Cablegate: Assistant Secretary Hill Visit to Vietnam

DE RUEHHI #0277/01 0670428
R 070428Z MAR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary: In a March 2-3 visit to Hanoi, Assistant Secretary
for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill met with the
GVN Ministry of Foreign Affairs (paras 2-12) and National Assembly
(paras 13-15), the Communist Party of Vietnam (paras 16-20),
religious leaders (paras 21-23), nongovernmental experts (paras
24-26), AmCham and the press. In his GVN meetings he discussed a
possible visit by Prime Minister Dung to the United States, raised
human rights issues and concerns over adoptions, and pushed for GVN
support for a New Embassy Compound in Hanoi. On regional issues,
both governmental and nongovernmental interlocutors expressed a
desire for the United States to play an active role in supporting
Vietnam's position in its confrontation against China in the South
China Sea. MFA and Party leaders confirmed that, while an
invitation had been extended for the DPRK's Kim Jong Il to visit
Vietnam, no date had been set. A/S Hill's visit received extensive
and positive media coverage (para 27). End summary.

MFA: No Dates for PM Visit to Washington

2. (SBU) A/S Hill's meeting and subsequent dinner with Vice Foreign
Minister Dao Viet Trung were also attended by Northeast Asia
Department Director Bui Trong Van, Policy Planning Department
Director Bui Thanh Son and Americas Department Deputy Director Ha
Kim Ngoc. VFM Trung began by expressing the GVN's appreciation for
President Bush's invitation to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to
visit the United States this year. He emphasized the value that the
GVN places on such contacts between our leaders and confirmed that
the PM's office is still working on his schedule. Trung said the
GVN would welcome a specific proposal regarding the timing of the
visit. A/S Hill said the President is looking forward to hosting PM
Dung in Washington and pointed out that after July/August, arranging
a visit would be increasingly difficult in an election year.
Concerning the substance of the visit, A/S Hill mentioned
educational cooperation, Vietnamese participation in GPOI, an
investment treaty and land for a new U.S. Embassy in Hanoi as areas
that could yield potential deliverables for the trip.

3. (SBU) Hill noted that the current U.S. Embassy did not adequately
reflect the importance that the U.S. attaches to our bilateral
relationship. Trung responded that the GVN was helping the U.S.
Embassy secure its future site in the Ciputra area of Hanoi, but the
GVN also needs USG attention to its need for a new embassy in
Washington. The GVN welcomes information on the possibility of the
USG opening a consulate in Danang; at the same time the GVN hopes to
open another consulate in the United States and will send the
relevant information soon.

4. (SBU) Hill noted the need to work together on the problematic
issue of adoptions, where the USG has serious concerns about the
process in Vietnam. Trung responded that the GVN takes note of USG
concerns; the Ministry of Justice has the lead on this issue and is
taking the necessary measures.

GVN Wish List for Further Economic Cooperation
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) VFM Trung ran down a lengthy list of initiatives in the
areas of trade and economic cooperation, many of which are already
in train, that the GVN would like to pursue. After citing the
positive outcome of the first TIFA negotiations, Trung urged further
strengthening of bilateral cooperation in the areas of trade,
investment, science, technology, education and training. He also
asked for continued U.S. assistance in support of Vietnam's economic
development; removal of the temporary apparel monitoring mechanism;
granting of GSP and recognition of market economy status; a
bilateral investment treaty that addresses double taxation and
customs issues; and USG encouragement of U.S. companies to invest in
Vietnam. On the GSP issue, A/S Hill noted that labor and other
concerns will need to be addressed. On market economy status, he
suggested further consultations; talks continue on a bilateral
investment treaty, and the taxation issue will require further USG
interagency consultation.

GVN Welcomes Progress in Security Cooperation

6. (SBU) Noting past progress in strengthening bilateral defense and
security cooperation, VFM Trung predicted that a visit to Vietnam
later this year by the Secretary of Defense would yield "special"
progress. He cited the increased frequency of naval ship visits to
Vietnam during 2007, adding that arrangements are under way for more
visits during 2008. VFM Trung expressed hope that the United States
would reduce the restrictions on Vietnam's procurement of U.S.

HANOI 00000277 002.2 OF 005

defense equipment, noting the GVN's desire to obtain coastal
surveillance equipment from the United States and/or other
countries. A/S Hill noted that while sales of non-lethal defense
equipment are possible, he was not aware of a request for
surveillance equipment, which will require review.

VFM Calls for "Objective" View of Human Rights
--------------------------------------------- -

7. (SBU) A/S Hill noted the next bilateral human rights dialogue
will take place in May, saying we hope to make progress and reduce
our differences on this issue. VFM Trung responded that the GVN
hoped for an "objective and practical" dialogue that reflects the
reality of the situation in Vietnam. He noted that the GVN favors
and encourages the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people,
illustrating the point with statistics showing the number of
religious organizations recently recognized and churches registered.
He hoped to see a reduction in our differences over religious
freedom and human rights issues.

8. (SBU) The VFM noted that imprisoned dissidents Nguyen Van Ly,
Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan had violated Vietnam's security
laws and had been brought to court, but that the principle of
leniency had been applied, particularly to "first offenders" Dai and
Cong Nhan. Imprisoned Amcit activist Nguyen Quoc Quan is being held
for investigation under charges of committing a terrorist act and
entering Vietnam using false identification. He is in good health
with proper accommodation and has received consular visits. Trung
said arrangements might be made for Quan's wife to visit him in
prison if MFA is given the details of her proposed visit.

9. (SBU) The VFM urged that Congress not pass the Vietnam Human
Rights Act and that the U.S. Government take a tougher stand against
"terrorist" groups such as the Viet Tan and the Government of Free
Vietnam, groups whose activities "threaten Vietnam's security." He
warned that U.S. views on the activities of these groups "affect
public opinion" in Vietnam and could have a negative impact on
bilateral relations. A/S Hill responded that the United States has
"no interest at all" in supporting anyone trying to overthrow the
GVN. Noting that Vietnam's human rights situation is of serious
concern in the United States, he urged the GVN to continue working
hard to improve its record in this area.

Regional Issues: South China Sea, DPRK, Burma

10. (SBU) Concerning the South China Sea, VFM Trung said China's
recent activities violate Vietnam's sovereignty, and are
inconsistent with both the two countries' leaders' views and the
ASEAN Declaration of Conduct. Both the Vietnamese public and
leadership are concerned about the current situation and the GVN
continues to pursue a solution through diplomatic channels. VFM
Trung asked that the USG urge U.S. companies to implement their
projects in the area, and to work with other countries whose
commercial interests are similarly threatened by Chinese action.
Vietnam will "take effective measures to protect its sovereignty and
insure the implementation of these projects," said Trung. He noted
the importance of maritime routes that pass through the area and
expressed the hope that the United States would actively contribute
to "maintaining the status quo." VFM Trung specifically asked for a
U.S. statement endorsing peace and stability in the area and urging
countries to refrain from threats and to respect the Declaration of
Conduct. A/S Hill said the USG is concerned about Chinese pressure
on U.S. companies. The USG has raised our concerns with Beijing, he
noted, adding that to play a more productive global role, China
needs to move its foreign policy beyond focusing only on pursuit of
energy and natural resources.

11. (SBU) Concerning the DPRK, VFM Trung said the GVN appreciates
progress on the Korean peninsula and, as a UN Security Council
member, will support efforts for peace and stability in Korea. He
said that while DPRK leader Kim Jong Il had accepted CPV General
Secretary Nong Duc Manh's October 2007 invitation to visit Vietnam,

no specific date for a visit has been set. Such a visit would be
welcomed by the GVN and would move the Vietnam-DPRK relationship to
a "new phase," as well as benefiting peace and security in the
region. A/S Hill emphasized the urgency of getting the DPRK to
relinquish its nuclear weapons for the sake of security in Northeast

12. (SBU) As a fellow ASEAN member, Vietnam would welcome political
reconciliation in Burma, VFM Trung said. He expressed appreciation
for the Burmese Government's efforts to implement its roadmap for
democracy and its promotion of reconciliation. Trung mentioned that

HANOI 00000277 003.2 OF 005

he had traveled to Burma in December 2007 for political
consultations, during which he urged Burma to allow UN Special Envoy
Ibrahim Gambari's speedy return. A/S Hill emphasized that keeping
Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest undermines genuine
reconciliation. He expressed disappointment that Burmese leaders
had not shown interest in pursuing a genuine dialogue with the
United States prior to the events in August 2007, and said the U.S.
public would not understand overtures to a government that continues
to oppress Aung San Suu Kyi, Buddhist monks and others.

Assembly Pushes Trade, Investment, Technical Assistance
--------------------------------------------- ----------

13. (SBU) In a meeting at the National Assembly (NA), Foreign
Affairs Committee Chairman Nguyen Van Son praised improvements in
the USG-GVN bilateral relationship but stated that, from the GVN's
perspective, it was still "below its potential." Son specifically
expressed the GVN's desire for a greater U.S. trade and investment
relationship, stating that U.S. investment in Vietnam was "lacking."
Hill noted that the United States was Vietnam's largest export
market, and growing.

14. (SBU) Son noted the Ambassador's work to increase the number of
Vietnamese students going to the United States, and pledged
Vietnam's cooperation in expanding the bilateral education
relationship. The NA is also interested in expanding defense
cooperation, inter-Parliamentarian exchanges and obtaining USG
technical assistance on lawmaking. Son stressed that the NA wanted
to "learn from the U.S. Congressional system" and seeks technical
expertise in the legislative process, as the NA is pushing for
extensive legislative and legal reform in the years to come. Asked
by the Ambassador for details, Son did not identify a specific area
of technical assistance but suggested a possible exchange of
delegations with the U.S. Congress to begin this effort.

15. (SBU) A/S Hill congratulated Son on the NA's work on expanding
civil society and public transparency in Vietnam. He cited the
value of having more members of the U.S. Congress to visit Vietnam
to see the changes that have taken place. Son added that all
members of the U.S. Congress were welcome to Vietnam, and noted the
several delegations that he had received in the past year. Chairman
Son asked A/S Hill to convey to both the SFRC and HFAC the NA's
desire to work together to further promote the bilateral
relationship. A/S Hill noted the March 12 Senate Foreign Relations
Committee (SFRC) hearing on Vietnam at which he would be testifying,
and said the SFRC hearing would be a good venue to convey this
message to the U.S. Congress, and that he would also convey this to
other interested USG agencies in Washington.

Warm (Polish) Welcome From Party

16. (SBU) Assistant Secretary Hill received a warm welcome from Ta
Minh Chau, Deputy Chairman of the External Relations Commission of
the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Both former ambassadors to
Poland, Chau and Hill conversed for a few minutes in Polish before
returning to their native languages for the discussion.

17. (SBU) Chau highlighted Vietnam's economic focus on achieving
growth of 8.5 percent and reaching the target of $900 USD per capita
GDP, as well as expanding international trade, noting that foreign
direct investment in Vietnam reached $21 billion USD in 2007. A/S
Hill commented that the U.S. was also pleased with Vietnam's
economic development and the entrance of U.S. companies into the
Vietnamese market.

18. (SBU) Underscoring Vietnam's increasing role in the
international arena, Chau noted Vietnam's efforts to broaden its
multilateral and bilateral relations with other countries, with a
particular focus on increasing consultations with members of the UN
Security Council. Chau emphasized that Vietnam recognizes the
gravity of its role as a non-permanent member of the UNSC and will
do utmost to fulfill this responsibility.

19. (SBU) Chau stressed that the CPV and the GVN attach great
importance to the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship and noted that
the CPV would like to see more interaction between U.S.
organizations and Vietnamese mass organizations (CPV organizations
focused on promoting and caring for various sectors of society,
including veterans, youth, and women). The CPV is very pleased to
see members mass organizations going to U.S. as increased cultural
exchanges promote understanding on both sides.

20. (SBU) On the topic of North Korea, Chau noted that CPV General

HANOI 00000277 004.2 OF 005

Secretary Nong Duc Manh visited North and South Korea during

separate trips in 2007 and that Vietnam hopes to contribute to
reconciliation between the two sides. Vietnam welcomed progress in
the Six-Party Talks and is willing to play a constructive role in
the process. A/S Hill remarked that we hope North Korea chooses to
follow Vietnam's example of economic development instead of pursuing
nuclear weapons. Chau responded that, in reply to North Korea's
expressed interest, Vietnam is ready to exchange information and
expertise and cooperate further in areas of agriculture production
and aquacultural production, including fish and shrimp farming.
Chau told A/S Hill that Vietnam will welcome a delegation of North
Korean officials in the first half of 2008, but North Korea has not
yet responded to the CPV General Secretary's invitation to President
Kim Jong Il to visit Vietnam.

Church Leaders: Progress But Problems Remain

21. (SBU) Assistant Secretary Hill met with Pastor Au Quang Vinh,
General Secretary of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam - North
(ECVN), and Catholic Father Chu Van Minh, Rector, Hanoi St. Joseph's
Major Seminary. Vinh said that while the GVN had made an effort to
improve religious freedom, its efforts slowed after Vietnam was
removed from the Countries of Particular Concern list in 2006 and
joined the World Trade Organization in 2007. Negative language in
GVN training materials for local officials continues to be
problematic, the policy for registration of congregations is
sometimes arbitrary, and the Protestant church continues to wait for
permission to print Bibles in the Hmong language for ethnic minority
followers. The GVN continues to stall in responding to property and
land requests, making it difficult for the church to build new
facilities. Minh said that in recent years the GVN permitted the
opening of six Catholic seminaries and the Catholic Church is now
building two more. The GVN has also given permission to build
and/or renovate Catholic churches, although a number of property
disputes remain unresolved.

22. (SBU) When asked why the GVN creates difficulties for religious
organizations, Vinh responded that the GVN views Christian religions
as "too Western;" Protestantism in particular is seen as "too
American" and a path to "peaceful evolution" for foreign forces to
overthrow the state. Minh remarked that, in the past, the GVN
thought all religion was anti-government and went on to note that if
the U.S. speaks publicly too often about religious freedom, the GVN
will come to believe that religion is an ally of "foreign forces."

23. (SBU) In response to Assistant Secretary's Hill's inquiry as to
how the U.S. might help, Minh responded that the U.S. should
encourage the GVN to think of religious followers as regular
citizens of Vietnam who can help the nation with technical expertise
on social issues. Religious freedom also means freedom to carry out
charitable and social activities in the areas of poverty
alleviation, education, health care and disaster relief. Vinh added
that when the church is permitted to conduct charitable activities,
the GVN often adds conditions and restrictions and monitors them
closely to see if there is any ulterior motive behind the activity.
Vinh said the U.S. should also focus on political reform as the path
to full religious freedom. He recommended the U.S. continue to
contact religious organizations to discuss operational problems and
raise these issues with the GVN during the annual Human Rights

Lunch with Nongovernmental Experts

24. (SBU) Ambassador Michalak hosted a luncheon for A/S Hill with
several leading non-governmental experts on education, the economy,
media and international relations. The free-flowing discussion
covered issues ranging from growing internet use throughout the
country to legal reform. With 25 percent of Vietnamese reportedly
online, access to the internet in Vietnam is higher per capita here
than in other countries in the region. The editor of VietnamNet
noted that his major online news site now receives over 100 million
page hits per day, and the group also discussed the growing
popularity of blogs in spreading "non-traditional information".

25. (SBU) In response to A/S Hill questions about the education
system and other areas of reform, one participant contended that
Vietnam's system of higher education in particular was "in crisis."
While the Ministry had delineated a number of goals for the next 12
years, major details such as financing had yet to be addressed. For
example, while Vietnam spends close to 30 percent of its GDP on
education (extremely high in the region and beyond) that expenditure

HANOI 00000277 005.2 OF 005

was not being managed effectively and failed to produce the expected
results of such an outlay. Another area of critical need
highlighted by the group was legal reform and the government's role
in managing civil society and environmental needs. According to one
guest, the CPV recognizes the urgent need for the Party to examine
the effectiveness of its role in the economy and society, and was in
the process of conducting an internal study on how it might more
effectively encourage economic growth and social development.

26. (SBU) Participants raised the issue of Vietnam's dispute with
China in the South China Sea and echoed the MFA's call for the
United States to take a public stand in support of Vietnam on the
issue. A/S Hill expressed caution about the utility of the United
States taking a strong public stand on the issue. An active ASEAN
role and efforts from the countries involved could help to
peacefully resolve the issue.

Extensive and Positive Press Coverage

27. (SBU) Coverage of A/S Hill's visit in the Vietnamese news was
the most extensive of an official visit since this APEC summit in
November 2006, and was generally positive and accurate. In addition
to extensive national coverage in all major print dailies, reports
of his visit and interview with Vietnam Television (VTV) were
carried on both the 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. national news broadcasts.
(Note: Estimated daily viewership for the 7 p.m. program alone is
estimated at 20 million Vietnamese.) In addition, both major online
news outlets, VietnamNet and TienPhong Online (the former which
receives 100 million page hits per day) carried stories on A/S
Hill's visit and press conference. Literally millions of
Vietnamese saw coverage of A/S Hill's visit to Vietnam and his
positive message on the bilateral relationship.


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