Cablegate: Staffdel Mccormick's Trip to Hanoi: Expanding

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF A: 03 HANOI 842 B: 03 HANOI 3373

1. SUMMARY: During Staffdel McCormick's official
meetings January 6-8 with the Vietnamese Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MOFA), National Assembly (NA),
Government Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), and
Office of the Government (OOG), the delegation agreed on
the value of an expanded U.S.-Vietnam relationship but
expressed concerns about human rights and religious
freedom. In addition, the delegation met with the
American Chamber of Commerce, Asia Foundation, the USAID-
funded Support for Trade AcceleRation (STAR) project, and
United Nations Development Program (UNDP). END SUMMARY.

2. A bi-partisan Congressional staff delegation led by
James McCormick, Staff Director of the House
International Relations Committee's (HIRC) Subcommittee
on Asia and the Pacific, visited Hanoi January 6-8 to
meet with GVN officials and representatives of
development assistance organizations. The delegation
also included: John Walker Roberts, Deputy Chief of
Staff, HIRC; Peter Yeo, Minority Deputy Chief of Staff,
HIRC; and, Douglas Anderson, Counsel, HIRC Subcommittee
on Asia and the Pacific. The stop in Hanoi followed four
days in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hue, and Quang Tri
(see septels). In Hanoi, the Staffdel met with Vice
Foreign Minister Nguyen Phu Binh, Vice Chairwoman of the
NA's Economic and Budget Committee Duong Thu Huong, Vice
Chairwoman of the NA's Foreign Affairs Committee Ton Nu
Thi Ninh, CRA Chairman Ngo Yen Thi, and Vice Minister of
the OOG Nguyen Quoc Huy.


3. Every Vietnamese interlocutor commented on the
importance of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, with VFM
Binh calling the U.S. one of Vietnam's "top partners."
Both sides noted recent positive developments in the
relationship. VFM Binh also stated that the expansion of
military-to-military cooperation, as evidenced by the
recent visit by the Vietnamese Minister of Defense to the
U.S. and the U.S. ship visit to Vietnam, would continue.
He asserted that the Vietnamese would participate in U.S.
military programs. However, this development would
depend upon Vietnamese public opinion, and contentious
issues in the relationship might affect it, he noted.

4. Other new areas of cooperation, including the counter-
narcotics agreement signed during Deputy Prime Minister
Vu Khoan's recent visit to the U.S., were touched upon in
the meeting with OOG Vice Minister Huy, who also said
that he welcomed negotiations on a framework agreement on
assistance and wanted to establish a framework to
determine long-term cooperation. VFM Binh separately
suggested that cooperation expand to other areas,
including education, Vietnamese MIAs, and agent orange.


5. The Staffdel consistently raised U.S. concerns
regarding human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam.
Members stressed that increased access and provision of
more accurate information could ensure that future
misunderstandings are avoided. While acknowledging the
long-term positive trends, they emphasized that
improvements must be made regarding problematic
individual cases. VFM Binh responded that the GVN
welcomes questions, comments, and criticism and allows
visits to sensitive areas. When it hears reports that
the police are abusing ethnic minorities, the GVN
investigates and "punishes" officials, he claimed.

6. Vice Chairwoman Ninh commented that there are simply
certain issues on which the U.S. and Vietnam will not
agree. VFM Binh separately remarked that the values and
traditions of the U.S. and Vietnam differ. Vietnam
attaches more importance to community interests than to
individual ones. It has thus targeted much of its
efforts at poverty reduction, using its small state
budget to assist the poor and disadvantaged, especially
in mountainous areas. VFM Binh asserted that, because
the GVN recognizes the difficulties of ethnic minorities,
it gives them preferences in areas such as higher
education and government employment. Regarding religion,
he stated that pre-1945 in the North and pre-1975 in the
South, many conflicts took place due to discrimination by
government administrations. By contrast, he claimed that
there have been no conflicts since.

7. Various Vietnamese officials emphasized that the
number of religious followers has been rapidly growing in
recent years. CRA Chairman Thi further explained that
the GVN's official policy is to encourage religions to
grow, because religion is an "important part" of the
people's spiritual life. He stressed that the GVN
respects religious freedoms and must "take care" of
religions. Furthermore, he stated that the GVN policy is
in line with the international covenants and treaties of
which it is a party. VFM Binh admitted that the GVN is
not "perfect" on these issues and that there is room for
improvement. Furthermore, the implementation of some GVN
policies is not always as it wishes, he added.
8. Various GVN officials attributed the 2001 unrest in
the central highlands to land disputes, mismanagement by
local officials, and "foreign forces" who took advantage
of the situation to encourage separatism. CRA Chairman
Thi further stated that the Southern Evangelical Church
of Vietnam (SECV) had acted "incorrectly" by recognizing
churches without consulting with local officials and by
appointing untrained clergy. VFM Binh asserted that the
GVN reacted "calmly," not repressing demonstrations and
only arresting "separatists." Chairman Thi stressed that
action had to be taken against churches in order to end
the separatist movement. Unfortunately, he said, there
was some confusion between those churches involved in the
movement and those not. The GVN does not have a policy
to take "harsh" actions against churches, he emphasized.
Of those closed, twenty-four have since reopened. Last
year, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the
central highlands and churches. Chairman Thi stated that
he expected all religious activities in this area to
return to "normal" soon.

9. Chairman Thi also discussed the United Buddhist
Church of Vietnam (UBCV). He claimed that the GVN has
taken a "soft" approach even though this organization
affects the unity and solidarity of Buddhism in Vietnam.
Regarding Thich Huyen Quang, Chairman Thi asserted that
the GVN had reached out to him during a productive
meeting between him and the Prime Minister (ref A).
However, Chairman Thi claimed that Thich Huyen Quang took
actions immediately after this exchange that went against
the pledge of improved Buddhist unity, even participating
in "illegal activities." Although the GVN respects the
right of all Vietnamese to follow their faith, it has its
own regulatory framework, and violators must be treaded
in accordance with the law, he insisted.

10. Responding to a question about the number of
Catholic clergy being trained (septel), Chairman Thi
listed the number of clergy recently appointed, promoted,
and trained. He asserted that the supply of clergy
depends upon the capacity of each religion and that the
GVN does not intervene. Those with a longer history in
Vietnam, such as the Buddhist church, have better
training schools and institutions. Regardless, all
religions are allowed to open schools and publish

11. In response to the delegation's reference to
recently convicted activist/journalist Nguyen Vu Binh
(ref B) and conveyance of a copy of a letter from
Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA), VFM Binh promised to
"take note" of this case. At the same time, he asserted
that the courts only deal with those who have violated
Vietnamese laws. He acknowledged that there are some
prohibitions in Vietnamese law that do not exist in other
countries. Still, providing "untrue" information to
those outside Vietnam violated Vietnamese law, according
to VFM Binh. VFM Binh, Vice Chairwoman Ninh, and Vice
Minister Huy separately emphasized that they would all
like more visits and discussion on the issues of
religious freedom and human rights. VFM Binh further
stated that he hopes the problems between the U.S. and
Vietnam can be settled through dialogue.

12. During a breakfast with the American Chamber of
Commerce, American businessmen and NGO representatives
also raised human rights and religious freedom. Amcham
members expressed worry about Congressional legislation
on these matters, stating that it could affect their work
in Vietnam. Furthermore, they argued that the problems
are "limited." Citing personal experiences, they spoke
about their ability to worship freely in Vietnam. Many
also stated that Vietnamese colleagues and friends
expressed little interest in this subject and did not
feel their rights restricted. Several Amcham members,
many of whom have been in Vietnam for almost ten years,
further commented that the human rights and religious
freedom situation in Vietnam has continuously improved.

13. In meetings with representatives of the Asia
Foundation, USAID-funded STAR project, and UNDP, the
delegation learned about the many ways that assistance is
being used to move Vietnam in a positive manner.
According to Asia Foundation Rep Jonathan Stromseth,
among numerous other projects, the Foundation is working
to improve the administrative capacity of provincial
governments. USAID-funded STAR project director Steve
Parker noted that his program noted that STAR is
assisting Vietnam in implementing the U.S.-Vietnam
Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA). Collectively this
comprehensive agreement and the STAR project, which
requires Vietnam not only to liberalize its market but
also to increase transparency and intellectual property
rights protection, are bringing about real changes in
Vietnam, he said. Designed as a demand-driven program,
STAR responds to GVN requests for assistance in
implementing the BTA. He stressed that real GVN
commitment thus exists for executing STAR's
recommendations. Working with more than forty agencies,
STAR has affected changes in areas such as the
publication of laws, and is currently working with the
GVN to create an administrative appeal procedure, he

14. UNDP's far-reaching activities in Vietnam include
significant work on HIV/AIDS. In a long conversation on
this topic (see septel regarding the delegation's visit
to an anonymous testing site in Ho Chi Minh City), UNDP's
Resident Representative Jordan Ryan explained the
fundamental shift in GVN attitudes on this subject that
has occurred over the past six months. It would appear
that many Ministries are beginning to understand that
this disease could have a devastating impact if it
remains unchecked. Still, both the delegation and UNDP
expressed their concern regarding a recent GVN decision
to eliminate the National AIDS Standing Bureau and make
Ministry of Health the lead agency on this subject.

15. This cable was cleared by James McCormick.

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