In Hanoi, Clinton Criticizes Vietnam on Rights
Nelson Ching/Bloomberg News
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke in Hanoi
July 22, 2010
By MARK LANDLER
— Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chided Vietnam on Thursday for intolerance of dissent and infringement
of Internet freedom, even as she celebrated 15 years of normalized relations with the United States, a step taken by her
husband, former President Bill Clinton.
In a visit that mixed poignant family memories with a polite rebuke,
Mrs. Clinton said she raised the issue of jailed democracy activists, attacks on religious groups, and curbs on social-networking
Web sites during a meeting with Vietnam’s deputy prime minister, Pham Gia Khiem.
The United States will
prod the Vietnamese government “to pursue reforms and protect basic rights and freedoms,” Mrs. Clinton said
at a news conference, as Mr. Khiem stood expressionless beside her.
“Vietnam, with its extraordinary,
dynamic population, is on the path to becoming a great nation, with an unlimited potential,” she added. “That
is among the reasons we expressed concern.”
Mr. Khiem replied that human rights policies were rooted
in unique cultural and historical circumstances. He cited what he said was President Obama’s observation that countries
should be allowed to choose their own path and that human rights should not be imposed from outside.
of Mrs. Clinton’s remarks here, at the beginning of a two-day stop includes an Asian regional security meeting,
suggested that she wanted to make her point and move on. She emphasized that the United States would increase cooperation
on trade and investment, and would do more to help people suffering lingering effects from Agent Orange, a chemical spray
the American military used as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.
Still, Mrs. Clinton’s criticism offered
a vivid contrast to her visits to China as secretary of state, where she has avoided publicly raising human rights issues
with Chinese officials. They came on the same day that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates was announcing in Jakarta that
the United States would resume military contacts with an elite Indonesian military unit long criticized for abuses, arguing
that it had reformed.
These divergent moves reflect the uneven landscape the Obama administration confronts
in the region, including not only rising China and recalcitrant North Korea, but also an unreconstructed military dictatorship
in Myanmar, a reformed military state in Indonesia — and a Communist regime in Vietnam that is showing signs of retreating
from its reformist path.
Though human rights conditions are indisputably better in Vietnam now than at the end
of the war, analysts say there has been some backsliding in the last few years, which may reflect the growing influence
of conservative political elements. In January, the government tried and convicted three prominent democracy activists
under a strict national security law.
Last week, 19 members of Congress sent Mrs. Clinton a letter, urging her
to press Vietnam about these cases and its censorship of Web sites like Facebook. The lawmakers said Vietnam had “escalated
its aggression towards activists and taken concerted steps to silence online speech.”
oversaw the normalization of ties between the United States and Vietnam in 1995, and Mrs. Clinton spoke warmly of the memories
that the country evoked for both of them. Her last visit was as first lady in November 2000, in the waning days of the
Clinton presidency but in the flush of her own recent election as senator from New York.
Throngs of people
turned out to welcome Mr. Clinton, the first sitting president to visit Vietnam. They also mobbed the senator-elect, who
brought along their daughter, Chelsea. They delighted farmers in a dusty village outside Hanoi, when they put on conical
hats to ward off the tropical sun.
A Vietnamese artist captured that moment in a large mosaic etched with rubies,
sapphires, and quartz, which a Vietnamese gem and jewelry company presented to Mrs. Clinton as a gift. Mr. Khiem also gave
her a white tablecloth for Ms. Clinton, who is getting married on July 31.
“I’m very honored; I
will be very pleased to give it to her,” said Mrs. Clinton.
At a lunch with Vietnamese and American businesspeople,
she poked fun at her zeal for the role of mother of the bride, questioning the “common sense” of juggling wedding
planning with a grueling week on the road that has taken her from a war zone in Afghanistan to the demilitarized zone in
But Mrs. Clinton also spoke with eloquence about how the United States and Vietnam had overcome
a bitterness of war, and then the “profound differences” that divide a Communist state from a democracy.
“The United States will continue to urge Vietnam to strengthen its commitment to human rights and give its
people a greater say over the direction of their lives,” she said. “But our relationship is not fixed upon
our differences. We have learned to see each other not as former enemies, but as friends.”
to promoting Vietnamese-American ties, Mrs. Clinton voiced concern about a potentially dangerous alliance between North
Korea and Myanmar — a theme likely to reemerge on Friday at a regional security meeting sponsored by the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations.
Mr. Clinton said she told Vietnamese officials that the United States was worried
about shipments of military equipment to Myanmar from North Korea, as well as unconfirmed reports that Myanmar is seeking
help from North Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons program.
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