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Cablegate: Ambassador Visits Haiphong On the Occasion of Historic U.S.

VZCZCXRO2001
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #1975/01 3250929
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 210929Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6756
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3977
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001975

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS
USTR FOR DBISBEE AND RBAE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ECON KIRF TBIO KHIV PINS OEXC CVIS PGOV PHUM
VM
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR VISITS HAIPHONG ON THE OCCASION OF HISTORIC U.S.
NAVY PORT CALL


HANOI 00001975 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador made his first visit to Haiphong
City, in part to participate in activities related to an historic
port call by two U.S. Navy warships. The Ambassador paid a courtesy
call on the Vice Chairman of the Haiphong City People's Committee
and expressed concern over an incident earlier that day in which
Haiphong Police disrupted a house church congregation with three
Americans in attendance. The Ambassador also paid a visit to the
Haiphong School for Deaf Children and the School for Blind Children
to participate in United States Navy community relations activities;
visited the Haiphong Provincial Health Service and Hoa Phuong
Women's Health Club to learn about continuing efforts to control the
spread of HIV/AIDS in the Haiphong region; and visited Haiphong
University's American Corner, where he delivered remarks and took
questions from university students and the press. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The Ambassador visited Haiphong City November 15-17 on the
occasion of an historic courtesy port call by two U.S. Navy mine
warfare ships, the USS Patriot and USS Guardian. The port call by
the Patriot and Guardian marked the first visit by American warships
to Haiphong since 1973. Haiphong, 120 kilometers east of Hanoi, is
Vietnam's third largest city with a population of 1.8 million.
Second only to Hanoi in terms of population and economic importance
in northern Vietnam, Haiphong has long-standing connections to the
national economy and is home to considerable heavy industry,
including steel, shipbuilding, production of animal feed, and
cement. The two largest American investors are Chevron Vietnam,
which operates an asphalt facility and lubricating plant under the
Caltex brand name, and the American International Group (AIG), which
owns a sizeable stake in Haiphong's Dinh Vu Industrial Zone.
Haiphong also has an international sister city relationship with the
city of Seattle.

3. (SBU) In a November 15 courtesy call on Haiphong City People's
Committee Vice Chairman Hoang Van Ke, the Ambassador outlined his
priorities, including strengthening the economic, commercial and
educational ties between the United States and Vietnam. He also
described his focus on human rights and religious freedom. The
Ambassador thanked Vice Minister Ke for the warm welcome shown by
Haiphong City to the crewmembers of the USS Guardian and USS
Patriot, calling it another step in the deepening U.S.-Vietnam
partnership.

HAIPHONG POLICE DISRUPT HOUSE CHURCH SERVICE
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Just prior to the start of his meeting with Vice Chairman
Ke, the Ambassador learned about an incident earlier in the day in
which Haiphong Police disrupted a congregation of the
Inter-Christian Fellowship House Church with three Americans in
attendance, including Pastor Mike Kirkiele (Note: Protect under
Privacy Act. End Note). According to Kirkiele, with whom the
Ambassador spoke by telephone, the police initially confiscated the
Amcits' passports and instructed them to report to the city
immigration office. After a short time, however, the police
returned the passports and ordered the attendees to stay away from
the home. Feeling unwelcome in Haiphong, Kirkiele and the other
Americans returned to Hanoi that evening.

5. (SBU) Under a February 2005 law, the GVN allows
government-registered Protestant groups to practice religious
activities in their homes or "suitable locations" without
interference by the state. Moreover, the law ostensibly permits
unregistered house churches to operate so long as they are
"committed to following regulations" and are unaffiliated with
separatist political movements. The Ambassador asked Vice Minister
Ke to explain the circumstances behind the police action and to
ensure that Haiphong's police follow the letter of the 2005 law. In
response, the Vice Minister said he was unaware of the incident,
calling it "very regrettable." He defended Haiphong's record on
religious freedom, noting that the city recently hosted a large
religious congress of followers from Catholic dioceses from several
northern provinces. The Vice Minister speculated that the house
church had failed to register with the authorities, but said he
would look into the matter and get back to us.

6. (SBU) Concluding the meeting, Vice Minister Ke thanked the
Ambassador for past USG support in the areas of health care, in
particular, HIV/AIDS prevention, and education and expressed his
hope that cooperation would continue throughout the Ambassador's
tenure. The Vice Minister noted that Haiphong is set to introduce a
methadone project in January 2008 to help area heroin addicts
overcome their addiction and curtail the transmission of HIV/AIDS
through shared needles.

PEPFAR MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN HAIPHONG
--------------------------------------

HANOI 00001975 002.2 OF 002

7. (SBU) In a meeting later in the day with Dr. Nguyen Van Vy,
Director of the Haiphong City Health Service, and a subsequent visit
to the Hoa Phuong Women's Health Club, the Ambassador learned how
USG PEPFAR-funded support is helping to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS
in Haiphong. Dr. Vy described Haiphong as an HIV/AIDS "hot spot,"
and blamed the high rate of infection on the city's traditionally
large numbers of drug users and sex workers, who comprise 80 percent
of new cases. Nevertheless, Dr. Vy credited Vietnam's newly
instituted clean needle exchange programs and international
assistance, notably PEPFAR support, with lowering Haiphong's rate of
new HIV infections by 40 to 50 percent over the last two years.

8. (U) The Ambassador also paid a visit to the Haiphong School for
Deaf Children and School for Blind Children to participate in
friendship building and community relations activities conducted by
crewmembers of the USS Patriot and USS Guardian in conjunction with
the U.S. Embassy's Defense Attache Office. These activities
included facilities renovation work and delivery of gifts to the
children, including winter coats, soccer balls, and sewing machines
for vocational training.

AN ENTHUSIASTIC WELCOME AT HAIPHONG UNIVERSITY
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (SBU) On November 16, several hundred university students in
traditional Vietnamese dress enthusiastically greeted the
Ambassador's arrival at Haiphong University. At a courtesy call,
the University Rector, Dr. Le Quoc Bang, thanked the Ambassador for
his visit and noted that 220-300 students visit the university's
American Corner each day. American Corner, part of the U.S.-Vietnam
Studies Project, is a resource center offering university students
and visitors a wide range of information about the United States.
The Ambassador assured Dr. Bang that U.S. Mission Vietnam would
continue to support American Corner and make improvements. He also
asked the Rector to help speed up the university's time-consuming
and often belated process for approving cultural activities and
speakers at the Corner.

10. (SBU) Following the courtesy call, the Ambassador delivered
remarks and hosted a question and answer session before an audience
of students at American Corner. He noted that one of his immediate
goals as U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam is to increase the number of
Vietnamese students who go to the United States to study in the
"world's finest academic system." He pointed out that U.S. Mission
Vietnam has granted 5,600 academic visas to Vietnamese students so
far in 2007, a 54 percent increase over 2006, and encouraged
students not to be intimidated by the visa application process. In
response to a query regarding the lack of English language learning
opportunities at American Corner, the Ambassador noted continuing
efforts to bring the Peace Corps to Vietnam to teach English.

11. (SBU) Lastly, in a roundtable interview session with local
reporters, the Ambassador praised Vietnam's economic reform and
progress but said, "much remains to be done." He noted that foreign
investors favor timely decision-making and transparent rules and
regulations, including an opportunity to comment on new laws before
they take effect. On a positive note, the Ambassador noted that
Haiphong moved up five spots in Vietnam's 2007 Provincial
Competitiveness Index, scoring 37 out of 64 provinces, but pointed
out that the province still lags in the middle of the pack.

MICHALAK

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