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 .
Hanoi and Washington Open IMET Window, Strengthen Cooperation on Counter-Terrorism
Prime Minister Khai’s Washington schedule included a meeting with US Defense Secretary Donald 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.
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.