to raise awareness of Agent Orange damage as well as to increase contributions for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.VAVA has declared August 10 as the annual Day for the Victims of Agent Orange.Extensive information on the lawsuit and other efforts to aid Vietnamese Agent Orange sufferers can be found on the Fund’s website athttp://www.ffrd.org/agentorange.htm.

Rand Report Assesses Post-War Cambodian Stress

A report released by the Rand Corporation on August 3 revealed that almost two-thirds of the nation’s largest Cambodian-American community that left Cambodia in the late 1970’s suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.The study involved 490 adults, ranging in age from 35 to 70, who came to the United States as refugees.In this group, almost all of those interviewed reported experiencing near-death due to starvation; 90% had a friend or family member killed by the Khmer Rouge; and 54% said they had been tortured before coming to the U.S.

Sixty-two per cent of those interviewed reported experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder since leaving Cambodia, and 51% said that have dealt with major depression in the past year.The study’s findings contrast to the average rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in the U.S. population as a whole, which is estimated at 3%.Rand psychologist Grant Marshall, the study’s main author, called the stress disorder and depression rates in the Cambodian-American community “shockingly high,” particularly since these disorders still manifest nearly thirty years after leaving Cambodia.Further information is available at http://www.rand.org/news/press/.05/08.02.html.

New Document Releases Shed Light on Possible JFK Path

American and Polish cables and other documents from the 1960’s, newly uncovered by the National Security Archives of George Washington University and reported in the Boston Globe in June, reveal attempts to explore negotiations to end the Vietnam war by President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Union through India and the U.S. Ambassador to New Delhi at the time, John Kenneth Galbraith.The 1962 and 1963 discussions ultimately were not fruitful.However, they have sparked another round of debate within the United States about whether President Kennedy would have avoided sending combat troops to Vietnam and would instead have relied upon a negotiated solution, a controversy which shows no sign of resolution.

WASHINGTON INDOCHINA UPDATE                                           June 25, 2005

Events this month were dominated by the historic visit to the United States of Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, the first visit by a Vietnamese leader of that rank since the end of the Vietnam War.  Several agreements were concluded during the visit, detailed below. 

Diplomacy and Bilateral Relations

Khai Makes Landmark Visit

On June 20 – 25, Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai visited the United States to mark the 10th anniversary of normalization of US-Vietnam relations.  Khai was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan, several Ministers and Vice-Ministers, leaders of the National Assembly and nearly 100 members of the Vietnamese business community.  The delegation visited Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York and Boston.

On June 21, Prime Minister Khai met with President Bush in the White House.  As a rule, meetings between heads of state are carefully scripted, and “deliverables” are decided well ahead of time.  The two governments announced accords on adoption; religious freedom; agriculture; cooperation on epidemiology; and intelligence-sharing and military training.   In addition, several American companies were granted licenses to operate in Vietnam. 

Beyond these concrete measures, President Bush affirmed the US support for Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization in principle. The most recent round of bilateral WTO negotiations was concluded on June 17, and the next round will commence in July.  Bush also confirmed that he planned to visit Vietnam in 2006, when Hanoi will host the APEC meeting.  (The “deliverables” for the Bush visit to Vietnam will take as long as a year to plan and negotiate.  Accordingly, FRD will produce a policy brief looking ahead to that process this July. The brief will be posted on the Fund’s website. www.ffrd.org )   On June 22, the Prime Minister and several delegation members met with Senate and House leaders on Capitol Hill. 

The delegation also had high-level contact with American business and non-governmental leaders, beginning with a meeting with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in Seattle.  In Washington and New York, the group was honored with dinners sponsored by trade councils comprised of American companies doing business in Vietnam, as well as a range of NGO’s.  In New York, the Prime Minister and delegation members made a social call upon FRD Executive Director John McAuliff and his family at the home of Peter Yarrow, folksinger and activist.   In Boston, the group was received by the presidents of Harvard and M.I.T. on their respective campuses.

US-Vietnam Adoption Agreement Signed

President Bush and Prime Minister Khai signed an executive agreement to cooperate on measures for adoption of Vietnamese children that is expected to result in the lifting of the 2001 moratorium on adoptions.  In recent years both governments have expressed caution that Vietnamese orphans and other children may be trafficked or exploited.  In the late 1990’s the Vietnamese government began requiring countries to sign adoption agreements when criminal rings selling children to foreign adoption rings were exposed.  In 2001 the US Immigration and Naturalization Service suspended adoptions from both Vietnam and Cambodia, following allegations of adoption fraud and baby-selling.

Crew Changes in State Department’s Asia Shop

The transition from the first to the second administration of President George W. Bush has brought a switch of Assistant Secretaries of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, from James Kelly in the first term to Christopher Hill in the second.   This, and the summertime rotation of career Foreign Service Officers, will invariably bring changes down the line.  EAP Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia, Marie Huhtala, has left her position and will be replaced in July by Eric John.   (Marie had a long relationship with and was highly regarded by NGOs.)  James Gagnon, Office Director for the countries of mainland Southeast Asia (and a US Embassy officer in Saigon in April, 1975), will retire this summer; his replacement will be Scott Marciel, whose Southeast Asia experience includes a tour on the Laos desk in the early 1990s.  In the field, US Ambassador to Cambodia Charles Ray will be finishing his term. The administration has nominated Joseph Mussomeli, presently Deputy Chief of Mission in Manila, to replace him.

Trade and Economic Development

Khai Visit Boosts Business

During Prime Minister Khai’s visit to the United States, there were numerous “deliverables” on the business front as well.  In the lead-up to the trip, Vietnam Air announced that it would purchase four Boeing 787 passenger jets.  Vietnam Air also announced that it would open a direct flight to the United States in 2006.  Vietnam also signed a deal with Motorola to upgrade the country’s cellular phone network.   In Seattle, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Prime Minister Khai signed two Memoranda of Understanding, one specifying that Microsoft would help to develop Vietnam’s information technology businesses, and the other confirming that Microsoft would provide training in computers and software development for 50,000 Vietnamese teachers.  Business licenses were also granted or promised to several American companies during the trip, including the insurance conglomerate, American Insurance Group.   AIG will be the first American insurance company licensed to sell non-casualty insurance (property, liability, marine and avian operations) in Vietnam.

Vietnam Rated as a Tourism Leader

The World Travel and Tourism Council, an organization of 100 of the largest tourism associations in the world, has predicted that Vietnam will be in the top ten nations in terms of tourism development in the next ten years.  In recent years, tourism in Vietnam has grown 7-10% annually, compared to overall global growth in tourism of 5.4%.  American tourism to Vietnam grows even faster, at a rate of 15-20% per year.

Lao Commerce Minister Leads Trade Delegation to United States

H.E. Soulivong Darivong, Minister of Commerce of Laos, led a study tour delegation from the Laotian business community to the U.S. May 11-17.   In the wake of Laos receiving Normal Trade Relations from the United States last year, an educational effort was needed to bring business and trade officials from the two countries together, to learn about each other’s economic systems, explore business prospects, and strengthen bilateral cooperation in trade, investment and tourism.   The study tour, was organized by the Fund for Reconciliation and Development in close cooperation with Laotian Americans with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.  It took the group to California, New York, Illinois, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.  The delegation was received by local officials in the cities they visited, and by Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), among others, in Washington.   Further details on the trip, photos and a copy of Minister Soulivong’s speech are posted on the FRD website.  www.ffrd.org/Laotrade.htm

Human Rights and Political Development

Hanoi and Washington Sign Religious Freedom Accord

During their White House meeting, President Bush and Prime Minister Khai signed an accord on religious freedom, relating to the decision announced by Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on May 5 in Hanoi, that the United States would not impose sanctions on Vietnam under the “Country of Particular Concern” framework.  The agreement is the first accord on religious freedom signed by the United States and another country since the International Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1998.  However, the US Government has not yet made the terms of the agreement public.   Analysts believe the agreement outlines measures that Vietnam expects to take in religious policy that will prevent the imposition of sanctions in future years.  Vietnam hopes to have the CPC designation removed, although only Iraq has been dropped from the list thus far.

Smith Holds Congressional Hearings, Hints of New Bill

Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations of the House International Relations Committee, convened a hearing on human rights in Vietnam on June 20, the day before the Bush-Khai meeting.  Witnesses were Nina Shea, US Commission on International Religious Freedom; Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch; Helen Ngo, Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam; Nguyen Trang, Boat People S.O.S.; Vo Van Ai, Vietnam Committee on Human Rights; and Y Khim Nie, Montagnard Human Rights Committee.  According to Congressman Smith, the State Department declined to provide testimony for the hearing.  Earlier, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and 44 other Members of Congress had sent a letter to President Bush urging him to pressure Khai on human rights.   The witnesses’ statements can be accessed on http://wwwc.house.gov/international_relations/ahear.htm.  Since all are established critics of Vietnam on human rights grounds, there was considerable overlap in their testimonies.

At the hearing, Congressman Smith indicated that he intended to re-introduce the Vietnam Human Rights Act which, in its two previous incarnations (2001 and 2004) sought to sanction Vietnam.   Earlier efforts foundered in the Senate, and there is no obvious reason to conclude that the legislation will pass in that chamber this year, although it could be approved in the House, as it was before.    However, if the bill does not pass, Vietnam’s critics on Capitol Hill may attempt to inject human rights conditionality into the Congressional debate on granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Vietnam later in the year, as part of the process of approving Vietnam’s entry into the WTO.

State Department Issues Trafficking Report

On June 3 the State Department issued the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report.  Compared to the 2004 rankings, Vietnam and Laos improved their positions, while Cambodia was ranked lower than the previous year.   Both Vietnam and Laos were removed from the Tier 2 Watch List and placed in the Tier 2 category, which indicates significant trafficking problems mitigated by government efforts to combat them.   The report noted that Vietnam issued a national plan to combat trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in 2004; it also drew attention to the Taiwan bride trade in Vietnam, in which a large percentage of women who are trafficked to Taiwan are done so through fraudulent offers of marriage.  Laos is praised for passing the Law on Women in 2004, which criminalizes trafficking in persons.  However, the report suggests that the central government establish a mechanism to identify trafficking victims until the new law is enforced more effectively at the local level.  Cambodia was moved to Tier 3 in 2005, which could make it eligible for sanctions. The report cited government failure to indict traffickers and officials complicit in trafficking as one reason for downgrading the country’s status.  All Southeast Asian countries were classified as either Tier 2 or Tier 3; none was rated as Tier 1, which indicates the State Department’s assessment that a country’s government complies with minimum standards to combat trafficking.  The full report can be accessed at http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2005.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Reaches Critical Funding Level

In late April, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that financial requirements for the Cambodian Khmer Rouge tribunal had been met, and that the United Nations-Cambodian Tribunal Agreement was in force.  This month the Cambodian government accepted a Japanese proposal to fund the bulk of Cambodia’s share of the tribunal budget, removing another significant obstacle.  The United States continues to decline to fund the tribunal.  At the initiative of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Congress has extended the prohibition for funds into Fiscal Year 2005.  For a detailed analysis of the issue, see FRD Policy Brief #1, “The Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Options for the United States and the International Community,” available on the Fund’s website www.ffrd.org .

Security

Hanoi and Washington Open IMET Window, Strengthen Cooperation on Counter-Terrorism

Prime Minister Khai’s Washington schedule included a meeting with US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.  The meeting produced a landmark agreement in principle to include Vietnamese participants in the US International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.  Precise training areas are still under discussion.  The two governments also agreed to increase intelligence-sharing in the areas of counter-terrorism and broader transnational crime.  The US-Vietnam security relationship is moving forward slowly but steadily.  For example, in May the US Army/Pacific and the Logistics General Department of the People’s Army of Vietnam co-hosted the 15th Asia-Pacific Military Medicine Conference in Hanoi.

Legacy Issues

Cambodian Insurgent Arrested

On June 1, Yasith Chhun, the President of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, a California-based organization with the declared objective of seizing control in Cambodia, was arrested in Long Beach.  He was charged with conspiracy to kill in a foreign country; conspiracy to damage or destroy property in a foreign country; and engaging in a military operation against a country with which the United States is at peace.  The group is charged with forming “Operation Volcano,” to launch a military strike against the Cambodian Ministry of Defense, the Council of Ministers, and a military headquarters facility on November 24, 2000.  With his wife, Chhun is also charged with running a fraudulent tax preparation business.  The charges resulted from a joint investigation of the FBI and the IRS.

WASHINGTON UPDATE

May 10, 2005

This issue marks the return of the Fund’s monthly Washington Update, to report on and analyze events and trends in U.S. relations with Vietnam, Cambodiaand Laos.The Update is one element of the Fund’s Washington policy dialogue program, made possible by generous support from The Henry Luce Foundation and managed by FRD’s Washington Representative, Catharin Dalpino.Comments and suggestions can be directed to frd-dc@earthlink.net.

Diplomacy

Anniversary Summitry

As the United States and Vietnam approach the tenth anniversary of the normalization of relations in July, two high-level visits are in train..State Department Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick visited Vietnam May 6-7, as part of his first tour of Southeast Asia (which also included Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines) in his new position.As U.S. Trade Representative in the first term of the Bush administration, Zoellick oversaw implementation of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement.

The Zoellick trip was designed in part to build upon the momentum of US relief to the December tsunami.On a deeper level, Zoellick has also raised the issue of increasing competition between the United States and China in Southeast Asia - his early lap of the region is intended to signal a more activist American policy.He drew a direct connection between US-Sino competition and relations with Vietnam when he was quoted in the Washington Post as saying that “[The Vietnamese] want to have a very good and strong relationship because they don’t want to be totally dependent on China.”While few Vietnam analysts would foresee a scenario of such dependence, Zoellick was probably referring more broadly to China’s growing role in Southeast Asia.Economists estimate that in 2005 the volume of ASEAN trade with China will eclipse that of US-ASEAN trade for the first time.

During his Hanoi visit, Zoellick issued an official invitation to Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Khai to visit the United States, the first U.S. visit of a Vietnamese Prime Minister after 1975.A full itinerary is still being under discussion, but Prime Minister Khai is scheduled to meet with President Bush on June 21.In June FRD will publish a policy brief on issues in the US-Vietnam relationship, keyed to the Prime Minister’s visit.The brief will also be available on the Fund’s website.

(FRD will place a selection of the best articles and reflections about the 30th anniversary on its web site www.ffrd.org/anniversary. Suggestions are welcome.)

Trade and Economic Development

Normal Trade Relations Granted for Laos

On November 19, 2004 US Normal Trade Relations for Laos was approved as a rider on the Miscellaneous Trade Bill (MTB).Seven years in the making, NTR status for Laos was largely the result of greater organization of support by members of the Laotian-American community on this issue in recent years.It was as well a bipartisan effort in Congress, with Democratic House Representatives Betty McCollum and the late Robert Matsui’s introduction of stand-alone legislation (HR 3195) which, although unsuccessful, served to put the issue formally on the Congressional agenda.

In Fall 2004, the measure survived attempts by Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold to place holds on the MTB, which would have prevented its approval before Congress adjourned.Senators Charles Grassley and Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee chair and ranking member respectively, were able to push the measure through by cloture vote.However, as a companion to the vote, the Senate passed Resolution 475, expressing concern about human rights conditions inLaos.Normal Trade Relations status was ratified by the Lao PDR National Assembly in February 2005, and the arrangement went into effect shortly thereafter.

FRD is coordinating the first visit to the US by a trade and tourism delegation led by Minister or Commerce Soulivong Daravong, working in close cooperation with Lao and Hmong-Americans and with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.The delegation will hold meetings in Fresno California, New York City,Washington DC, Chicago,  St. Paul Minnesota and San Francisco between May 12 and 27

(For more information, visit http://www.ffrd.org/laos.html )

Nam Theun II Dam Guarantees Approved

In late February the World Bank agreed to provide $50 million as a partial loan guarantee to allow the Nam Theun II dam project in Laos to go forward.The project, which is expected to cost $1.3 billion, is led by Electricite de France and will enable Laos to sell electricity to Thailand under a guaranteed contract that is expected to provide Laos with $2 billion a year for 25 years.One pressure upon the Bank to approve the guarantees was the perception that China would help finance the project if the Bank did not.

Prior to the approval, Bank officials had expressed concern about whether proceeds from sale of the dam’s electricity would be applied to development needs inLaos.The government has pledged that revenues will be spent on education, health and rural development and, as one condition for the guarantees,has agreed to an external audit of the use of proceeds.The Bank has also imposed conditions on external funders of the project, who must provide housing for 6,000 people who will be dislocated when the Nam Theun river is dammed, and pay compensation to an estimated 40,000 people who fish the Xe Bang Fai river and whose livelihood will be affected when the Nam Theun is diverted to the Xe Bang Fai.

US-Vietnam Flights Inaugurated

On December 10, 2004 United Airlines opened the first commercial US route to Vietnam when UA Flight #869, originating in San Francisco,landed in Ho ChiMinh City, on the third anniversary of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA).Because the flight went through Hong Kong, it was not technically a direct route.However, Vietnam Airlines plans to inaugurate direct flights to the United States in late 2005 or early 2006.The International Air Transport Association estimates that the air travel industry in Vietnam will grow by 10.5% per year for the year ten years.From 1988-1999, it grew 29.5%.The United flight was symbolic not only of reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam, but also of the dynamism in trade between the two countries.Bilateral trade is expected to exceed $6 billion in 2005, and the United States has become Vietnam’s largest export market.

Vietnam Moves Closer to WTO Entry

With the dramatic expansion of US-Vietnam trade since the BTA went into effect in late 2001, the United States and Vietnam are now negotiating Washingtonapproval for Vietnam’s entry into the World Trade Organization.Vietnam applied for WTO membership in 1995, and hopes to enter by the end of this year.Trade officials from the two countries held a series of negotiations in 2004, and Hanoi is hopeful these can be concluded with a final round this May.Thusfar, Vietnam has completed talks with 6 out of 27 trading partners.(Some negotiations – with the EU, Brazil and Singapore – have required only one or two rounds to complete).To enter in 2005, all negotiations will have to finish by the fall, to enable the WTO secretariat to complete entry procedures.

However, trade analysts point out that some 89 laws will have to be drafted or amended to bring Vietnam’s legal system into compliance with the WTO framework.Some Vietnamese economists have expressed fears that dismantling export subsidies too quickly to enter the WTO could cause Vietnamese products to be less competitive in the international market.On the other hand,the Vietnamese textile industry is liable to suffer the longer Vietnam remains outside the WTO, since textile quotas were abolished for WTO members on January 1 of this year.The garment industry in Vietnam employs approximately 25% of the industrial labor force and accounts for $4.5 billion in exports, roughly half of which go to the United States.

Legislation Under Consideration for Asian “Left Behind” Countries

Although already a WTO member, Cambodia stands to feel the brunt of the abolition of textile quotas even more.Compared to Vietnam, Cambodia’s export sector is not well-diversified, and is heavily concentrated in textiles.Eighty percent of Cambodia’s textile exports go to the United States.Laos has announced its intention to join the World Trade Organization, but the state of its textile export industry is even more fragile than Cambodia’s.The absence of Normal Trade Relations with the United States has not allowed Laos to develop a strong export connection so the abolition of WTO textile quotas is more likely to inhibit the development of an export sector with the United States than to hurt existing trade. Moreover, with designations as least-developed-countries (LDC’s), Laos and Cambodia are both disadvantaged by the trade preferences given to LDC’s in other regions.In fact, Asian and Pacific LDC’s are the only ones not protected by a regional trade preference regime in their trade with the United States.These Asian LDC’s have been informally labeled the “left behind” countries.

To address this inequity, Congress is considering a bill to extend trade preferences on some apparel items to Asia’s least-developed-countries.S191, sponsored by Senator Gordon Smith and co-sponsored by Senators Baucus, Hutchison, Santorum, Feinstein and McCain, was introduced in late January.HR 886, sponsored by Representative Jim Kolbe, was introduced in February.Both bills are presently under consideration in committee.The bill would extend preferences to Cambodia,Laos, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Kiribati, the Maldives, Nepal, Samoa, Solomon Islands, East Timor, Vanuatu, Yemen and Sri Lanka.Afghanistan ( because of the war against terrorism) and Sri Lanka (because of tsunami relief) are likely to buoy the bill’s prospects.Nepal, with a high degree of internal instability, could be an obstacle.No specific comment on either Laos or Cambodia has yet been noted in relation to the proposed legislation.

Human Rights and Political Development

United Nations Signals Launch of Khmer Rouge Tribunal

In late April the United Nations announced that legal requirements had been met to enable a war crimes tribunal for surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge to go forward.The tribunal represents a unique form of mixed national-international judicial body, the first internationalized exercise to give majority control of the legal proceedings to the government on whose territory the offenses were committed.The tribunal is estimated to cost $56.3 million over a three-year period, $21 million of which has been pledged by Japan.Cambodia is expected to contribute $13 million.Although the United States played a major role in bringing the tribunal to fruition, funding for it is presently prohibited under a Congressional ban initiated by Senator Mitch McConnell.FRD will publish a policy brief on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in May, which will be available on the Fund’s website.

State Places Vietnam on CPC List But Declines to Impose Sanctions

On September 15, 2004, the State Department designated Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the Religious Freedom Act of 1998.Saudi Arabia and Eritrea were also new designees for 2004, joining China, Sudan, Iran, North Korea and Myanmar.The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had campaigned to have Vietnam added to the CPC list since 2001.However, the addition of Vietnam in 2004 puzzled many observers, since the State Department freely admitted that the status of religious freedom in Vietnam had “remained fundamentally unchanged” in the past year.This suggests that the decision to name Vietnam a CPC was due more to tensions in the bilateral relationship on this issue or domestic political pressures in the US than to actual dynamics on the ground in Vietnam.Some analysts have speculated that the State Department move was intended to head off Congressional sanctions on Vietnam in the last Congress under the Vietnam Human Rights Act then under consideration.More likely, the designation was viewed as a means of increasing Washington’s leverage over Hanoi on an issue of growing importance in the American political environment.

Under the CPC framework, fifteen measures are specified for Presidential action, although none are mandatory.These range from private demarches, to the cancellation of diplomatic visits, to votes to deny loans and credits to a CPC country in international financial institutions. (Further information on the CPC process can be found on the FRD website by clicking on “Religious Freedom Debate.”)By law the State Department had six months to decide upon one or more actions, but on March 15 the Department requested an extension for Vietnam (as well as Saudi Arabia and Eritrea).In the meantime, the USCIR pressed State to impose travel sanctions on Vietnamese leaders suspected of violating religious freedom.

Despite this urging, the State Department announced on May 5 that it will not impose sanctions on Vietnam under the CPC framework this year.This is most likely because of several developments in Vietnam in recentmonths that demonstrate greater religious freedom.Most important was the promulgation of a new religious code, which could lead to legal recognition of additional Buddhist and Protestant groups. As well, in January, two of Vietnam’s most high-profile dissidents, Roman Catholic priest Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly and physician Nguyen Dan Que, were released from detention along with 8000 other prisoners in the Tet amnesty.Also notable was the return of Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh to Vietnam after a 38-year-long absence.Nhat Hanh arrived in Vietnam in January, accompanied by 200 followers, on a four-month visa which allowed him to teach.The government also granted permission for four of his books to be published.

Although Vietnam has avoided sanctions this year, it will remain a designated “country of particular concern,” and the USCIRF will doubtless press for sanctions and other punitive measures.To date, the only country to have been removed from the CPC list was Iraq in 2003, after the American invasion.

Omnibus Democracy Bill Would Impact V/L/C

In March Congress received draft legislation for a sweeping democracy promotion policy.If passed, the Advance Democratic Values, Address NondemocraticCountries and Enhance Democracy Act of 2005 (known in shorthand as the Advance Democracy Act) would represent the most comprehensive democracy measure to date.Senator John McCain introduced the Act into the Senate (S516), while Frank Wolf is its main sponsor in the House (HR 1133), along with Representatives Chris Smith, Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Kennedy, Tom Lantos, Howard Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The major provisions of the bill include a requirement that (1) the State Department submit an annual Democracy Report to Congress which categorizes countries according to their degree of democratic government; (2) the United States attempt to establish Democracy Caucuses in every international organization to which it belongs; (3) American chiefs of mission in nondemocratic countries devise strategies to encourage democratization; (4) the United States urge the establishment of Helsinki Committees in every region; (5) the State Department establish “beachhead” countries in each region to encourage the spread of democracy; and (6) the White House create the position of Director for Nondemocratic Countries in the National Security Council.The proposed legislation also lists measures the President may take to criticize or sanction nondemocratic countries, and would increase funding for democracy promotion.

The State Department tends to resist new reporting requirements categorically, and could rightly point out than an annual Democracy Report could overlap significantly with the annual Human Rights Reports.A formal process of categorization will prove problematic for several reasons, and political considerations are likely to create built-in conflicts and inconsistencies.If the bill is approved, it is likely that the State Department will follow the lead of groups such as Freedom House and categorize Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as “nondemocratic” countries.Freedom House has consistently ranked these three countries as “not free,” the lowest category.However, bills as broad and encompassing as this are often cutdown to smaller size in the legislative process.

Legacy Issues

Prospects for Assistance to Agent Orange Victims Worsen

Two efforts to resolve the issue of the continued impact of Agent Orange on Vietnam foundered in March.Judge Jack Weinstein of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed a 2004 class action suit against American manufacturers of Agent Orange and other defoliants brought by the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) and individuals whose disabilities were believed to have resulted from exposure to dioxin.Judge Weinstein had also made the ruling on Agent Orange lawsuits brought by American Vietnam War veterans twenty years ago.Those suits were also dismissed, but the decision was crafted in ways to encourage the parties to come to an out of court settlement.Legal analysts point to significant differences between the two cases, one being that the Vietnamese plaintiffs were suing under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign citizens to recover damages for violations of international human rights, a different standard than the product liability basis for the Veterans’ case. Judge Weinstein did not find that Agent Orange poisoning fit the definition of crimes against humanity.Moreover, he did not believe that sufficient proof existed of a connection between Agent Orange and the plaintiffs’ injuries.(Extensive analysis of Judge Weinstein’s decision and other aspects of the Agent Orange issue can be found on the FRD website http://www.ffrd.org/agentorange.htm )Luu van Dat, lawyer and VAVA Central Committee member, believes that the plaintiffs’ appeal will be considered in June.

Ironically, the same month the US-Vietnam joint research project on Agent Orange, which might have provided data on a connection between Agent Orange and disabilities, was cancelled.Under the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments, the research was to focus on the percentage of the Vietnamese population with levels of dioxin exposure; the impact of Agent Orange on the environment; and identification and remediation of AO “hot spots” where chemicals may still be seeping into the soil.Accounts vary on the reasons for the cancellation, but observers generally agree that the project did not proceed as quickly as hoped.Washington-based State Department officials reject charges by some scientists of deliberate cancellation, and indicate that project funding simply lapsed before it could be spent.This implies that the project could be resumed if funding were restored.

On a more positive note, in April folksinger and activist Peter Yarrow visited Vietnam and became the first American celebrity to draw attention to Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.Yarrow gave a concert cosponsored by FRD and the Ministry of Culture and Information at the Hanoi Opera House to benefit the Vietnamese Association for the Victims of Agent Orange.The March 2005 issue of Critical Asian Studies also highlighted the Agent Orange issue witha cover story and photo essay on Vietnamese children whose disabilities are linked to dioxin exposure.

Flag Resolution Bill in California Assembly

To date, some 80 US localities and 8 states have adopted resolutions that designate the flag used in the southern Vietnamese provinces from 1954 to 1975 as the one to be flown at local events that include Vietnamese- Americans.These resolutions were promoted by local Vietnamese-American groups, with political support from the California-based Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee (VPAC).Although it is official US policy to recognize the government in Hanoi as the legitimate authority in Vietnam, and therefore to recognize the Vietnamese flag, local entities have been able to sidestep this issue by labeling the southern flag the “Freedom and Heritage Flag,” thereby stripping it of national connotation, and specifying that it be used for activities involving Vietnamese-Americans.

A draft resolution in the California State Assembly will, if passed, be the most comprehensive of these local initiatives.SCR-17, introduced in the 2005-2006 session, would urge the state to give formal recognition to the southern flag as the “symbolic flag” of the Vietnamese-American community, for use in state-sponsored or state-controlled events.More than 430,000 Vietnamese-Americans live in California.However, testimony by some Vietnamese-American witnesses against the resolution has created a delay in the bill’s passage.Before further consideration, committee leaders have instructed the bill’s sponsors, one of whom is Republican State Assemblyman Van Tran, to draft language reflecting a greater diversity of views within the Vietnamese-American community about the resolution.

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