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Washington Updates: 2003

Washington Indochina Update #20

December, 2003

Laos achieved a watershed on the Nam Theun II dam, while Vietnam attempted to accelerate the process of WTO accession.A ground-breaking port call for aUS naval vessel followed on the heels of the Vietnamese Defense Minister’s visit to the US.Hmong-American hardliner Vang Pao sparked debate over reconciliation and its affect on Normal Trade Relations for Laos with a provocative new “doctrine”.


Hanoi Steps on the Gas at WTO Negotiation

In mid-December Vietnam completed its seventh negotiation meeting with the WTO working party on Vietnamese accession.Hanoi continues to set 2005 as the goal for Vietnam’s entry into the WTO.In that year, the United States and the European Union will abolish textile quotas for WTO members but retain them for non-members.Garments have overtaken oil as Vietnam’s chief export, and the US and EU actions will place Vietnamese exporters at an obvious disadvantage to major textile exporters such as China.

At the meeting, Vice Minister for Trade Luong Van Tu, who serves as chief negotiator with the WTO, presented Vietnam’s latest offer: to reduce average tariffs by 4.5% to 22%, and to make market access commitments in ten service sectors and ninety-two sub-sectors.However, in the course of negotiations, which Hanoiopened with the WTO in 1995, several major issues have emerged.One is whether Vietnam should be considered a “low-income and highly indebted poor country,” in the terminology used by international financial institutions, or whether the country’s potential as a competitive developing economy should be considered.Hanoi favors the former view, which grants greater flexibility and a longer transition period.Earlier in the year, the working party chairperson, Seong Ho of South Korea, cautioned that Vietnam would have to make a “quantum jump” to enter the WTO by 2005.In response, Hanoi has asked that three negotiation sessions be scheduled in 2004.

Vang Pao Statement: New Path or Cul-de-Sac?

General Vang Pao, former leader of US funded Hmong troops in Laos during the Vietnam War and a prominent hardliner in the Hmong-American community, issued a “Doctrine on Laos and Southeast Asia” at a Laotian New Years gathering of Hmong-American and Lao-American leaders in Minnesota.One element of his statement hinted at support for Normal Trade Relations with Laos, but with conditions – the parameters of which are not clear -- relating to human rights and a ceasefire between Hmong insurgents in Laos and the Laotian government.

Sources in the Lao PDR government minimized the significance of Vang Pao's statement, characterizing it as simply the opinion of single American citizen without authority to impose conditions on a process of reconciliation that was already well established.  On the other hand, anti-NTR lobbyist Philip Smith was described by the press as, "expressing deep concern about the general's new direction".

The utility of Vang Pao’s remarks to genuine reconciliation remains to be seen, but the media has been quick to declare it a watershed in relations within the Hmong community and between Laos and the United States.Representative Betty McCollum, who has introduced HR 3195 into the House to extend Normal Trade Relations for Laos, cited Vang Pao’s statement in a December 2 “Dear Colleague” letter, urging support for NTR.House proponents of NTR are presently attempting to identify a champion for the legislation on the Senate side. (FRD’s sign-on letter to Congress on NTR for Laos can be viewed To add your name, visit )

Bilateral Relations

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Visits the US

In December, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan brought a sizeable delegation of business leaders and government officials to the United States, primarily to promote US-Vietnam trade and investment.The United States is currently Vietnam’s largest export destination, but not yet its largest investor, a distinction which Singapore holds.Export revenue is increasingly crucial to the Vietnamese economy; at $20 billion this year, it makes up half of all GDP.The delegation visitedWashington, Chicago, Houston (where the Deputy Prime Minister met with former President George H. Bush), Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose.InWashington, the delegation met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Although trade and investment issues dominated the agenda, Vietnamese sources also report that a range of issues were discussed, including counter-terrorism and the need or continued cooperation on humanitarian issues deriving from the Vietnam War.Included in Hanoi’s counter-terrorism concerns are US-based extremists who have been linked to terrorist attacks on the Vietnamese embassies in Thailand and the Philippines.

Economic Development

EGAT Signs Nam Theun II Agreement

After years of see-sawing, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has signed an agreement to purchase hydroelectric power from Laos’ planned Nam Thuen II dam on a tributary of the Mekong River.This agreement sets into place an eighteen-month deadline for the consortium building the dam to secure financing for the project, estimated at $1.2 billion.It is widely assumed that funding will not be obtained without guarantees from the World Bank, which is weighing a number of factors:resettlement of affected villagers, logging, and the percentage of revenues from the dam to be allocated to development.Under the current schedule, the dam will begin operation in 2009. Estimates of projected revenue vary widely – from $2 billion to $5 billion in the first 25 years – but the dam will likely bring considerable revenue to an economy with revenue levels currently at $275 million per year.The World Bank guarantees notwithstanding, Laos is turning increasingly to neighboring economies for infrastructure financing.Vientiane has announced it will build five smaller dams with Vietnamese help, and this month received a $20 million loan from Thailand to develop airports and other infrastructure keyed to the 2004 ASEAN Summit, which Laos will chair.Laos will also likely be a recipient of loans from the newly-established Thai International Bank, which the Thai government intends should promote development in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Security Relations

Port Call for US Ship Moves US-Vietnamese Security Relations Ahead

Following on the landmark visit to the United States of Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra (see November’s Update), in mid-November the USS Vandergrift, a guided missile frigate from the Seventh Fleet, became the first US warship to dock in Vietnam since the war.The ship sailed into Ho Chi Minh City for a four-day port call, and was received by Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Nguyen Duc Hung.In the course of the visit, Vandergrift crew worked on community projects.Although both the United States and Vietnam have publicly declared the Tra visit and the port call to have been prominent watersheds, the pace of further developments in the US-Vietnamese security relations is likely to be slow.Reports in Washington suggest that the Pentagon would like to strengthen military ties with a number of Southeast Asian countries, but this issue is more complicated with Vietnam than with traditional American allies in the region.

Cambodia To Destroy Missiles

The Cambodian government has announced that it will destroy its full stock of surface-to-air missiles, to prevent their possible theft and use by terrorists in the region. The announcement was made after Prime Minister Hun Sen met with US Ambassador Charles Ray, although US sources report that the Cambodian decision was “unilateral.”

The Cambodian Ministry of Defense indicated that it presently has 233 A-72 surface-to-air missiles that were purchased from the USSR in the 1980’s.Ambassador Ray said that the US would provide weapons experts to Cambodia to help in dismantling and destroying the missiles.

Human Rights and Political Development

UN Signals Khmer Rouge Tribunal May Be Imminent

A United Nations team visited Cambodia in November to discuss technical aspects of a tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders.Karsten Herret, head of the mission, indicated that tribunal proceedings could begin next year. However, the present political deadlock could delay a planned start, since the National Assembly has yet to approve Cambodia’s agreement with the UN on the trials.In the meantime, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia Peter Leupretcht has made his tenth official mission to the country.Although he cited the continuing parliamentary deadlock and issues with Montagnard refugees as problematic, Leupretcht announced that he has seen gradual improvement in Cambodia’s human rights situation in the course of his observations there.

Tension on Religious Freedom in Vietnam Ratchets up in Washington

On November 19, the House passed Resolution 427, expressing dissatisfaction with the protection of religious rights in Vietnam, with emphasis on the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.The resolution, introduced by Representative Loretta Sanchez, recommends that Vietnam be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom, which carries sanctions.The resolution was opposed by Congressman Lane Evans in a “Dear Colleague” letter.Evans wrote, “While Vietnam has narrow restrictions on religious organizations, it is not the totalitarian, religious oppressor as its opponents would like you to believe.”CPC designation of a country is made by the Secretary of Stateand can be implemented at any time.

Proponents of CPC for Vietnam are likely to view the 2003 State Department Report on Religious Freedom, released on December 18, as supporting their position.  Although both Vietnam and Laos are highlighted in the report's Executive Summary as presenting "totalitarian or authoritarian attempts to control religious belief or practice," Laos is also cited for "significant improvement in the area of religious freedom." In the latter country, the report mentions evident government sincerity to promote reconciliation among religious groups, and the efforts of senior members of the Politburo to provide instruction to local officials on the need for tolerance of minority religions.  The report generally finds that Cambodia protects religious freedom. 

In his remarks to the press, US Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom John Hanford underscored the Department's criticism of Vietnam, but also noted that several individuals the US government had identified as being under detention  -- "a significant portion"  -- had been recently released.  Hanford also ventured that additional individuals might be released when the government announces the Tet amnesties in February.  However, since the report covers the period from July 2002 to June 2003, neither of these points is included in it.  At the press briefing, Hanford also remarked that Laos has moved away from the danger of a CPC designation, but that Vietnam was "a little different story."  The full text of the report and the press briefing can be accessed at

Freedom House Ratings for Indochina: Low, And Staying There

The conservative NGO Freedom House has released its 2003 index, rating the world’s countries on civil and political freedoms.As they have been in past years, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were rated “Not Free,” the lowest of three designations, and their numerical ratings are unchanged from the previous year.On a scale of 1 to 7 (with 1 being highest), Cambodia received a “6” for political rights and a “5” for civil rights, while both Vietnam and Laos were rated “7” on political rights and “6” on civil rights.The ratings are accompanied by brief narratives on each country which borrow heavily and selectively from the annual State Department Human Rights Reports.The Cambodia report appears to be particularly selective in its fact-gathering.For example, the narrative reports that the United Nations terminated negotiations with the Cambodian government on the Khmer Rouge tribunal in 2002, but makes no mention after that of the renewed and ultimately successful negotiations later in 2003.

Legacy Issues

Vietnam Releases Pioneer Landmine Survey

In late November Vietnam announced the results of a landmark study on unexploded landmines and ordnance in Quang Tri Province, one of the most heavily bombed regions in the Vietnam War.Survey data indicates that beween the end of the war in 1975 and 2002, as many as 2,540 people were killed by landmines and UXO in Quang Tri, with 4,243 injured.Nearly three-quarters of the victims were under the age of 30, and were heavily concentrated among members of minority groups, particularly those in remote areas.Funding for the survey was provided by UNICEF and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.The data also offers the first comprehensive look at the socio-economic impact of landmines and UXO on local residents, showing that deaths and injuries were a particular burden on poor families with limited opportunities for income generation. Download a copy of the survey at

International NGO Conference in Hanoi Considers War Legacy Issues

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Van Bang headlined the International Conference on Vietnam-INGOCooperation in Hanoi in November.The event brought together more than 350 participants from the INGO community, international multi-lateral organizations, agencies for development and cooperation, representatives of foreign embassies in Hanoi, and nearly 250 participants from ministries and government agencies, people’s organizations, other partner organizations, research institutions, and representatives of 61 provinces/cities in Vietnam.

Washington Update #19

November, 2003

The landmark visit of the Vietnamese Defense Minister, one of several recent high-level exchanges, causes the US to look forward to greater security cooperation and back to war legacy issues.Debate over Laos continues as the House considers the McCollum bill for NTR.Human rights resolutions abound on the Hill but, with the exception of the proposed Vietnam Human Rights Act, all are non-binding.


Vietnamese Defense Minister Tra Makes Historic Visit

One small but significant contribution to normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States was made this week when Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra visits Washington to talks with US officials.In Washington November 8-12, met with his counterpart, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, as well as with General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice; and Secretary of State Colin Powell.This marks the first visit to the United States of a Vietnamese defense minister since reunification of Vietnam.Tra is reciprocating the visit to Vietnam of then Secretary of Defense William Cohen in 2000.

Beyond advancing the bilateral relationship, the visit appears to be in synch with recent Bush administration expressions of interest in reconfiguring some US security relations in the Asia-Pacific region.Over the past several months, the Pentagon has speculated on increasing US access to military facilities in Southeast Asia to relieve strains on relations with Northeast Asian countries, where the presence of US troops has become more controversial, and to respond to terrorist threats.The announcement that a US Navy vessel will visit Ho Chi Minh City, another post-war first, supports this potential trend.

Both Washington and Hanoi have indicated an interest in improving military ties, butUS-Vietnam security cooperation is not likely to be on a fast track in the foreseeable future.Indeed, Hanoi has indicated that discussion of military cooperation is not on the Vietnamese agenda for Tra’s visit.Instead, Tra intends to address longstanding issues of the effects of the war, including Agent Orange and unexploded ordnance.Tra has said he will not raise the issue of compensation for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, which Hanoi estimates runs to 2 million people, but will urge Americans to “take responsibility” for disabilities and other problems resulting from exposure to the toxins of defoliants.


Vietnam Begins Implementation of Legal Reform Program for WTO

To conform its legal sector to requirements for the World Trade Organization, Vietnam’s Ministry of Justice has finalized a legal development agenda, identifying ninety-four laws to be adopted or amended before Vietnam’s projected entry into the WTO in 2005.Roughly twenty of these laws are expected to be approved by the National Assembly this year.Some of these efforts will build on past or ongoing reforms.For example, the government has introduced the Enterprises Law, on state-owned enterprises, but government economists point out that Vietnam as yet has no universal law for all enterprises.Another challenge will be formulating a common law for both domestic and foreign companies.In the meantime, Vietnam is expected to implement a WTO agreement on customs duties, aimed at both importers and exporters,

by December.One aspect is development of a data base to examine and assess the values of imports and exports of individual businesses.

Shrimp Suit Grows Closer for Vietnam

Eight southern American states (Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and North and South Carolina) have joined the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s proposed antidumping petition against Vietnam and several other shrimp-producing countries.On August 8 the SSA voted to go forward with the petition, but has not entered it officially, a move now targeted for December.In preparation, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers have been meeting with U.S. law firms to study American antidumping law and to discuss US representation if the SSA goes forward with proceedings.

Debate on NTR for Laos Goes Cross-Country

In October American Ambassador to Laos Douglas Hartwick visited California’s San Joaquin Valley to discuss the administration’s efforts to grant Normal Trade Relations to Laos.Hartwick has periodically visited US regions which host significant segments of the Laotian-American community.In visits with community services organizations, religious groups and business leaders, Hartwick has met with a diversity of views.

In a March letter, responding to correspondence from NTR opponents, Hartwick identified a range of people who are likely to benefit from NTR: Americans of Laotian descent who are likely to increase their investment and trade with Laos; impoverished villagers in northern Laos who will gain US access for silk products; and young people who will find greater job opportunities, and be less inclined to seek work in neighboring countries.

In Washington, however, a human rights focus on NTR persists.On November 5 protestors targeted the Laotian embassy, as well as the Vietnamese embassy and the State Department, criticizing Vientiane’s handling of the lingering Hmong insurgency.The Washington Times reports that the protests were organized in part by theNational Center for Public Policy Analysis, a lobbying firm representing some Hmong-American groups.

Partly in an effort to separate human rights from NTR issues, the following day Representative Betty McCollum, who introduced legislation to grant NTR to Laos, announced she would co-sponsor a House Resolution 402, a nonbinding “sense of the Congress” motion, calling for reform of human rights and religious freedom practices in Laos.

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development is circulating a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee in support of NTR for Laos, for signature by non-governmental organization representatives and scholars and analysts.The letter can be read and signed on line at

Human Rights

US Ambassador for Religious Freedom Visits Vietnam

In late October John Hanford, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, made an official visit to Vietnam for observation and discussions with a wide range of institutions and individuals.Hanford oversees preparation of the State Department’s annual report to Congress on religious freedom in the world.Hanford met with senior government officials, provincial leaders, and religious leaders and traveled to two provinces in the Central Highlands, a region of particular focus for international human rights groups.The administration has not as yet released the results of Hanford’s visit.However, on October 30 Representative Loretta Sanchez introduced a House Resolution 427, a “sense of the Congress” human rights resolution on Vietnam, focusing on the Unified Buddhist Church, a factional grouping opposed to the officially recognized sangha.The resolution was sparked by reports of a new downturn in relations between the UBC and the Vietnamese government.

Legacy Issues

Four-Party Talks on Vietnam War Era MIA’s Held in Bangkok

For the first time, senior officials from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the United States met together to review cooperation on accounting for Americans missing in action in the Vietnam War.In the last week of October the US convened the two-day meeting in Bangkok, hosted by Jerry D. Jennings, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Misssing Personnel Affairs.Although the US has pursued bilateral cooperation with the three countries for several years, this represented the first regional meeting on this issue.This broader approach is expected to yield greater results in accounting for MIA’s believed to be related to border areas.At the conclusion of the meeting,, the delegates agreed to conduct an Annual POW/MIA Consultation, and to rotate the venue.

This innovation was matched by a recent US-Vietnam initiative, in which the US provided funds for Vietnamese researchers to scan official archives for information on American MIA’s.To date, approximately 700 American MIA’s from the Vietnam War era have been accounted for, with approximately 1800 outstanding.However, there is as yet no formal cooperation to locate Vietnamese MIA’s, whose numbers are tenfold larger than the outstanding American cases.

US-Vietnamese Hold Agent Orange Talks

In early November Vietnam and US held talks in Hanoi to discuss eradication of dioxin contamination due to the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants during the Vietnam War.The meeting was announced in the context of last year’s agreement between the two countries to conduct joint research on the impact of defoliants.No detailed information on the results of the talks has been released as yet, but US officials announced that the talks focused on the areas of environmental monitoring, remediation and site characterization.

Hanoi Responds to Tiger Force Reports

In late October the Toledo Blade published an extraordinary series of investigative articles on a seven-month period in 1967 of systematic killing of Vietnamese civilians in the Central Highlands by the Tiger Force unit of the US Army 101st Airborne Division.After US military personnel came forward, the killings were the focus of a four and a half year investigation by the US Army. It was closed in 1975 despite findings that 18 soldiers committed war crimes and results of the inquiry were never made public

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry did not release a statement when the articles were published, but responded to a request for comment from the Associated Press.Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung noted the suffering and loss caused by the Vietnam War, but maintained that the best way to resolve the consequences of that war is to pursue stronger mutual understanding in the US-Vietnam relationship “with the tradition of humanity and concord.”Surviving family members interviewed by the Blade were not so forgiving.

Washington Update #18

September-October, 2003

US relations with Cambodia are in a state of suspended animation awaiting the resolution of a political deadlock after the July elections, but movement with both Vietnam and Laos is accelerating, especially on the trade front.

Trade and Economic Development

Laos NTR: McCollum Proposes, Green Opposes

Two major obstacles in the extension of Normal Trade Relations with Laos were removed in September.On the 20th the United States and Laos signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement, which was initialed in 1998.The formal signing, which was necessary in order for Congress to act on NTR,took place in Vientiane between Laos Trade Minister Sulivong Daravong and US Ambassador Douglas Hartwick.On September 29 Representative Betty McCollum introduced H.R. 3195, to extend NTR treatment to products of the LPDR, and the bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for action.The legislation was co-sponsored by Robert Matsui.Both McCollum and Matsui represent districts (in Minnesota and California, respectively) with significant percentages of Laotian-American and Hmong-American constituents. The McCollum bill offers a vehicle for Congressional action, the lack of which had stymied Hill supporters of NTR for Laos for several months.However, some NTR proponents believe that the stand-alone legislation may not survive in its present form, and place greater confidence in approving NTR for Laos as a rider on another bill whose passage is assured. McCollum’s own office believes it is possible that their initiative may be folded into a larger measure to grant NTR to several countries, including Armenia and Moldova.

However, this distinction is academic:public support for the McCollum bill would likely insure that the measure is passed whatever the legislative form.An apathetic or predominantly negative response to the McCollum bill could end near-term hopes for NTR for Laos.

On October 1 Representative Mark Green sent a letter to President Bush opposing NTR for Laos.In the letter, as well as the cover that accompanied it, Green offers a variety of arguments, some of which take recent developments in Laos out of context.For example, the letter criticizes Laos for maintaining relations with Myanmar, but fails to mention that Myanmar’s membership in (ASEAN) all but guarantees full relations with every nation in Southeast Asia.In a similar vein, the letter points out that the State Department’s “Voting Practices in the United Nations” -- mandated by Congress to compare each country’s UN votes against those of the United States – rates Laos very poorly in its agreement with US votes, but fails to mention that virtually every other Southeast Asian nation ranks in the lowest quadrant.Moreover, it ignores the State Department’s own caution that UN votes are less important than bilateral cooperation with the US; on that score, the Bush administration and such organizations as the National League of POW/MIA families cite consistent improvement in Laotian cooperation across a range of issues. The letter maintains as fact that “a substantial majority of Laotian-Americans…are strongly opposed to offering NTR to Laos,” but offers no data or other evidence to support this contention. The Green letter was co-signed by 21 Members of Congress, including Chris Smith, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Dana Rohrabacher, Patrick Kennedy and Barney Frank.

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development is circulating a letter of support for signature by representatives of non-governmental organizations as well as experts on the region.Those interested in signing should contact

Vietnam and US Open Direct Flights

On October 9 the US and Vietnam agreed to permit direct passenger and cargo flights between the two countries, both a substantive and symbolic move forward in bilateral relations.Coupled with this landmark was Vietnam’s purchase of American aircraft.Vietnam estimates that 10 percent of its aviation market is American, but that is likely to increase significantly with the direct flight agreement.Both trade and tourism will benefit from the upgrade.

Southern Shrimpers Preparing to Strike?

If the direct flight agreement was a milestone in US-Vietnam trade, southern US shrimp producers appear poised to remind Hanoi that an ongoing trade relationship is a roller coaster.Observers believe that the Southern Shrimp Alliance will attempt to capitalize on the momentum of the Commerce Department’s catfish ruling against Vietnam with a similar anti-dumping suit.Such action, however, would be against several shrimp exporters, including Thailand, Brazil, Indonesia and China. The presence of so many defendants, some of which are designated as having market economies, will make for a slower and more difficult process than the catfish ruling.In recent weeks Hanoi and Jakarta have speculated publicly about combining forces to fight the action, and others targeted countries could join in.Imports account for 80 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States.

Cambodia Enters WTO Amidst Cancun Chaos

In late September Cambodia, along with Nepal, became the one of the first “least-developed” countries to be admitted to the World Trade Organization.(Some LDC’s, such as Myanmar, were automatically given WTO membership because of their previous status under the GATT.) Phnom Penh’s induction was overshadowed by the challenge launched by an emerging movement of developing countries at the WTO talks in Cancun, which motivated Mexico to abort the conference before its scheduled conclusion.The new bloc, the Group of 21 -- which included mid-level economies in Southeast Asia (Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia) -- was sharply critical of the developed economies for lack of progress after the 2001 WTO meeting in Doha pledged to link the next round of talks to the special problems of thepoorest countries.

It was in this environment that Cambodia completed negotiations for WTO entry, a process which had taken a total of eight years.Critics of the WTO and of global trade regimes in general have charged that, rather than lowering barriers to admit Cambodia, the WTO raised the bar for entry.They worry that LDC members such as Cambodia are being pushed into providing market access prematurely to richer members and will suffer economically as a result.They contend, for example, that Cambodia’s garment industry will not be able to compete with its Chinese counterpart.

Cambodia’s response to these concerns was to acknowledge them but to point out that delay in joining the WTO carries with it a serious risk of being left further behind in the international economy.Vietnam evidently agrees, and is pressing forward with plans to submit a proposal for WTO entry to Geneva in October.Hanoi too is mindful of the costs of delay, with respect to specific countries as well as the overall WTO community.The collapse of the Cancun talks could push back the abolition of textile tariffs under WTO planned in 2005, which is Vietnam’s target date for entry.Tariffs are taking a bite out of Vietnam’s garment exports to the US following the textile agreement signed between the two countries earlier this year, and Hanoi had been counting on Vietnam’s entry into the WTO to provide relief.

A webcast of the WTO speech by Cambodia’s Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh can be found at International has published a report entitled “Cambodia’s accession to the WTO:How the law of the jungle is applied to one of the world’s poorest countries” which can be downloaded from pdfs/doc030902­_cambodia_accession.pdf

Partners Seesaw on Nam Theun II for Laos

In early October, France’s EDF reversed its decision earlier this year to withdraw from Nam Theun II in Laos and announced it would invest in the $1.3 billion hydroelectric project.However, the announcement came two days before the Energy Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) was to sign a 25-year power purchasing agreement for Nam Theun with Laos.Although the news from Paris was warmly received in Vientiane, Bangkok was irritated at the uncertainty it created in the process, complaining that the French had released the news through the media rather than notifying the parties directly.A week later, Thailand cancelled the signing and removed Nam Theun from it longterm power plans.The two countries will have to return to the table to renegotiate a new agreement, and most likely a new price schedule.Laos fears that Thailand, which was the sole buyer for power from the dam, will attempt to identify cheaper sources in the interim.Although France has not provided Laos with official confirmation of its re-entry into the Nam Theun II consortium, to date it confirms that it will stay with the project.With an investor in but a buyer out, it is unclear whether the World Bank funding guarantees considered to be necessary to the project will be forthcoming in the near future.

Human Rights and Political Development

Positions on Human Rights in Vietnam Harden on Both Sides

Short-term tensions between the United States and Vietnam over conflicting perspectives on human rights appear to be increasing.In September the State Department cancelled the fall round of the bilateral human rights dialogue, a fixture in the relationship for nearly a decade, criticizing Hanoi for lack of progress.Shortly thereafter, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom renewed its call for the administration to designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern,” which label would impose sanctions.This new effort coincided with a report by the European parliament critical of Vietnam’s treatment of Hmong Christians, a group that is also the focus of the US Commission.Neither institution was likely to have been pleased by Hanoi’s decision a few weeks later to refuse recognition of a new cardinal appointed by the Vatican for Ho Chi Minh City.Although Hanoi does not categorically reject all of the Vatican’s appointments, it prefers to be consulted on them beforehand, which the Vatican frequently declines to do.The rushed nature of the announcement of a large group of new Cardinals worldwide, and the consequentnon-consultation with Hanoi, appears to be the result of in-church concerns over the prospective Papal succession. However the incident is likely to slow the momentum of relations between Vietnam and the Vatican, which had been cautiously warming.

In this worsening climate, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee continues to ponder its response to the Vietnam Human Rights Act, which passed in the House earlier this year.Most observers continue to believe that the Senate will counter with a non-binding resolution which criticizes Vietnam on human rights grounds but removes the threat of sanctions.

Heightened criticism in the US provokes a comparable negative attitude among Vietnamese leaders who believe a healthy long term relationship requires mutual respect for national sovereignty as manifested in different cultures and socio-political systems.


Washington and Hanoi Take Incremental Steps Toward Security Cooperation

Vietnamese Defense Minister Pham Van Tra is reported to have accepted US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s invitation to make an official visit to the United State.The trip is tentatively scheduled for November, marking the first visit to the US of a defense minister from unified Vietnam.This is accompanied by reports that a US naval vessel will cruise up the Saigon River for the first time since the end of the war.A third development has drawn less attention, but nevertheless advances the still-cautious military relationship between Vietnam and the United States.The US will provide funding for senior Vietnamese intelligence officers to examine classified Vietnamese government files for any information on US POW’s in the war.

American analysts are inclined to attribute movement in US-Vietnamese defense relations to an attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.In this regard, Washington is more likely to view the situation as more of a zero sum game than are the countries in the region.While the US may be tacitly urging Southeast Asian countries to choose between external powers, the Southeast Asian response is likely to lean more toward seeking a balance.They may be aided in this by the formation of an ASEAN Security Community, proposed at the ASEAN Summit in Bali in early October.The Security Community is envisioned as a forum rather than a defense alliance.However, the increase in defense solidarity, if only in image, could give ASEAN slightly more room to maneuver between Washington and Beijing.

Legacy Issues

Viet Kieu Trends Show Differing Directions

A resolution approving the use of the flag of the former South Vietnam in a small town in Washington brings the number of such local actions in the United States close to twenty.The momentum in this movement within the Vietnamese-American community shows no immediate signs of abating.However, an article in the October 12 edition of the Washington Post examines another trend among the Viet Kieu, of returning to Vietnam to live.The article describes a small but growing trend among older generation Vietnamese-Americans who have had successful careers in the United States and who are now taking advantage of new laws in Vietnam which permit former refugees to own real estate.Special subdivisions for this purpose are appearing in the suburbs of major Vietnamese cities; not surprisingly, Ho Chi Minh City is the favored location.This trend is buttressed by the Vietnamese government’s relaxation of some regulations for overseas Vietnamese beyond the change in property rights law.For example, Viet Kieu are charged local rather than foreigner prices for internal travel, and receive some preferential treatment for business investments.It speaks to the complexities within the Viet Kieu community that both of these trends – the flag issue and returning retirees – originate in the older generation.


July-August 2003

An editorial opinion....Of Flags, Fish, and Foolishness

After Catharin finished this issue of the update, we received an urgent call from the embassy of Vietnam.  They were very disturbed that Boston had adopted a resolution giving giving official status to the flag of a non-existing government of their country.  I have added information in this update about Boston as well as about San Francisco where only a mayoral veto blocked such a resolution.

At first it was hard to take the flag issue seriously.  It was difficult to imagine that such an irresponsible action would be taken by elected officials outside of cities with a very large Vietnamese-American community like Westminster, California.  We did not expect that two of the most liberal sophisticated cities in the US could adopt such a resolution.

Does passage of these resolutions symbolize residual hostility to Vietnam, colossal ignorance, or a frivolous approach to a distant diplomatic issue which appears to have little practical consequence?  In any case, it would be a mistake to minimize the cumulative damage of such resolutions to US-Vietnam relations.   Americans become very upset when our flag is treated with disrespect, here or abroad.  The official use of Confederate flag symbols still prompts great controversy almost a century and a half after our civil war.

The Vietnamese have a legitimate grievance, legally, historically and morally.  American NGOs, educational institutions and businesses that wish to be involved with Vietnam in a comprehensive and normal way must recognize that abnormal treatment of Vietnam in the US can have a deleterious impact on their own interests--and should find ways to impact public debate and local government in the US.

This problem obviously is worsened by discriminatory trade policy decisions (e.g. catfish) and adoption by Congress of disproportionate "human rights" legislation.   The treatment of Laos over the approval of NTR and the unremitting hostility of key Congressional leaders toward Cambodia's electoral process emphasize that those who are interested in "moving beyond the past and building a positive relationship for the future" (in the words of the Secretary of State) have much to do.

John McAuliff

Washington dealt Vietnam a double blow with a trade ruling and House action on human rights.With the House now adjourned for August recess, attention is focused on the Senate.However, as the US approaches a critical election year, a significant number of sanction efforts have been launched, with the result that half of the countries of Southeast Asia are now under some threat of conditionality from the US Congress.

Human Rights and Political Development

Vietnam Human Rights Amendment Passes House

Incorporated as an amendment to the State Department authorization bill, the Vietnam Human Rights Act was passed on the House floor on July 16 by a vote of 382-42.Despite the sizeable majority, the vote count fell short of the near-unanimous count in 2001, which had only one dissenting vote.The most important provision of the present legislation is the prohibition on US non-humanitarian assistance, which comprises two-thirds of US aid to Vietnam, if movement on human rights, narrowly defined, is not seen.Particular emphasis in this matter is given to religious freedom and individual political dissidents, and no mention is made in the bill of improvements in the personal rights of everyday citizens, or the increasing public participation in policymaking, both of which have been cited in recent State Department reports.

The House action renders obsolete a recent Senate plan to offer a resolution criticizing Vietnam’s human rights as a means of heading off a House victory.At this point, it is all but mandatory that the Senate offer a corresponding amendment to the Senate’s authorization bill for the State Department, although the substance and recommendations need not follow the House version exactly.The Senate amendment could be defeated, but some moderates who oppose the legislation are now pinning their hopes on the conference process in the fall, when the House and Senate must reconcile differences between the two amendments.At that time, they hope to remove or soften considerably provisions which would be the most damaging to US-Vietnam relations.Opponents of the legislation in the broader public are well advised to continue making their views heard with both sides of Congress, tailoring their communications to the status of the legislation.(For FRD’s sign-on letter to the Senate, see letter.htm

McConnell Ups the Ante, Literally

In a series of actions prior to the July 29 Cambodian national elections, Senate Appropriations Chairman Mitch McConnell has extended his campaign against the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and, more specifically, Prime Minister Hun Sen.On June 26 he introduced the Cambodia Democracy and Accountability Act, co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Jon Kyl (R-Arizona).The bill proposes to increase US assistance to Cambodia by $21.5 million over the $43 million requested for Fiscal Year 2004, if the Secretary of State certifies that the July elections were free and fair and that Prime Minister Hun Sen was no longer in power.It also provides US assistance to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, contingent upon an executive branch report to Congress that the tribunal was not subject to CPP influence; that participating judges have “high moral character”; that it is supported by democratic Cambodian political parties; and that it meets international standards of justice.Lastly, the bill would require the Federal Bureau of Investigation to again investigate a March 1997 grenade action in Phnom Penh.No determination on the legislation has been made in the Senate, awaiting an official outcome of the elections.The initiative was matched with an increase in rhetoric.Just prior to elections, McConnell published an op ed in the Boston Globe, in which he assigned responsibility for all of Cambodia’s problems to the CPP and once again called for its ouster.In a statement on the Senate floor, he issued a bumper sticker,labeling Cambodia “the Zimbabwe of Southeast Asia.”

In general, Congress is more inclined toward conditions and sanctions than monetary inducements to affect the internal behavior of another country.Although rare, McConnell’s proposal is not unprecedented in US policy.In 1948, for example, the United States poured funding into the Italian national election in an attempt to secure victory for the Christian Democrat Party.At the time, this was viewed in the context of the brewing Cold War.No such over-arching security context can be applied to Cambodia today, and critics of the McConnell legislation make two charges: that it emphasizes outcome to the exclusion of process, and that it approximates vote-buying, an electoral abuse that the West has been quick to condemn in developing countries.

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development coordinated 36 volunteer observers for the July 27 election in Cambodia.The team was lead by former Canadian Ambassador Gordon Longmuir.They concluded “ that the election process of July 27 and 28 was administered in a transparent and accurate way.”Their daily and summary reports can be found at

Trade and Economic Development

Catfish Tariffs Finalized for Vietnam

On July 24 the US International Trade Commission voted 4-0 to impose permanent tariffs on Vietnamese frozen fillets, ratifying a preliminary decision made by the US Commerce Department in the spring.Effective July 31, tariffs ranging from 37% to 64% were mandated.This is guaranteed to impose hardship on the 400,000 Vietnamese catfish farmers in the Mekong Delta, and Vietnamese trade authorities are moving rapidly to shift a greater percentage of fish exports to Europe and Asia, as well as considering plans to process fillets in the US, since whole fish imports are not affected by the ruling.

In the run-up to the decision, the New York Times took an unusually strong editorial position against the tariffs.On July 22 it warned that a decision upholding tariffs would make Vietnam become “yet another case study in the way the United States, Europe and Japan are rigging global trade rules so they remain the only winners.”Following the Commission’s announcement, in a July 26 editorial, the Times condemned the decision as “a final flourish of hypocrisy to its efforts to crush the Vietnamese catfish industry under a mountain of protectionism”It attributed the American catfish industry’s campaign against Vietnam to “myopic greed and blatant xenophobia,” and decried the refusal to label Vietnamese catfish by that name as an “Orwellian tactic.”

Beyond the damage of the ruling to the catfish industry in Vietnam, trade authorities fear that it will set a precedent for a similar anti-dumping action on shrimp.Vietnam is one of several shrimp producers (including Thailand, China and India) thought to be under consideration for a suit by the US Southern Shrimp Alliance.The magnitude of a negative ruling on shrimp would be much greater than that for catfish.Last year, Vietnam exported more than $450 million in shrimp to the US, almost half its total shrimp exports.

NTR for Laos: Backing and Filling

The move to grant Normal Trade Relations to Laos has slowed down in light of the fact that the United States and Laos have never signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement that must precede NTR, although it was initialed five years ago.The House Ways and Means Committee has indicated that any legislative action on NTR must come after the signing.Observers expect that to happen in the near future, although the legislative path after that is not well defined.The arrest, trial and subsequent expulsion from Laos of two foreign journalists and a Hmong-American pastor has complicated the process this summer on the Hill, although it did not succeed in bringing consideration of NTR to a halt.

Nam Theun II: France Bows Out

Efforts to wrap up international funding for the Nam Theun II dam in Laos suffered a major blow whenthe Electricite de France (EDF), a major investor, pulled out in mid-July.The French state-owned entity, which had a 35% stake in the venture, withdrew a day before it was to sign a power purchase agreement with Vientiane.Vientiane has turned to the region in its efforts to find a replacement for EDF, and is hoping that Thai companies will increase their share.The Thai government’s Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has given Laos a year to find another investor.


More Conditions for Cambodia

The Bush administration has proposed resumption of International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds for Cambodia, in light of its heightened security concerns in Southeast Asia after September 11.The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved the request, as part of a larger counter-terrorism package.However, in a move which parallels his introduction of the Cambodia Democracy and Accountability Act, Senator Mitch McConnell has attached conditions to IMET for Cambodia, which would require the Secretary of State to provide a list of those alleged to have ordered or carried out attacks which some consider to have been politically motivated.The current consensus is that these conditions could serve to deny IMET to Cambodia this year.

Will Vietnam Be a “Lily Pad”?

Vietnam has recently come in for mention in broad scenarios intended to reconfigure the US security presence in Asia presently being discussed in Washington defense circles.Still in the discussion phase on this side, the Pentagon has launched trial balloons which speculate on the possibility of redistributing a greater number of US troops from Northeast to Southeast Asia.Policymakers reason that this could take pressure off growing anti-Americanism in South Korea and Okinawa over US bases there.They also believe it could strengthen US cooperation with Southeast Asian nations on counter-terrorism, as well as hedge against a greater Chinese security presence in the region.In this configuration, some Southeast Asian facilities would serve as jumping off points, or “lily pads,” between US bases in Northeast Asia and an American base in Australia.Although the brunt of this scenario would fall upon traditional US allies in the region – particularly the Philippines – mention has been made of docking visiting US naval vessels in Cam Ranh Bay, presently undergoing conversion to a commercial port.

Even if this scenario comes to pass, it is not likely to result in a US military presence in Vietnam of any significant size.By mutual agreement, the pace of the US-Vietnam security relationship has been slow and cautious since normalization.In July, however, US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld invited his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Van Tra, to visit the United States.Tra has not as yet replied.

Legacy Issues

More Flag-Waving in the Localities

In July Louisiana became the first state to enact a law requiring that the flag of the former Republic of South Vietnam be displayed in state-sponsored schools and functions concerning Vietnam.The bill passed the legislature – 91-7 in the House and 32-3 in the Senate -- on July 15and was signed into law by Governor Michael Foster.It recognizes the former South Vietnamese flag as the official flag of Vietnam in Louisiana.The bill’s dissenters feared that the law could sour trade relations between Vietnam and Louisiana.That point was countered with a somewhat myopic argument, that the bill does not require the state’s ports to fly a particular flag, and that each port could essentially choose.Earlier this year a similar bill had been proposed in the Virginia legislature, but died after the State Department questioned its constitutionality and made public its concerns that it would damage US-Vietnamese relations.

Some parallel efforts have been seen at the local level in areas of the United States with significant percentages of Vietnamese-American citizens.The City Council in San Francisco adopted such a resolution but it was vetoed by Mayor Willie Brown.On July 29 the Council decided not to override his veto.The next day the Boston City Council passed its own flag resolution.


May-June 2003

Progress toward granting Normal Trade Relations with Laos moves incrementally ahead, while the US and Vietnam sign a key textile agreement.New studies indicate that both US trade and aid tilt away from the poorer nations of Southeast Asia.The UN approves the agreement on a tribunal for Khmer Rouge, but two US Senate leaders express concern over the July elections in Cambodia.The World Health Organization praises Vietnam for its containment of SARS, while new US research doubles the conventional estimate of the dioxin concentrate in Agent Orange sprayed during the Vietnam War.

Human Rights and Political Development
UN Approves KR Tribunal

In early May the United Nations General Assembly approved the agreement negotiated with the government of Cambodia to set up special tribunals for former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide.The tribunal would pioneer a new model of accountability, teaming international and national prosecutors and judges, with a “super-majority” formula that would give a slight edge to national jurists.Some international human rights organizations, notably Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, oppose the agreement, arguing that it would not meet international standards of transitional justice.However, many previous tribunals have been organized in countries under international custodianship, or in countries in the immediate aftermath of a major conflict.The Cambodian tribunal reflects a different circumstance, of international cooperation with a sovereign state.Before it can be finalized, the tribunal must be ratified by the Cambodian National Assembly.The government estimates that a vote will take place in the fall, when a new Assembly will have convened after the July elections.

Lugar/Biden Letter to Powell Cites Concern over Cambodian Elections

On May 20 Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden, Foreign Relations Committee chairman and ranking member respectively, sent a letter to Secretary of StateColin Powell expressing concern about the general situation in Cambodia as the country prepares for July parliamentary elections.They cited media access for political parties, and allegations of voter intimidation as specific areas of focus.The letter requests that the Secretary outline steps being taken to guarantee a free and fair election.

The Lugar/Biden letter echoes criticisms expressed in pre-election assessments of the two main US political party institutes, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).(NDI’s February pre-election assessment is available at, and IRI’s January and Aprilassessments can be accessed at Cambodian National Election Commission has issued a response to the April IRI report, stating that the NEC has already implemented many of IRI’s recommendations on media access and arguing that the assessment did not report other positive steps the NEC was taking to promote a peaceful election environment.(The NEC document is available on FRD’s website,, some Cambodian police officials believe that many incidents of violence at the local level – including banditry and the violent settlement of disputes – are mistakenly assumed to be voter intimidation by international observers.

Further nuance is offered in an NDI report on 12 focus groups conducted in Cambodia in January 2003.These groups indicated that public confidence in the electoral process was high.Participants expressed the view that voter intimidation was widespread in rural areas, but observed that threats were declining.They reported that freedoms had increased in Cambodia over the past 10 years; in general, however, they placed greater emphasis on economic development and continued peace than on an ideological commitment to democracy.Indeed, the report writers remarked that “Even in an era when ideology is increasingly less pertinent, the non-ideological nature of Cambodian politics, at least as perceived by the focus group participants, is striking.” With increasing polarization on this issue in the international community, the Cambodian government has asked ASEAN to provide election observers in July, to increase the number of international monitors.

Vietnam Human Rights Act: A Different Route the Second Time Around?

House sponsors of the draft Vietnam Human Rights Act are seeking an appropriate legislative path for the bill.To date, House managers do not expect to hold hearings on the bill, given the large margin by which a predecessor bill passed in that chamber.However, initial readings indicate that the Act will not garner the near-landslide majority it enjoyed the first time around.Ranking member of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa), is reported to oppose the bill.In late April, Congressman Robert R. Simmons (R-CT) publicly reversed his position on the bill, which he had supported, after visiting Vietnam.

But if the Act faces a tougher battle in the House, it is not likely to be as easily quashed in the Senate as it was the first time around. The tentative plan in some Senate quarters is to deflect the bill by offering a resolution critical of human rights in Vietnam, which will express concern but carry no legislative conditions or sanctions.

Preliminary vote counts in both chambers are likely to reflect a number of external factors.One is the latest report on Vietnam from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, released this month (available on the Commission’s website at report urges passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Actand reiterates the Commission’s annual request for the US government to declare Vietnam a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations,a view not shared by faith based US NGOs active in Vietnam. .However, the outcome may also be influenced by a broader view of human rights in Vietnam, which stress improvements in personal freedoms over the past decade.One of the proponents of this view in Washington this month was a visiting delegation of members and staff of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Vietnamese National Assembly, led by the Committee’s articulate Vice-Chairwoman, Mme. Ton Nu Thi Ninh.As an example of public opposition to the Act, FRD has circulated a letter to Congress from NGO’s working in Vietnam, which can be accessed on FRD’s website.

Trade and Economic Development
 US Now Vietnam’s Largest Trading Partner

The Ministry of Trade of Vietnam has announced that the United States has become Vietnam’s biggest market, the result of a dramatic leap – 238 percent – in Vietnamese exports to the US in the first quarter of 2003.Exports in both the seafood and the garment sectors rose, with the latter increasing ten-fold since last year.

US and Vietnam Sign Textile Agreement

Such dramatic growth in exports to the US is not likely to be repeated in the remaining quarters of 2003, because of new quotas on textiles which came into effect on May 1, the result of a textile and apparel trade agreement signed by the US and Vietnam in late April.The agreement establishes quotas for 38 categories of garments and textiles, with increases built in for 2004.Although the agreement allows for a modest increase in the present levels of trade in this sector, opponents argue that it will in reality curb a greater expansion that would have occurred without the quotas.Combined with ongoing suits against Vietnam for catfish and shrimp, the textile quotas are predicted to bring disillusionment among Vietnamese who had anticipated that the 2001 Bilateral Trade Agreement would bring unfettered access to US markets.US importers have also expressed disapproval of the apparel agreement, since it will hamper expansion of their trade with Vietnam.The textile quotas are likely to be a regular feature of US-Vietnam trade, until Vietnam joins the World Trade Organization.Quotas on textiles and garments are scheduled to be abolished for WTO members in 2005.

 Laos NTR Still in Trade Subcommittee

The period for public comment on extending Normal Trade Relations to Laos, set by the Trade Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, concluded in late April.Although a formal tally has not been released, an informal count has reportedly revealed that letters of support for NTR outnumbered those opposing by a ratio of three-to-one.

The Subcommittee is still debating the next steps, one of which is selecting a legislative vehicle by which NTR might be granted.The comment period has stimulated activity on both sides of the issue.A small group of lawmakers has circulated a letter recommending against NTR.In late April Laotian Minister of Commerce and Tourism Soulivong Daravong, accompanied by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Vang Rattanavong and US Ambassador to Laos Douglas Hartwick, visited the United States for discussions on NTR with the executive branch, Congress and Laotian-American communities.Arguments in support of NTR were cited in an April 24 op ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer written by Edward Gresser, director of the Project and Trade and Global Markets at the Progressive Policy Institute, andFRD’s Washington consultant, Catharin Dalpino.“Remove a Vestige of the Vietnam War” can be found at

Penalizing the Poor in Southeast Asia?

The 2002-2003 Georgetown Southeast Asia Survey, released in late May, offers evidence that the poorer countries of Southeast Asia-- including Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia – are subject to some of the highest tariffs in US trade.For example, although the Bush administration’s 2002 decision to impose tariffs on imported steel from Europe and Northeast Asia was highly controversial, in that year the US collected more tariff revenues from Cambodian sweaters than from Japanese steel.The reasons for this ironic imbalance are two-fold. First, the kinds of goods that poor Southeast Asian countries typically export to the US – garments, shoes and other light manufactures—garner the highest tariffs. Second, in contrast to other regions in the developing world (Central America, the Andes, Africa), Southeast Asia enjoys no special trade programs as yet.The administration’s Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative could remedy that, but that is expected to take several years to come into effect.Copies of the Survey will be available through the Georgetown University Bookstore.

 Brookings Study Looks at Likely Recipients of Millennium Challenge Funds

In a similar dynamic, the poorer countries of Southeast Asia could well be excluded from the Bush administration’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which is designed to provide multi-year assistance to combat poverty in developing countries over a three-year period.In a study of the MCA entitled The Other War, the Brookings Institution speculates on which countries are likely to fulfill the administration’s requirements, which range across a graded basket of sixteen criteria, for “ruling justly, investing in people, and economic freedom.”Based on the Brookings model, no Southeast Asian country would be eligible for MCA funds in the first year, although Vietnam and the Philippines could become eligible in the second year.Cambodia would not qualify for funds, missing by one criterion in the second year, and Thailand would in theory become eligible in the third year but would also be disqualified by a single criterion.Laos, Indonesia and Burma would not be eligible in any year.Although qualification is supposed to depend upon a complicated mathematical formula, political considerations – from Congress or the administration – are likely to intervene in some cases.For a more detailed examination of the criteria for MCA funds, see the “Who Should Qualify?” chapter of The Other War, available

International and Regional Relations
US State Department Reports on Anti-Thai Violence in Cambodia

In response to a requirement in the 2003 Appropriations Act, on May 14 the State Department submitted a report to Congress on the anti-Thai violence in Cambodia in early 2003. The report is critical of the Cambodian government for its response to the riots, but it notes that the government has “admitted to the satisfaction of the Royal Thai Government that the events of January 29 had spun out of control because Cambodian authorities had ‘misjudged’ the situation and had not provided proper security.”As a result,the two governments agreed on April 11 to renew full diplomatic relations.The report is available not mentioned in it, immediately after the riots administration officials had expressed reservations about the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting to the held in Phnom Penh in June, because of security concerns.However, those concerns have evidently dissipated, to the extent that Secretary Powell is expected to attend the ARF meeting

WHO Lauds Vietnam’s Handling of SARS

On April 28 the World Health Organization declared Vietnam to be the first nation tocontain and eliminate the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which continues to affect a number of Asian countries.WHO official Aileen Plant cited quick response from the Vietnamese government to the crisis as one of the key factors: “…the speed, the leadership, the transparency, the flexibility, and the intensity with which they educated people what to do.”In addition to its concerted outreach campaign, the government quickly organized itself to fight the epidemic, forming a steering committee led by the health ministry, and including the Ministriesof transportation, customs, finance, education, and interior.

Legacy Issues
New Research Suggests Agent Orange More Potent Than Previously Thought

The April 17 issue of the journal Nature offers a potentially ground-breaking reassessment of military documents and other data on herbicides sprayed by the United States during the Vietnam War, which could encourage the first large-scale epidemiological study of the health of both American veterans of the war as well as the Vietnamese population.Authored by Columbia University researcher Jeanne Mager Stellman, and several co-authors, “The Extent and Patterns of Usage of Agent Orange and Other Herbicides in Vietnam” suggests that the chemical dioxin contained in defoliants that were sprayed may have been double the estimate previously accepted.In addition, the reports indicates that a significantly higher number of Vietnamese civilians were directly exposed to the spraying than had earlier been found.The article can be viewed online at


APRIL, 2003

Human rights issues dominated the bilateral agendas of US relations with Vietnam and Laos in March, with new reports and legislation.The trade front was slightly more encouraging, with some movement on Normal Trade Relations for Laos and a reduction of tariffs on catfish from Vietnam.

Human Rights and Political Development
Vietnam Human Rights Act Reintroduced

On April 3 Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) re-introduced the Vietnam Human Rights Act into the House of Representatives.The bill’s predecessor passed last year in the House by a large margin (410-1) but was effectively defeated in the Senate when Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) placed a hold on it.The draft Act is expected to pass the House again, but its fate in the Senate is less promising.The bill may receive a more sympathetic hearing in that chamber than it did last year, since Senator Kerry has been replaced as the Asia Pacific Subcommittee chair by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), who is considered to be part of the Congressional human rights caucus.However, most analysts do not believe that Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, will support the legislation.

Among the policy measures in the 2003 version of the Vietnam Human Rights Act are (a) prohibition of Fiscal Year 2004 US nonhumanitarian assistance to Vietnam unless certain human rights conditions are met; (b) instruction that US Executive Directors of the World Bank and International Monetary Fundoppose loans to Vietnam unless the President certifies that religious freedom has improved; (c) authorization of $2 million each for FY 2004 and FY 2005 to fund programs for human rights promotion through NGO’s and individuals; (d) authorization of increased Radio Free Asia broadcasts to Vietnam, in response to perceptions that existing RFA programs are being jammed; and (e) authorization of funds for refugee resettlement.

American non-governmental organizations working in Vietnam and other interested groups fear that bilateral relations could be damaged by the Act, even if it is ultimately defeated.Watch the Fund’s website ( for information on collective efforts to oppose the bill.

US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue Faltering?

Friction over human rights in US-Vietnamese relations has also been noted recently in the executive branch.In its April 3 edition, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported that the Bush administration informed Congress in January it had placed Hanoi on notice that the annual human rights dialogue was at risk of cancellation unless “concrete improvements” were seen in eight areas of human rights.In his March 26 testimony before the House East Asia Subcommittee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley reinforced this idea when he indicated that the administration was disappointed with the results of the dialogue,(Daley’s full testimony on US policy in Southeast Asia can be viewed at US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue originated in negotiations between the two nations over normalization of relations in the 1990’s.In contrast to the US-China human rights dialogue, which has tended to be sporadic, the dialogue with Vietnam has continued at regular intervals for nearly a decade.

US Commission on International Religious Freedom Issues First Report on Laos

On March the US Commission for International Religious Freedom released its first report on Laos.The report was largely critical and again called for Laos to be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for religious freedom.The Commission has recommended CPC designation for Laos since 2000, although it did not send a delegation to the country until 2002.The report makes two additional policy recommendations.First, the US and Laos are urged to establish a bilateral human rights dialogue.In addition, the State Department is urged to make an assessment of Laos’ human rights “needs,” which would form the basis for an assistance program on human rights.Recommendations of the Commission are not binding in law.The report is available on the Commission’s website,

The Commission’s underlying Western frame of reference was clear in a statement from its March 19 press release on the report: “Laos is at an important crossroads, between those who advocate that the country follow the model of China or Vietnam, and those who seek to modernize the country by learning from the United States and other Western democracies that respect human rights.”

In contrast, the State Department tends to take a more comparative approach to the issue of religious freedom in Laos.In a March 31 statement, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Lorne Cranerremarked that Laos had made “incremental progress on religious freedom.”The Department has thusfar declined to name Laos as a “country of particular concern.”

State Department Human Rights Reports Released

On March 31 the State Department issued its reports on human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries for the year 2002.These reports measure an individual country’s human rights protection against standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international convenants which are based on the Declaration.The annual reports typically build on a boilerplate which carries over from one year to the next; as a result, they are best read side-by-side with the previous year’s reports.They are available at

Of the three Indochina country reports, the Vietnam report has been the most balanced in recent years, with stress on improvements as well as problems.

The report echoed last year’s mention of continued efforts to reform the bureaucracy, and improvements in freedoms of expression and assembly.As in last year’s report, concerns about conditions in the Central Highlands were also emphasized.

The 2002 Laos report predictably gave considerable attention to issues of religious freedom, particularly relating to Christians.However, it also noted that “the Government actively supported a policy of encouraging greater rights for women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities.”In contrast to last year, the 2002 report on Cambodia was more critical.However, it did report that the Cambodian government generally respected freedoms of expression, press and publication, although this finding was not featured in the introductory summary.

Vietnam Launches Program to Strengthen Representative Government

The government of Vietnam, supported by funds from the United Nations Development Program, as well as from Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, has announced a five-year program to strengthen the capacities of Vietnam’s elected bodies at all levels.The program will focus on strengthening the legislative, representative and oversight functions of the National Assembly and the People’s Councils, including support for the budgetary process and oversight role of the Committee for Economic and Budgetary Affairs in the Assembly.One aspect of the program will provide training for the Assembly’s 350 newly-elected deputies.

This effort follows recent amendments to the 1992 Constitution that seek to improve representative and legislative bodies.Although the Constitution gave these bodies greater powers, their lawmaking and oversight capacities now require enhancement as well.

Recent decades have shown that strengthening the oversight and capacity of legislative bodies is a proven road to the development of more open systems in the Asia region.This phenomenon was seen in Thailand in the 1980’s, and has been seen in Indonesia and China since the 1990’s.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Negotiations Conclude

Negotiations between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia have concluded with the production of a draft agreement for the joint prosecution of former Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity during their 1975-79 rule.This development caps more than five years of discussions between the UN and Cambodia, which broke down last year and were resumed at the urging of UN Resolution 57/228 last December.The product of the most recent negotiations --which all sides acknowledge will likely be the last attempt -- is a mixed tribunal of Cambodian and international jurists, with a super-majority formula requiring the vote of at least one international judge for a decision to stand.The Cambodian cabinet approved the draft agreement on March 28.In order to be implemented, the agreement must also be approved by the U.N. General Assembly and ratified by the Cambodian National Assembly.

  Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Calls for Public Comment on Laos BTA

On March 5, Congressman Philip N. Crane (R-Illinois), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Trade of the House Ways and Means Committee announced that the Subcommittee is requesting written public comment for the record from any party interested in the extension of Normal Trade Relations (NTR) to Laos.

Laos is one of only three countries which does not have NTR in its trade relations with the United States.In 1997 the US and Laos concluded a Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA), but it has not yet been enacted.

NTR will be granted and the BTA enacted simultaneously if Congress approves legislation amending the Harmonized Trade Schedule to strike Laos from the list of countries subject to non-NTR tariffs.The request for comment follows on the February 24, 2003 letter sent by Secretary of State Colin Powell and US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, expressing the administration’s support for both NTR for Laos and the BTA.

Comments must be submitted electronically to no later than April 21 to:

A faxed copy of the document should also be sent, to 202-225-2610.Comments should be in Word Perfect or MS Word format, and should not exceed ten pages.They should be accompanied by a sheet listing the name, company, address, telephone number and fax number of the submitter.

Trade Subcommittee staff have indicated that the Subcommittee will decide on a future course of action after evaluating the public comments.

Commerce Reduces Catfish Tariffs In Advance of June Ruling

In early March the US Department of Commerce announced it would reduce tariffs on catfish imports from Vietnam on several companies.Although not an across-the-board cut, tariffs were lowered by nearly half for two major catfish exporters, and were significantly decreased for six smaller importers.Three major exporters are still subject to tariffs imposed last January under a preliminary Commerce Department ruling, ranging from 38% to 64%.The Department expects to make a final ruling on the issue this summer.

The catfish issue is the first significant trade dispute to arise between the United States and Vietnam since enactment of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement.It originated in a suit brought by Mississippi Delta fish farmers.

The catfish industry in Vietnam employs approximately 300,000 to 400,000 people in the southern Mekong Delta region.Nguyen Huu Dung, general secretary of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, characterized the March announcement as a positive step toward the resolution of the dispute.

Executive Director of Vietnam Education Foundation Chosen

Kien Pham has been selected as the founding Executive Director of the Vietnam Education Foundation, the bilateral agency which will reprogram repayment of debt funds into educational assistance and other activities to promote development in Vietnam and strengthen US-Vietnamese relations.Pham has extensive experience in both the US government and the private sector.He is a former White House Fellow and also served in the office of the US Trade Representative and the Department of Defense.In 1993, Pham established the Vietnam Forum Foundation, which provided funds for the construction of schools and college scholarships for Vietnamese students.

Legacy Issues
Declassified Report on Nuclear Option in Vietnam War Released

The Nautilus Institute has released a 1966 report by four American scientists which examined the option, considered by American policymakers at the time, to employ tactical nuclear weapons against Vietnam, specifically to attempt to shut down the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” which was believed to be the primary artery by which North Vietnam moved troops and equipments to its allies in the South.

The report recommended against the use of nuclear weapons, citing the possibility of counter-attacks by Vietnamese forces armed with nuclear weapons provided by the Soviet Union or China, as well as the likelihood of global threats to US interests as a result of the nuclear strikes.It also opined that the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam would be opposed by the American public.

The report, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, can be obtained at



Bilateral Relations

Administration Reaches Watershed on NTR for Laos

On February 24 US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Secretary of State Colin Powell sent an official request to Congress for support of Normal Trade Relations (NTR) for Laos, and for bringing into force the Bilateral Trade Agreement negotiated in 1997.In order for the administration to bring the Agreement into force, Congress must grant

NTR to Laos.The request was made in a letter to Representative William Thomas, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Representative Charles Rangel, ranking member of Ways and Means; Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; and Senator Max Baucus, ranking member of Finance.

The letter points out that Laos is the only Indochinese country with which the US has maintained unbroken ties in the aftermath of the Vietnam war but that it is the only remaining one of the three which lacks NTR status.USTR Zoellick and Secretary Powell praise Laos for its cooperation in accounting for POW/MIA's, counter-narcotics and

counter-terrorism in the wake of September 11, 2001. They also point out that granting NTR for Laos is integral to the President's Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, which seeks to build a network of bilateral free trade agreements with Southeast Asian nations.

It is not clear at this time exactly how Congress will act on the administration's request.Variables in a possible action plan include whether or not granting NTR will be done through stand-alone legislation or will be attached to another bill, and whether hearings will be held or views will be considered through a more informal period of public


As momentum has built in the administration to bring the request for NTR to Congress, opponents of NTR for Laos have become more vocal. On the same day the Zoellick/Powell letter went to Congress, NTR opponents sent a letter to Undersecretary of State Paul Dobrianksy and Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Lorne Craner, requesting that human rights and democracy conditions be placed on Laos before NTR is granted.The letter was circulated as a public statement, but its actual impact on the administration is likely to be minimal, since the State Department position is represented by its highest ranking official, Secretary Powell.

In statements by NTR opponents, three main arguments are offered.The first is that granting NTR to Laos will not democratize it or elevate human rights to the level of a Western democracy.This argument has an element of a straw man debate, since the administration has not claimed that granting NTR to Laos would accomplish either of these things.In addition, there is no clear evidence that changes in trade relations

have had a direct positive or negative effect on democratization and the permanent protection of human rights in any country.

The Zoellick/Powell letter does acknowledge some concerns about human rights in Laos, and maintains that granting NTR will help foster a more cooperative bilateral relationship which will give the US more opportunity to encourage improvements in rights.In public presentations in the US last month, US Ambassador to Laos Douglas Hartwick predicted that the increased trade that will come with NTR will encourage gradual

improvement in rule of law and human rights in areas related to trade, such as commercial and environmental law.These gains have been observed in China since it expanded trade with the West.

A second argument cited against NTR is that it would cause reductions in revenue that the US economy could ill afford.In 2002, the total two-way trade between Laos and the United States was $8 million, an amount Ambassador Hartwick likened to "less than the value of a handful of one-minute television Super Bowl commercials."Although two-way trade between the US and Laos could very well double in the early years after NTR is granted, that growth is likely to have no appreciable impact on US trade levels, much less on the US economy as a whole.This is evident from the very scale of the US share of international trade. In the month of December 2002 alone, for example, US exports exceeded $82 billion and imports were valued at more than $125 billion.

Lastly, NTR opponents charge that granting NTR would reduce all of US policy toward Laos to trade.To the contrary, Ambassador Hartwick's January presentations list a growing set of policy areas beyond trade: economic assistance for small business enterprise; anti-narcotics cooperation; programs to stem trafficking in persons; human rights; religious freedom; POW/MIA recovery; improved treatment of minorities;

and counter-terrorism.

Washington Warns Cambodia on Anti-Thai Riots

In the wake of anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh, the State Department issued a statement urging all parties to seek a new basis for stability, and it cautioned the government not to use the recent episode of violence as a means to suppress political opposition.State will soon dispatch Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Daley, the Department’s highest-ranking official dealing only with Southeast Asia, to Cambodia to assess the situation.Of particular concern is whether stability can be regained to ensure that the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), scheduled for June, will go forward.As this year’s ASEAN chair, Phnom Penh will host the meeting.In recent years, ARF has been the meeting ground for US officials and their North Korean counterparts and this year’s forum has obvious significance, in view of the current crisis on the Korean peninsula.

In the meantime, Cambodia has invited Thailand to join an ASEAN group set up to mediate US-North Korean relations.With Phnom Penh as the chair, the ad hoc consortium would be comprised of two ASEAN and two non-ASEAN members.The group has China’s support.If successful, this venture could help heal the rift between Cambodia and Thailand over the violence in Phnom Penh, and strengthen Cambodia’s role as a regional partner.

The conventional wisdom in some quarters in Washington has been to blame Prime Minister Hun Sen for the anti-Thai rioting (and for virtually every other flaw in Cambodian society).However, Hun Sen had benefited most from the growing international credibility of his government manifested by stability, economic growth and the very successful ASEAN summit in November.In the run-up to national elections next July, Hun Sen’s opposition seems more likely to gain from renewed conflict and world image problems.

While some were suspicious of opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s hand in the riots, given his history with anti Hun Sen student activists and violent street demonstrations, the abrupt removal of Phnom Penh’s mayor suggests other interpretations.The Mayor, Chea Sophara, is a member of the Cambodian Peoples Party but was being promoted in the Rainsy-linked e-mail news service Khmer Intelligence as the focus of a potential effort inside the CPP to oust Hun Sen before the election. Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP: "The government changed the position of a few officials after Thai intelligence accused some high-ranking Cambodian government officials of being behind the riots against the Thai embassy and Thai businesses."

The initial cause of popular anger was a false newspaper report that a popular Thai actress had claimed Angkor Wat was really Thai.According to the Phnom Penh Postthe immediate stimulus of violence at the Thai embassy was apparently the broadcast by a local radio station that the Cambodian embassy in Thailand had been burned and the Cambodian Ambassador killed.Although the radio station is known for its anti-Hun Sen position, possible motivations for instigating the violence, as well as its triggers are difficult to identify with certainty.

Human Rights and Political Development
Cambodian Elections Produce Congressional Warning on Partisanship

The conference committee report for the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill chastises an American non-governmental organization, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), for indirectly supporting a partisan approach to democracy promotion.The NED provides core funding from its Congressional appropriation to the International Republican Institute (IRI), which has recently drawn attention for its partisan support of Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy, including attempts to persuade FUNCINPEC officials to defect to Rainsy’s party.IRI’s position is endorsed by Senate Appropriations chairman Mitch McConnell, who has publicly called for “regime change” in Cambodia and criticized the State Department for what he considers a soft line on Prime Minister Hun Sen. The report cautions against “any perception that funds are used to directly support a particular party or candidate, or to support the removal of elected leaders through unconstitutional means…” The bill and report are available at

 Assistance and Cooperation
Experienced Vietnamese Diplomat Chairs International NGO Committee

H.E. Le Van Bang, Vice Minister in the Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is now also serving as chairman of the government’s Committee on Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations. Bang earned wide respect for his diplomatic work over the past decade.He served as Ambassador to the United Nations,1993-1995; as chief of Vietnam’s liaison office in the United States,1995-1997; and as the first ambassador to the U.S. after normalization, 1997-2001.International NGO officials working in Vietnam note that Bang’s appointment as committee chair is a positive signal that the government is taking NGO’s more seriously, and have remarked on his enthusiasm for the position.In round figures, international NGO assistance to Vietnam last year totalled $85 million.

 Vietnam and Laos Make the Drug Producer “Majors” But Aren’t Certified

In early February the White House released its annual list of countries considered the most problematic for drug production and trafficking.Included among this year’s “majors” were Vietnam and Laos, along with Thailand, Burma and India.However, Presidential Determination 2003-14 noted that a country’s presence on the list is not necessarily an adverse reflection of its government’s counter-narcotics efforts or level of cooperation with the United States.Instead, countries are placed on the list due to a combination of broad geographic, commercial and economic factors which encourage drug flows, however assiduous the government’s attempts to counter them.

In the 2003 drug policy process, neither Vietnam nor Laos were “certified” as having failed demonstrably in the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements.Rather, the State Department’s most recent Narcotics Control Report (for 2001) identified improvements in both countries.For Vietnam, the report cited enhanced law enforcement, ratification of a comprehensive counter-narcotics law, and implementation of public awareness campaigns.For Laos, the report praised tough new measures for the elimination of opium production with the aim of eradicating cultivation by 2006.The report identified methamphetamine use by youth in both countries as a growing problem, a trend which is reaching crisis proportions in neighboring Thailand.


Commerce Makes Preliminary Vietnamese Catfish Ruling

On January 28 the Department of Commerce announced a preliminary determination that imports of frozen catfish from Vietnam were dumped on the US market.The Department maintained that ten Vietnamese companies were dumping catfish at below market prices at margins ranging from 37 to 61 percent.Although high, these margins were much lower than those claimed by the Catfish Farmers of America, which held that they were as high as 190 percent.The group has lobbied hard for tariffs, alleging that imports have cut the price of catfish in half in the United States over the past two years.

A final determination is expected from Commerce in June.In the interval, Vietnam is required to place funds into escrow against the tariffs retroactively imposed.If the final ruling is negative (i.e. does not find dumping), these monies will be returned.The imposition of permanent tariffs requires a final determination from the Commerce Department that dumping has occurred, and a ruling from the US International Trade Commission that Vietnamese catfish imports have injured or threatened the corresponding US industry.

Paired with the January determination was a ruling by the Commerce Department last November, that Vietnam’s economy is not yet a market economy.The Department contends that the Vietnamese government intervenes in the country’s price system, artificially forcing prices down.

Vietnam strongly criticized the determination as an exercise in protectionism and insisted it is contrary to the Vietnam-US Bilateral Trade Agreement.Some Washington-based economists disagree with the Commerce view of the Vietnamese economy.They point out that prices have been progressively liberalized in Vietnam since the inception of doi moi in the mid-1980’s; moreover, the number of private companies have increased by nearly 200 percent in the past decade.Viet Vu, a United Nations economist, warned that the preliminary catfish ruling was tantamount to “attacking the private sector that the United States wants to develop in Vietnam.”

Some Congressional figures have criticized the Commerce ruling as well.In a letter to Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-California) and John McCain (R-Arizona) voiced opposition to the determination.The success of Vietnam’s catfish exports, they maintained, is due not to illegal trade practices but to the quality of the fish and the relatively low cost of production.

US-Vietnam Textile Talks Begin, While Multi-nationals Weigh In

Talks between Vietnam and the United States have begun on textiles to determine whether Vietnam will be subject to quotas on exports to the United States.American producers are urging the imposition of quotas.However, a group of multi-nationals have petitioned the administration to refrain from using them.In a letter to USTR Robert Zoellick a prominent group of major corporations – including Nike, Regent, K-Mart and Sears Roebuck – have accused the administration of rushing to impose quotas.They outline Vietnam’s importance as a source, “in light of the continuing uncertain economy, shifting security conditions and the upcoming termination of the international quota system.”Moreover, they see Vietnamese textile and garment imports into the US as providing an important counter-balance to Chinese dominance in this sector.In 2002

Vietnamese textile and garment exports increased 31.6% over the previous year and totalled $2.7 billion.The American share of this was $900 million, up 16 times over the 2001 levels.Under the threat of possible quotas, Vietnamese businesses have attempted to maximize orders from foreign sources, particularly the US, in the first six months of this year.The talks will be spread out over three rounds, in two to three-month intervals.

  Legacy Issues

South Vietnam Flag Bill Dies in Virginia, Reborn in California

This winter a revealing clash played out among elements of the Vietnamese-American community, businessmen, and the US and Vietnamese governments over a proposed Virginia state bill to require the pre-1975 flag of South Vietnam, rather than the present Vietnamese flag, be flown at state functions, including school events.Sponsored by state delegate Robert D. Hull (D-Fairfax), the bill passed in the Virginia House on January 31, the 35th anniversary of the Tet offensive in the Vietnam war.Hull maintained that his legislation represented the wishes of the 29,000 Vietnamese-Americans in his district, whom he said “come from communities that were in South Vietnam.”Hull’s careful demographic description was an attempt to blur any distinction between first-generation Vietnamese-Americans and those who were born in the United States.

Reaction to the bill came quickly from several quarters.Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs protested the legislation, causing Secretary of State Colin Powell to assure Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien in a letter that the State Department opposed the move on the grounds that any attempt to alter recognition of the current flag was unconstitutional.The Department also conveyed this position to William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Virginia House Speaker, and to Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch (R-Henrico).In the meantime, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce released a statement of strong opposition to the bill, expressing fear that it would deny Virginia businesses entrée to Vietnamese markets, and that Vietnamese trade could be diverted from Virginia ports to neighboring Baltimore or Charleston.US veterans groups and representatives of international non-governmental organizations with programs in Vietnam also released statements in opposition to the legislation.The NGO group warned that recognition of the South Vietnamese flag “…would focus on the past, instead of the future, where this nation of 80 million citizens – nearly half of them born after the war ended – is moving confidently ahead.”

In the Virginia Senate, the bill was rapidly sentenced to death by committee assignment.The Senate Rules Committee sent House Bill 2829 to a subcommittee with a single member, Thomas K. Norment (R-James City), who has announced that the subcommittee will not meet before the General Assembly adjourns.Hull proposed an amendment to make flying the flag of South Vietnam optional rather than mandatory, but that too was quickly turned away in the Senate.

This incident can be viewed in a continuum of efforts by some lobbies in the Vietnamese-American community which oppose the present government in Vietnam and seek to reverse the outcome of the Vietnam war.In June 2002 Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D) declared June 19 Vietnamese American Freedom Fighter Day, and cast the South Vietnamese flag as an “eternal symbol of hope and love of freedom.”A more far-reaching, if far-fetched, attempt has played out in Congress over the Vietnam Human Rights Act.The proposed bill would have required any humanitarian, educational or business organizing working in Vietnam to submit an annual report on human rights progress in the country or lose federal support.Vietnam’s normal trade status with the US would have been predicated on human rights progress as reflected in these reports.The bill has thus far been blocked in the Senate by John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and John McCain (R-Arizona).

Such disputes uncover ruptures in the American political fabric and in some segments of American society.Overall, the national political level – in both Congress and the administration – supports an ongoing and forward-looking relationship with the present government of Vietnam and broader Vietnamese society.To be sure, this consensus was hard-fought in the 1980’s and 1990’s.Not surprisingly, given the grassroots nature of American politics, the local political level is less united on policy toward Vietnam, particularly where there are communities of Vietnamese-Americans.However, both the Vietnam Human Rights Act and the Virginia flag issue demonstrate that this turbulence at the local level can create national issues and ultimately affect relations between the United States and Vietnam.In addition, these episodes reveal growing political daylight within the Vietnamese-American community itself.Some analysts believe that they are attempts by older generations to assert leadership over those born in the US.Younger generation spokespersons emphasize that their parents’ experiences are reflected in their political positions, but that, in the words of one activist quoted in the Washington Post, “they should also teach us how to move on…”

However, this issue has resonance in more than one locality in the Vietnamese- American community.No sooner had the Virginia bill been effectively quashed when a similar resolution was passed in the city of Westminster in Orange County, California.Resolution 3750 calls for the South Vietnam flag to be displayed at Westminster public institutions, schools attended by Vietnamese-American students, and public functions

of the Vietnamese-American community.It also recommends introducing a

similar resolution for consideration by the California state assembly. The Vietnam-USA Society in Hanoi has issued a strong statement saying the resolution “does harm to efforts being made by the two peoples for friendship and cooperation between our countries” and requesting American friends work for its repeal.

Landmark Landmine Project Launched in Vietnam

On January 27, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation signed an unprecedented Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense for a national landmine survey.Funded by the US Department of State, the survey will provide Vietnam and international donors with quantifiable, standardized data on landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO’s) in the country.The project will begin with a small number of districts and is expected to expand systematically.To locate mines, the project will rely upon traditional survey techniques and US archived material on bombing missions during the Vietnam war.Such accurate and comprehensive material is required for landmine and UXO removal.The signing represents two watersheds in US-Vietnam cooperation.First, it is the first time an NGO has signed an MoU with the Ministry of Defense on an issue related to security.Second, the project is the first national-level partnership on landmines.All previous cooperation has been restricted to the provincial level.Further information is available at



In the New Year, non-governmental actors give the official community a nudge on Laos trade.Some decisions are delayed: Thai agreement on the Nam Theun II dam (now scheduled for early March) and the US Secretary of State’s decision on designation of Vietnam and Laos as “countries of particular concern” in religious freedom.In the meantime, the UN and Phnom Penh go back to the table, and the INS offers a potential legal lifeline to Indochinese immigrants in the US.In early February, look for the release of the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports, which could cause a spike in bilateral irritations.


Can ASEAN (and Cambodia) help mediate the Korean crisis?

In recognition that conflict in the northern half of Asia presents a threat to Southeast Asia as well, former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Cambodia as the current ASEAN chair, to take a more vigorous and direct role in mediating the current Korean crisis.For this purpose, ASEAN could call upon the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which North Korean joined in 2000, and the ASEAN troika, which consists of representatives of the past, present and future chairmen of ASEAN. In a January 13 statement, Surin credited Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen with helping to bring North Korea into ARF after the Non-Aligned Movement’s Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in 1999 and the Group of 77 Summit in Havana shortly thereafter.He urged Hun Sen to dispatch the troika to Pyongyang to open dialogue, noting that Cambodia has been active in promoting ASEAN’s profile on issues related to regional peace and stability.

The security threat at home: alleviating the effects of Cambodia’s civil war

In mid-January the Japanese government made a $3.6 million grant to Cambodia to help implement a small arms management program.A holdover from two decades of civil war, the high level of arms remaining in Cambodia affects every aspect of the country’s development – political, economic and social – and has a considerable impact on the region as a whole.An estimated one third of the arms traffic in Southeast Asia is comprised of munitions left over from the Cambodian civil war.

Another key internal security concern arising from the civil war– the need for demobilization—has been stalled, awaiting payment from the World Bank for the second phase of an ongoing cooperative program.The Bank is scheduled to provide $18.2 million, with Cambodia furnishing $7.2 million.An agreement to demobilize the factional armies in order to create a unified and less expensive armed force was integral to the 1991 Paris accords.However, this complicated and costly task was set aside during the UNTAC period, because of the withdrawal of the Khmer Rouge from the peace process and because UNTAC’s tenure essentially ended with the 1993 election.As a result, Cambodia continues to have a military whose per capita number of soldiers is roughly twice that of the United States, and three times the average in the developing world.

Also to improve internal security, this month the Cambodian government switched contractors for the country’s ship registry, with the aim of tightening the registration and tracking of ships under the Cambodian flag.Foreign diplomats have remarked that the switch, to the South Korean Cosmo Group, should improve the Cambodian government’s ability to stem narcotics trafficking and prevent foreign extremists from using Cambodian ships to smuggle arms and personnel into the region.

Human Rights and Political Development
Liberalization in Vietnam: Short-term problems, long-term prospects

In a January 22 address to the Washington branch of the Asia Society, US Ambassador to Vietnam Raymond Burghardt evaluated Vietnam’s present state of political development and its effect on the bilateral relationship.In the realm of legal development, he cited revision of the Foreign Investment Law as a step forward, but encouraged the government to provide more opportunity for the public to comment on draft laws.Although the two countries continue to differ on some human rights issues, such as religious freedom and restrictions on internet use, Ambassador Burghardt pointed to improvements in the annual human rights dialogue.For example, the Vietnamese government has expanded participation in the talks, to include representatives from the Ministries of Public Security and Justice as well as Foreign Affairs.In addition, Burghardt commented that Hanoi no longer maintains that such issues are strictly “internal affairs.”His assessment of the long-term prospects for greater openness in Vietnam was “almost entirely positive.”In the foreseeable future, he predicted, Vietnam could see a “dramatic expansion” in personal freedoms and a stronger legal system and set of legal norms.

Full text of speech can be seen at

Talks on KR trial resume

Following the General Assembly resolution to urge the United Nations to return to the table with the Cambodian government for talks on a war crimes tribunal for the Khmer Rouge, talks began in New York in early January.Secretary General Kofi Annan named Legal Counsel Hans Corell to head the UN delegation, and Senior Minister Sok An has been appointed to serve as Phnom Penh’s chief negotiator.Both reprise their roles in previous negotiations, which may not augur well for breaking the stalemate over outstanding issues, the most significant one being the degree of authority the Cambodian prosecutors would have over the proceedings, compared to that of their international counterparts.FUNCINPEC leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh has urged that the parties seek compromises in this new round to avert the rupture in previous talks, and warned that this was most likely the final opportunity to reach agreement.Sok An has proposed that the next round of talks be held in Phnom Penh.Under the terms of the resolution, Annan must report back to the General Assembly on the talks in March.

Economic Development

The Millennium Challenge Account: will Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos be “challenged”?

The Bush Administration is seeking to augment US foreign assistance with a new program that will increase levels of core development assistance by 50% over the next three years, to reach the level of $5 billion in the third year.In its budget proposal to Congress for Fiscal Year 2004, due in February, the Administration will request the establishment of a Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which Bush has defined as “ a new compact for global development, defined by new accountability for both rich and poor nations alike.”The Administration plans to administer the MCA through a new government corporation, supervised by a Board of Directors composed of Cabinet-level officials and chaired by the Secretary of State.

The criteria for recipient countries under the MCA are complicated.The first cut is per capita income.In the initial year, recipient countries must have a per capita income level below $1,435; the ceiling rises in subsequent years to include lower middle income countries.However, recipient countries must also satisfy an extensive formula of performance criteria.Under the category of “governing justly,” countries will be assessed according to indices produced by Freedom House and the World Bank, on civil liberties, political rights, good governance and control of corruption.Under “investing in people,” countries must demonstrate commitment to public health and education, based on the percentage of Gross Domestic Product they devote to these sectors.Under “promoting economic freedom,” countries will be assessed according to credit ratings, inflation, budget deficits, and trade policy.

Will Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos qualify for funds under the MCA?All three countries are well under the per capita income ceiling for the first year.However, their ratings under the performance criteria and the indices that undergird them could exclude them.For example, in their annual ratings on political freedom and civil liberties released this month, Freedom House graded all three countries as “not free,” the lowest rating, although Cambodia was judged to be slightly higher than Vietnam and Laos.Cambodia too is likely to get a slightly higher rating on some aspects of economic freedom.It is not known at this time whether forward momentum – moving in a positive direction – will have bearing on a country’s status.However, all foreign aid becomes politicized in short order, and the MCA is not likely to be exempted.Countries could be affected by their public image in the United States; within the policy community, they are also likely to be assessed according to their strategic importance to US policy goals.The latter will doubtless be influenced by the current war on terrorism, in which none of the three countries of Indochina are considered to be significant players.

Non-governmental push for NTR with Laos

On January 14, sixty-one Laotian-Americans, representatives of business associations and non-governmental organizations, and concerned individuals urged US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to request that Congress grant Normal Trade Relations to Laos. The letter to Ambassador Zoellick pointed out that denial of NTR in light of normal trade relations granted to Vietnam and Cambodia makes little sense, and that after 1975 the United States and Laos maintained official ties when relations with the other countries of Indochina had been completely severed.It also observed that ratification of the US-Laotian Bilateral Trade Agreement forms part of President Bush’s trade agenda, and that the President recently cited Laos as one of the countries included in the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative.At present, the total two-way US-Laotian trade amounts to a slim $8 million per year.

The sameweek, opponents of closer relations with Laos attempted to link their issues with support for a war in Iraq by joining the counter-demonstration against the January 18-19 anti-war march on Washington.Philip Smith, billed in the Washington Times as the director for the Washington chapter of Lao Veterans of America, called for Laos to be added to the Administration’s “axis of evil,” insisting there were parallels between Saddam Hussein’s treatment of ethnic Kurds and Laos’ handling of its Hmong population.Numerous inconsistencies with Laos’s inclusion on the “axis” are immediately apparent: unlike relations with North Korea, Iraq and Iran, the United States has had uninterrupted, official relations with Laos for half a century.Moreover, there is obviously little possibility that Laos has developed weapons of mass destruction, much less that it has exported WMD’s, a key criteria for inclusion on the “axis” articulated by the Administration.However, it should be emphasized that there is no legal or regulatory designation for countries in the “axis of evil” and that, whatever use is made of it in the policy process, it is strictly a rhetorical device.

Vietnam: catfish, shrimp and textiles

As Vietnam awaits the Commerce Department’s preliminary ruling on catfish, Hanoi trade officials have taken the initiative to criticize bill H.R. 5578 against shrimp export to the United States from several countries, Vietnam included.The bill not only requires limits on the quantity of shrimp exported to the US but also proposes financial sanctions on violators.Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Phan Thuy Than has charged that the bill contravenes the spirit of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, and that it runs counter to the spirit of trade liberalization the US is promoting.

In the meantime, talks between the two countries are gearing up on a textile agreement as Vietnam faces possible quotas in this sector.Initial discussions are planned for February and will require three rounds, in two-to-three month intervals.Vietnam exports over $3 billion in textiles, roughly half of that to the United States.Textiles represent a substantial share in total US-Vietnam trade.

Expanded eligibility?

The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has announced a new rule to provide permanent resident status to as many as five thousand eligible individuals from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.This is expected to benefit individuals from the three countries who were paroled into the United States after 1975, and before 1997, and have had indefinite immigration status since.Applicants must have entered the US through the Orderly Departure Program; a refugee camp in East Asia; or a camp administered by the United Nations for displaced persons in Thailand.The new rule also provides a waiver for criminal history under certain circumstances.At present, it is not known how many, if any, of the Khmer in the process of deportation for felony convictions might be eligible for consideration.However, legal authorities point out that aliens without criminal records who gain resident status under this ruling would be protected from deportation in the future if they are subsequently convicted of felonies.

Legacy Issues
A Laotian leader returns

In late November Dr. Yang Dao, a Hmong-American scholar and educator of Southeast Asian history, visited Laos for two weeks to assess current conditions, in contrast to the country he had left in 1975.Yang is the first Hmong to receive a Ph.D., which he earned from the Sorbonne in 1972.He served in the Ministry of Planning of the Royal Lao Government from 1972 to 1974 and the Political Consultative Council, a National Coalition of the Kingdom of Laos from 1974 to 1975.Immigrating first to France, Yang moved to the US in 1983, where he has published extensively on Hmong history and culture and has taught at the university level.

In a letter detailing his visit to Laos, which Yang posted on the internet, he commented that the Hmong situation in Laos “has improved in all aspects.”He pointed out that while they constitute only 9% of the population, they hold 16% of the central and regional administrative positions.Although noting that “a few small pockets” of Hmong resistance remain, he found relations among the Hmong, Lao, Khmu and other ethnic groups to be peaceful and amicable.However, he also remarked upon the continuing poverty and lack of development in Laos, and its need for international assistance.Yang’s letter strongly encouraged members of the Hmong and Lao communities in the US to visit Laos to view for themselves the social, economic and political changes that have taken place in the past three decades, and to participate in the country’s development.

Reaction to Yang’s visit from some quarters of the Lao-American community has been predictably harsh.In response, he issued a statement on January 23, pointing out that he is “not the only visitor to notice the change in Laos.”He noted that after 1975 he took a strong and public stand in condemnation of attacks against the Hmong in the late 1970’s,

and that he encouraged government authorities to seek a peaceful solution to residual Hmong resistance during his 2002 trip.Yang said he plans to make a video of his trip to Laos available the Laotian-American community free of charge.