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Zoellick Remarks at a Press Roundtable in Thailand

Remarks at a Press Roundtable in Thailand

Robert Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
U.S. Ambassador's Residence
Bangkok, Thailand
May 4, 2005


DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I will give you a little of the feel of the background for my overall trip to the region. So I'll be happy if you have some Thai-specific questions to answer them, but I thought I'd give you a little context of the overall trip.

Secretary Rice has now had the chance to visit North Asia and South Asia. So in our combined efforts to try to reach out to our partners around the globe, I wanted to try to come to Southeast Asia early in the President's second term. After Thailand, I will be going on to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and then ending in Singapore. The primary purpose is to start the President's second term by consulting with our partners and sharing some ideas and listening to some of their thoughts about the direction for the next four years.

In particular, I guess the first point is that I want to try to use this trip to make the pivot from our efforts of a humanitarian nature after the tsunami to the reconstruction dimensions. And continue the high-level attention that began with Secretary Powell and Governor Jeb Bush coming out shortly after the tsunami, and then the visit of President Bush 41 and President Clinton. At this very time, the U.S. Congress, as you may know, is considering appropriations supplemental to the spending bill where we've requested some $950 million for post-tsunami support. In addition to that, there has been an extraordinary private sector outpouring of over $1.2 billion, and President Clinton, as you may know, is working with the U.N. Secretary General on that effort. I actually had a chance to talk with him just as I was in the airport ready to go, and he may be coming out to the region soon again. So we're trying to coordinate both public and private efforts.

Second is that the primary issue related to the post-tsunami is obviously Indonesia. That's obviously a particularly important relationship for the United States. It is the largest Muslim country, a democracy; it is a relatively new government. When Skip (Ambassador Ralph Boyce) was serving in Indonesia before, I had a chance to see him, coordinating for Security Minister Yudhoyono, so I'll have a chance to see him now as elected President. I might add, the first directly elected president in Indonesian history. And focus on "meet the team" to kind of connect some of the reconstruction efforts also with the development efforts. In addition to meeting government officials, I'll meet some representatives of some of the multilateral banks and authorities there.

I will go on to Aceh, where I will help launch some of the projects, in particular a major road that our AID mission will be supporting. And I'll meet some of the members of the Achenese community and have a chance to see for myself how the turn to reconstruction is developing.

I'll also, when in Indonesia, be pressing the investigation that Mrs. Patsy Spier has been discussing with us, and I will just note that President Yudhoyono sent her a very, very warm letter emphasizing his commitment to try to get to the bottom of that investigation. I was pleased to see that.

Third, moving beyond Indonesia, we want to try to use this visit to help lay the foundation of U.S.-ASEAN relations in the second term. It is good to start out with Thailand. Thailand was a good partner in the aftermath of the tsunami and showed the benefits -- a lot of the interaction we've had with the Thais -- on the security side over the years. Prime Minister Thaksin has obviously been a leader in ASEAN in recent years. Indonesia obviously always plays a key role in the ASEAN context, given the travails of Indonesia since 1997. I think that might have had an effect on both Indonesia's leadership and overall ASEAN. So I hope that's another subject to discuss at various stops in the region. In that sense, the visit draws attention to the fact that Southeast Asia is a key component of a larger region that includes India, Japan and China, larger countries that often draw the attention. But when you look at Southeast Asia as a whole, the countries that I'm visiting represent I think some half-billion people. United States trade with these countries represents $136 billion. Obviously, it is strategic in a number of ways, not the least of which is the dynamic economies but also the sea links.

The fourth point of emphasis will be the America's economic linkages with these countries. As I said, we have $136 billion of trade. If you take the ASEAN countries as a group that represents, that's our fifth largest trading partner. On this visit, I had some discussions with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, as well as Parliamentarians about our Free Trade Agreement, which I launched in my prior capacity as U.S. Trade Representative. I think particularly after our elections and the Thai elections, I wanted to try to push that forward. In Vietnam, I was involved with passing the bilateral agreement which was negotiated by the Clinton administration, but which we inherited, so we put that through the Congress. Now the key item is their WTO accession process. In addition to going to Hanoi, I'm going to visit Ho Chi Minh City and visit an e-town technology park and have a roundtable there to have a little sense of some of the changing aspects of the Vietnamese economy. Of course, in Vietnam, this year will be the tenth anniversary of our diplomatic relations being established. One of the other stops on my visit in Vietnam will be an HIV/AIDS hospital. Vietnam is one of the fifteen countries that we've identified for the President's special HIV/AIDS initiative that is outside Africa and the Caribbean. Further on the economic side, while this will now be the responsibility of my successor, Ambassador Portman, I'll probably have some discussions about similar economic and create ties with others that are looking to perhaps advance to another stage; Malaysia has shown increasing interest. In Singapore, which is a country that is already a Free Trade partner, and one that I had the good fortune to negotiate and get through the Congress, I'm going to be stopping at some sites that will highlight the benefits of intellectual property. If you're here, you can always see how that is sort of a question about whether stronger intellectual property rules help. And it is interesting the Singaporeans had from the start the strategy of using this agreement to upgrade their international reputation as a protector of intellectual property rights. In recent years, they've drawn Lucas Films Animation, which is starting a center there. I'm going to visit Isis Pharmaceutical Center, which has an R&D site dealing with RNA and various research on SARS. Oracle was adding a technology and solutions center. Schering-Plough is another set of centers. It is another way of drawing attention, just as we've seen in Jordan, where these agreements help strengthen the business and investment context.

Fifth, on the security side, I want to try to get an assessment from these countries on where we stand on issues of common concern. Get some of their ideas. These range from the Proliferation Security Initiative to counterterrorism to maritime security. When I'm in Indonesia, I'm going to be meeting with sort of roundtable of some of the strategic thinkers that CSIS of Indonesia is kind enough to put together for me. In the Philippines, I'm going to be visiting Corregidor, recognizing the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II. So I'm not going to the May 9th Celebrations in Europe; I'm doing the Asian variety here.

Sixth point is recognizing that this region is one that is particularly important in what Goh Chok Tong referred to in a speech he gave in New York for the Council on Foreign Relations as the "soul of Islam". Then, Prime Minister Goh made a point that I thought was very powerful saying that the contest for the "soul of Islam" would be determined by Muslims, not non-Muslims, but non-Muslims could help create a more constructive context for that debate. In 1997, as a private citizen, my wife and I traveled in Indonesia. We were staying in Yogyakarta and were on our way to Solo, and this has always stuck in my mind, is that we stopped at Prambanan and Borobudur. I don't know if any of you have been there in Java. It is so striking because within a few miles of each other you have these Hindu and Buddhist temples in a country that is Muslim, and it really gives you a sense of the syncretic sort of nature of Islam in this part of the world and how it can be established in democracies in Malaysia and Indonesia and others. One of the discussions that I have had along the way is also our sense of what is going on in Iraq because some of the countries here have been helpful and been supportive. With Prime Minister Abdullah in Malaysia I hope to get a little better sense of the things he's been talking about with Islam Hadhari sort of the more Southeast Asian version of Muslim culture and society.

And, seventh, there is a case here for the advance of democracy. I'll be going to Indonesia. As I said, you have the first directly elected president. Prime Minister Thaksin has just been reelected. I'll be going to the Philippines where you had an election a year ago. And then other countries like Vietnam, where there is certainly a lot of work still to do. But we'll also talk about human rights and religious freedom, where we've been having a particular effort with the Vietnamese.

Then, I come back on May 11th. And on May 12th, there is a large meeting in Washington focused on the private sector support for tsunami, the post-tsunami. Actually, the Foreign Minister here will actually be coming to Washington the same day that I come back and we'll be participating in that. President Bush 41 as well as President Clinton will be part of that. In the evening, if I'm still awake at that point, Dick Holbrooke is going to do an interview with me coming back from the trip. So it has a nice sort of book-end quality to the visit.

So that's kind of an overview of lots of different parts so I'll be happy try to answer any of your questions.

QUESTION: Sir, about the Free Trade Agreement, the Ambassador last week or the week before spoke before the Foreign Correspondents Club about the benefits of free trade

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: He's supporting it, I hope

QUESTION: I think so. I want to ask you, did you speak to that issue much during this trip? Who were the groups and what are the issues that are vehemently opposed to a free trade agreement?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, one of the reasons that I stopped by the Parliament here was that I think it's very useful to conduct these negotiations in a general climate of transparency. There are always a lot of fears associated with these negotiations, whether in the United States or in the countries we are negotiating with. And I've found over the past four years that one can go a considerable way obviously it doesn't solve every anxiety by listening to people's concerns. Some of them become objectives to solve problems as part of the negotiations. And some you can alleviate fears, for example one of the big ones here is since there's been such a tremendous effort against HIV-AIDS, there has been a question I was asked about whether the strengthened intellectual property rights interfere with the agreements that were made in the WTO about access to medicines particularly for HIV-AIDS. And I'm particularly well-positioned to answer that since I negotiated the WTO agreements. And in the FTAs that I negotiated we made very clear, including through side letters in a formal part of the agreement, that it would not interfere with their ability to have access to medicines in the WTO agreements. So that's one particular example.

But what I did with the parliamentarians we had a good group of opposition, some government supporters is that I took long lists of questions and tried to address them everything from services to transparency to adjustment to IPR and parliamentary processes. There is another big anxiety in Thailand, about how can Thailand do a Free Trade Agreement with a big country like the United States. I started out by pointing out that right now Thailand exports to the United States about $17 billion a year, and we only export $7 billion a year to Thailand, so we have a $10 billion deficit, so they must be managing relatively well.

But I understand where that question comes from in terms of politics, so I tried to address why we thought a comprehensive agreement like the United States tries to negotiate is particularly beneficial. Here, without getting too technical on you, when people refer to Free Trade Agreements they are often talking about very different types of agreements, particularly among developing countries you might just open up a few sectors here and there. When we do Free Trade Agreements in the United States they cover agriculture, goods, services, government procurement, anti-corruption, transparency measures, environment and labor, intellectual property, and because of that, they tend to be viewed as the gold standard of Free Trade Agreements, which is attractive for many countries that want to compete globally. So while it is a bilateral agreement, it sends a broader signal. That's clearly what the Singaporeans' aim was. But in the last couple weeks I was talking with a number of states in the Arab world where we have Free Trade Agreements with Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain. There are others that are quite eager. And they see that as a way of pressing for reforms in their own economy, but also sending a signal about the overall investment climate.

So I think one of the things that Ambassador Boyce will follow up on and my former colleagues at USTR, you need to keep an open dialog, just as we do at home. People ask about agriculture subsidies. Well a lot of people don't know that unlike the European Union, the United States agricultural subsidies are really for a rather small set of products. We don't have them for fruits and vegetables; we don't have beef or poultry or pork or other meats. But we do have them for some of the row crops and so I explained how we need to try to negotiate those in a WTO context and why and how the United States is willing to have very substantial reductions. But I point out that when people in Thailand use the term fair and free trade, it's just like I encounter at home. When I mention that people's ideas of fairness depends a little on where they stand depends on where they sit. In the United States, people will say that it's unfair to negotiate with countries with lower wage levels. Here people say it's unfair with countries that have bigger economies or subsidies.

At least part of the dialog that I was trying to engage in here was to at least give people an opportunity to identify the problems, see how you work on them, and make the point that I made in many negotiations over four years which is, in most cases countries see the benefits of opening their markets. They see the win-win benefit of trade. But there are problems and you need to use this more as a problem-solving exercise than people's conventional wisdom of what a negotiation takes place. And so, for example in agriculture, you can have rather lengthy phases. In our Central American Free Trade Agreement, some of the agriculture products went 15-18 years through different phases.

QUESTION: ASEAN has been discussing the question of whether it would be appropriate for Burma to take on the chairmanship, and some of the ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Singapore have expressed concern about Burma's leadership. Thailand on the other hand has been rather silent and in the past the Thai government appears to have defended Burma's so-called reform process. I wonder if in your meeting with Thaksin this issue came up and whether either of you raised any concerns? Can I also ask you a second question?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Sure

QUESTION: It has to do with do with InVision. I wonder if you might tell us whether any topic having to do with procurement for baggage scanners for the new Bangkok International Airport came up in any of these talks and what was asked? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Normally I'm pretty good at remembering the second question, but now I'm jetlagged, so if I forget, come back. On Burma, the U.S. position is well-known about the nature of the regime and the need to release Aung San Suu Kyi and move to an open democratic system. We don't think that there's been positive developments on that front. It was a topic of discussion with both Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. As you know, Burma and Thailand are neighbors. They share a very, very long border. I think that the Foreign Minister addressed this question at the press availability we had after the meeting. He mentioned the issue, including the ASEAN chair, was of interest to Thailand, as well. And so I wouldn't characterize it the way your question did that they have not been focused on that issue. They obviously have their own set of bilateral ties in terms of dealing with everything from refugee populations to the ASEAN issues and I think they are trying to move Burma in a constructive direction. I did express our concern about how it would hinder our dealings with ASEAN if Burma were the chair, but I recognize that is a decision for the ASEAN countries to make.

InVision -- What I said about this I think at the press availability is that the United States has a law, The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and we think that it's a good and important law. We think that bribery and corruption erodes confidence in legal and economic systems. This company is the subject of action of our Department of Justice and our SEC. I can't speak specifically to all the particular elements of it, because there are law enforcement proceedings, but what I did say is that the U.S. would be pleased to have the appropriate authorities in the government of Thailand to be in touch with our law enforcement and securities authorities to be able to gain the facts. Now there's also, I think, some information about this that through the nature of the deferred prosecution agreement, some of this is already publicly available. That's what we discussed about it and the Prime Minister also made the point that I saw was in today's paper about what he intends to do with the contract.

QUESTION: Is it true that U.S. companies selling security equipment is there a law in the U.S. that says they have to sell it directly to a foreign government or operator or are they allowed to go through (inaudible)?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I don't know answer. I mean, I suppose it depends on who you're selling it to.

(inaudible answer by Embassy Economic Counselor)

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the back to the FTA negotiations with Thailand, what the likely timeline is on it, and what particular industries is it agriculture that is holding things up? And the second part of that, is the U.S. also seeking an ASEAN bi-regional FTA at any stage?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Let me deal with the second one first. In either 2002 or 2003 President Bush outlined something called the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, and the concept was that we wanted to strengthen our trade ties with countries throughout the region, but we needed to customize based on their position. So, for example, we had to get Cambodia into the WTO, which we did at the time of the Cancun meeting, 2003. Vietnam we still don't have in; Laos we don't have in. Vietnam is making good progress, but there is a lot of work to do in terms of their domestic legislation.

For other countries, the next stage is what we call a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement where we have quite frequent meetings, sometimes quarterly, where we try to do two different types of things. One is work on individual problem areas in terms of solving disputes, whether they be intellectual property or other issues customs or other topics but then secondly, for countries that are interested in moving toward a Free Trade Agreement, we work through with them what are the components of a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. All these are on our websites because all trade agreements are on the websites, but they are rather complex documents. So it allows people to work and prepare and countries that do the preparation and depending on their own political context can move quite quickly.

With Bahrain we negotiated about four months; Oman is frankly after two meetings we were almost done because they did all the preparations.

In the case of Free Trade Agreements in this region, we negotiated one with Singapore and the next was that Prime Minister Thaksin had expressed an interest, and so there have been three negotiating sessions. There is a fourth one that is going to be held in Montana, which is the home state of Senator Baucus, who is the ranking Democrat, the minority party, on the Senate Finance Committee. I actually used that today as an example about how one can use these negotiations to have outreach and build support.

I think one of things that goes back to your question about public anxiety more open, transparent processes help that. Thailand did a very good job of that when it was the APEC chair. I visited Khon Kaen where we had the trade ministers meeting, so I saw they had meetings all around the country. It's a way of trying to broaden the support and what I had hoped to do on this visit after our election and the elections in Thailand is to try to make sure that as a general matter we were focusing on some of the problem topics for the negotiators by the time of that Montana meeting, which would be in July. I am no longer the chief negotiator, so I now get to operate at a slightly bigger level, or macro level. In this case, there are sensitivities in financial services. There are questions about coverage of environment and labor, where in our Free Trade Agreements we don't impose any standards, but we have countries enforce their own law and then we try to work with them cooperatively in that area. Another area was intellectual property rights. And then a fourth area in services was that in our Free Trade Agreements and again these are different from most others we have what is called the negative list, which means that all subjects are covered under the liberalization unless you exclude them.

So that's the negative. A positive list is that you only cover the subjects that you say you're going to cover. We have found that the negative list is a much more effective way to move countries to the cutting edge of the services industries. Because you're basically developing principles that have a bias toward a liberalization of services markets as opposed to just covering the services of today, which if you take a field like computer services or others, five or ten years from now may be a totally different subject matter. So those are some of the topics. Agriculture is always a sensitive one. We have sensitive agricultural products. There are sensitivities in the Unites States. Some of Thailand competitiveness, for example the small truck industry, that's been very active and sort of a hub of production.

Both sides will have their sensitivities, but my major point was that we're at the start of President Bush's second term. Prime Minister Thaksin has been reelected. This is an opportunity to have a historical legacy and sort of an economic foundation for the future. So I wanted to try to do what I could to try to help push that forward.

QUESTION: Two questions. You mentioned earlier that you were trying to strengthen ties between ASEAN and the U.S. Why are you not visiting the rest of the ASEAN countries? And secondly, what are your human rights concerns in Vietnam?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well as for your first question, I've only been in this job about 9 weeks and I've been to 13 or 14 capitals in Europe. Iraq, Sudan, Jordan. Now 6 or 7 countries here. I'm back for 4 or 5 days and then I'm off to the Middle East again. So I do the best I can. And look, the countries that I'm visiting, maybe this will give you a little sense of age, when I first studied economic development back in '72 and '73 and I don't even know if you were born then my economics professor

QUESTION: I find that quite insulting, by the way

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: To say of age? You know, you're the first person I've ever mentioned that to

QUESTION: Why are we talking about age?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Because I was mentioning the point that I'll give you the background. In '72 and '73, I studied economic development looking at ASEAN as a model. My professor had studied in Malaysia and he was comparing it with the Indonesian model. I find that very interesting because most of my contemporaries didn't really have a focus on ASEAN in '72 or '73, so that was the historical reference. So it was more of a comment on my age than yours. I don't have the foggiest idea, nor do I care, what your age is. All right? If that helps. So that's the context of discussing ASEAN, because as you may know ASEAN was formed in 1967. It primarily had a security tie, but from an early point we were focusing on the economic development aspects of it, so in the interest of your visit of the countries that are members, I am able to visit on this tour, the six original ASEAN countries. What was your second question?

QUESTION: What are your human rights concerns in Vietnam?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I mentioned religious freedom is a very important one. Obviously, we also have a concern particularly in the highlands area about the Montagnards and some of the issues dealing with officials, sort of amnesty for people who had been imprisoned in the past. It's the full issues of civil and political rights, as well as the one I think we are making the most progress on, religious freedom.

QUESTION: Can I ask a follow-up on that? I read somewhere that the U.S. is actually sign some kind of agreement, a cooperation agreement on improving religious freedom. Can you confirm whether that's true and explain what it is about?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: There is law that set up countries of particular concern in term of religious freedom. It requires the U.S. to focus on countries that have practices that deny various aspects of religious freedom. Vietnam has made some steps already and we have been in the process of negotiating the exchange of letters, an agreement that would codify that. It isn't complete yet, but it's one of the items that I hope to discuss further when I'm there.

QUESTION: Can I ask maritime security is on your agenda what the U.S. plans to do to improve security, particularly in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, where the problems seems to be worsening.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: This is one where I am particularly interested in getting the perspective of people around the region. What they see as some of the issues. As you know, there are issues of piracy. There are issues of organized crime and related trafficking. It's one of the topics that when I was discussing even here today I got some sense from the Thais about their discussions with the Indonesians about the ability to have full sharing of information and respond to issues promptly. So part of this is coordinating national responses. I'm interested in getting their sense about how their own coordination particularly with Malaysia and Indonesia in the Straits of Malacca is proceeding. And whether there are things we could do of a cooperative nature to try to help and support it. At the same time, with the Straits there is the particularly sensitive issue of sovereignty, which we also respect. But I'm interested in getting their sense of how we are working together, how they see the problem, and what else we might do together.

QUESTION: If I could move the questions to another area of Asia to the China-Taiwan relationship? We've seen quite a bit in the last week and a half. The opposition leader going over to shake hands with Hu Jintao. I'm just wondering how the U.S. sees that? Do you see this as China and Taiwan moving closer to dialogue, or is it an example of China meddling in Taiwan's domestic politics?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: We've tried to encourage both Taiwan and Beijing to have a peaceful discussion about their relationship, whether they be economic ties or others. It's too soon to tell the exact direction of this, but I think anything that has Taiwan and Beijing talking about strengthening ties, whether it was the leader of the opposition, whether it was President Chen's overtures, I think it is a positive development, moving in the right direction. And it's the path we've been encouraging the parties to follow, as opposed to steps like the anti-succession law. I can't say for sure the exact path it's going to follow. In the past there have been twists and turns, but I see it as an encouraging set of developments.

QUESTION: Going back to Burma. Does the States plan to boycott the ASEAN summit if Burma assumes the chair? And after that there's been all this pressure from the United States and other countries on Burma already, the sanctions and what not. What more can the U.S. and ASEAN do to really put pressure on them for change?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: On the first one, it's a decision for ASEAN who they are going to have chair, but Burma's role puts severe limitations on what the U.S. can do. I can't go beyond that at this point. We'll have to see what ASEAN decides to do in terms of the chair. In terms of your second one- what else one can do with Burma - your question properly points out that we're doing most of what can try to do. So now it's a real question of whether others can continue to try to press the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi and move towards a serious process of democratic reconciliation.

In the years that I've been working on this issue, I've seen that there are more voices from Southeast Asia now raising concerns about the political situation in Burma than there were in the past, and I think that's a good step. When you have a regime like that, that seems relatively impervious to change, I don't want to forecast what it will take to get them to change. I will say this one of the points that I discussed with our Thai colleagues today it really is the (inaudible). I'm going to Vietnam, where the U.S. has questions about human rights in Vietnam Vietnam sees the benefits of trying to open up. There is very strong debate in Vietnam about this as they approach their tenth party Congress.

But wherever you look in the region, you see people opening up economically, and associated with it are political reforms. So I hope that the Burmese authorities will see the course of history here and how it's moving.

QUESTION: When you say that's it's a question of what other countries can do, how can you put pressure on Thailand or other countries in the region to do more?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I wouldn't use the word pressure. The point of this is that we give our views and discuss theirs. We explain the problems as we see them. These are sovereign counties that will make their own calculations. But we express what we see as the both the problem of the Burmese regime and what we see are the paths that the region should be following and we hope that Burma will someday follow too.

QUESTION: What do think the damage would be to ASEAN-U.S. relations if there is a Burmese chair?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I think I've said enough on that. I'm not going to speculate further. We have to see what happens. This is the first stop along 5 or 6 along the way, and I'll get a sense as I go through others of what the policies are. You've seen a number of countries in the region express their own concern about this and that's for ASEAN to consider among itself.

QUESTION: On U.S.-Vietnamese human rights cooperation, could you just elaborate a tiny bit on what way the two sides might cooperate on this issue?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: You said the last question was going to be two questions ago. Are you with the FT (Financial Times)?

QUESTION: Yes.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Do you have someone in Vietnam?

QUESTION: No, I'm the person in Vietnam. I cover 5 countries.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: What did I try to cover? I tried to cover religious freedom. I talked about the Montagnards. I didn't talk about their efforts on POW/MIAs. I talked about release of political prisoners. I guess more broadly, is steps that are trying to move toward a more open political system in terms of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, to basic civil and political rights will be the items that I will press. The Vietnamese perception of itself in the region is going through its own evolution and one of the most interesting examples of this is, I had a conversation with Senator John McCain who has particular interest in Vietnam; and, as he explained, the Vietnamese now see how they need to avoid being left behind through all the changes in the region and the changes going on in China. That led to debate in Vietnam that opened the way toward some economic reforms and by all accounts a very strong willingness of the government to try to join the WTO with some rather significant requirements in terms of transparency and openness and dealing with some of their government-owned companies.

And they want to develop good ties with the United States. They realize a stronger relationship with the United States will necessitate addressing some of these issues. Religious freedom is the first of what I hope will be a positive transition element. But you also have a leadership that is trying to evaluate itself the costs and benefits of this. I hoping the economic openness of the system will help advance the political agenda. We want to try to move both in concert. I think this is where the affect of ASEAN in the region is very useful. You've seen the effects through ASEAN's partners on Vietnam. Vietnam also sees the rise of China and it sees the influence of China. It wants to have a strong ASEAN and by all accounts, it wants to have a good relationship with the United States.

Thank you. 2005/472

ENDS


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