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Cablegate: Ambassador's October 13 Dinner with Vice Foreign

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
SUBJECT: Ambassador's October 13 Dinner with Vice Foreign
Minister Nguyen Phu Binh

1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador hosted a dinner October 13
for Vice Foreign Minister Nguyen Phu Binh, who, in his
capacity as head of the MFA's Committee on Overseas
Vietnamese, will soon travel to the United States to discuss
Viet Kieu issues. Binh said Vietnam desired improved
relations with Vietnamese-Americans and sought to welcome
ethnic Vietnamese back to the "homeland." He stressed that
he is willing meet with any person or group who had a
"different viewpoint," but their attitude had to be
"constructive;" he would not engage with "extremists." On
China, Binh said that Beijing needed to discuss territorial
issues (the Spratlys) with all interested parties and not
try to deal with invidual claimants; the same applied to the
Paracels. Vietnam looked to other countries in the region
for good development examples, but the most obvious model
was China. Vietnam also wanted to play a more prominent
role in the region, and WTO accession would help to speed
this along; however, the support and "sympathy" of the
United States are key. The USG sent the wrong message to
Vietnam by failing to deal with "negative anti-Vietnam
elements" in the United States, and attempting to pressure
Vietnam through the Country of Particular Concern (CPC)
designation, for example, would be counter-productive.
Although Vietnam sees human rights as a collective issue, it
is ready to deal with "individual cases" raised by the
United States. End Summary.

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2. (U) The Ambassador, accompanied by PAO and Pol/C, hosted
a dinner October 13 for Vice Foreign Minister Nguyen Phu
Binh. Binh, who is also head of the MFA's Committee for
Overseas Vietnamese, will depart October 15 for a six-day
visit to Canada and a ten-day visit to the United States,
including stops in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and
Northern California. VFM Binh's purpose is to discuss Viet
Kieu (overseas Vietnamese) issues with central and local
government authorities, community groups and individuals of
Vietnamese descent. Binh's delegation will include Tran Van
Thinh, Director of the Committee's Department for General
Community Research, and Dang Tran Phong, Editor-in-chief of
the Committee's Que Huong (Homeland) Journal. Both Thinh
and Phong joined VFM Binh and the Ambassador for dinner.

3. (U) Binh opened by explaining that the Committee on
Overseas Vietnamese, which became part of the MFA in 1996
and has a permanent staff of 70, was primarily responsible
for outreach to communities of ethnic Vietnamese living
overseas through the MFA's missions and official media,
including the Committee's "Homeland" journal and website.
Binh agreed with the Ambassador that the 1.4 million
Vietnamese-Americans represented a potential bridge between
the United States and Vietnam. Although dealing with the
thorny issue of Vietnam's relations with Vietnamese-
Americans was sometimes "difficult," after many years,
"things are getting better." For its part, Vietnam
considered all overseas Vietnamese to be "Vietnamese,"
regardless of their current citizenship. "Although the war
divided us, after 30 years, there is no reason to remain
divided," the Vice Foreign Minister said. "Asians attach
great importance to their homeland and where their
ancestors' graves are located, and Vietnam's primary
objective is to have overseas Vietnamese return home and
visit these graves and see for themselves the changes in
Vietnam," he continued. Returning to Vietnam to "make
economic or other contributions" was of secondary
importance, Binh asserted.

4. (U) The Ambassador noted that improved relations between
Viet Kieu and Vietnam would have a positive impact on the
overall bilateral relationship. Conversely, voices in the
Vietnamese-American community speaking out against building
up the bilateral relationship could be harmful. We needed
to have positive voices to counterbalance the harmful ones
and to help the leaders in both countries to move the
bilateral relationship in a positive direction. Outreach,
both by the Committee and by Vietnam's Ambassador and other
diplomats in the United States, was important to bridge the
information gap, the Ambassador said.

5. (U) VFM Binh explained that, while in the United States,
he would meet with anyone who is willing to discuss issues
in a constructive manner. He would not meet with
"extremists," however, or anyone else who does not wish to
have a "constructive dialogue." Binh noted that he had met
twice with former Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) Vice
President Nguyen Cao Ky and agreed that, while the latter's
high profile visit was positive, what was more important was
to develop a "fundamental, broad-based way" to improve
Vietnam's relationship with Vietnamese-Americans.

6. (U) Binh explained that ethnic Vietnamese who had assumed
different nationalities, although treated as foreigners in
Vietnam, nonetheless had "special privileges," such as being
able to purchase land and other real estate. He agreed that
it is important to ensure that, as the number of Vietnamese-
Americans returning to Vietnam to visit or live continued to
rise, they are aware of the sometimes special rules that
govern their activities here. The Ambassador stressed that
one of the U.S. Mission's primary responsibilities is to
provide assistance to Americans in trouble. If a Vietnamese-
American ran afoul of the law -- particularly outside of
urban areas -- local police and other officials often are
not aware of the need for notification, for example, and
this sometimes gives the GVN a black eye. Good coordination
between the Mission and the GVN is the way to avoid this,
the Ambassador said.

7. (U) Binh listened with interest to the Ambassador's
listing of a number of prominent Vietnamese-Americans --
including a professional football player -- and agreed that
they could play a useful role in advancing Vietnam's
relations with the Viet Kieu community in the United States.
That said, Vietnam is always ready to welcome any ethnic
Vietnamese back to the "homeland;" even if they could not
make a "direct contribution," they could still help to build
a bridge. Binh reiterated that Vietnam would not hesitate
to talk with people of different viewpoints, particularly if
these viewpoints aare different because of a lack of
understanding about the "real situation" in Vietnam.
However, there would be no discussions with extremists, Binh
repeated. Vietnam needs to be persistent, and it might take
a long time to win over some members of the Vietnamese-
American community. But Vietnam has time. Some 20 years
ago, only 8,000 Vietnamese-Americans returned to Vietnam in
one year. Now the number was 360,000 per year and rising.
All of these individuals might not agree with what they see
and hear in Vietnam, but they are welcome nonetheless, Binh


8. (SBU) VFM Binh's brief also includes Asia and Africa
issues and, changing gears, Binh discussed briefly PRC Prime
Minister Wen Jiabao's recent visit to Hanoi and his
bilateral discussions with Vietnam's leaders (septel). On
the subject of the Spratlys, Binh opined that China's aim
was to "put aside" the current territorial disputes and
focus on oil and natural gas exploration, but, because this
is a sensitive maritime area, all the parties involved
should discuss the issue only within the context of the
Declaration of Conduct, he stressed. Separate discussions
or deals only added to mutual suspicion and mistrust. For
that reason, Vietnam would not join China and others in a
deal to explore jointly the disputed area because this would
send a signal that Vietnam sought only to take care of
itself. The key to resolve this is a discussion among all
the parties, Binh emphasized.

9. (SBU) Turning to tourism in the Spratlys, Binh said that,
although several Vietnamese tourism companies had "noisily"
advertised trips to the islands, in reality this is possible
only during April and May and there just are not the
facilities to handle tourists. The GVN does not want to
increase tension with China over this issue and, although it
did not actively discourage the companies from advertising
travel to the Spratlys, it did not encourage them, either.
For now, the issue appeared to have faded away, Binh said.
China had itself indicated its desire to develop tourism in
the Paracels, he added. For historic reasons, Vietnam had a
claim to two of the islands and had told the Chinese that,
for the same reason that China opposes Vietnam's development
of tourism in the Spratlys, Vietnam opposes Paracels
tourism. If China wants to move forward with this tourism
plan, it has to discuss it with the other concerned parties,
Binh said.


10. (SBU) Fundamentally, Vietnam shares with every other
country in Asia the desire for peace and stability, Binh
noted. In this sense, Vietnam is no different from China.
As for an economic role model, Vietnam has endeavored to
select the "good experiences" of its neighbors, such as
China, Thailand and Malaysia. Of course, China's
experiences are a good fit for Vietnam because of the
similarities of both countries' political and economic
systems. In terms of the development of Vietnam's trade
relations, the United States is its number one market, but
Vietnam should not rely solely on this market. Because of
trade disputes -- such as those involving shrimp and catfish
-- it is wise for Vietnam to diversify its trading partners
to lower the risks to itself. The EU, Japan and China --
the latter in particular because of its proximity to Vietnam
-- are among Vietnam's more attractive trading partners.
Politically, Vietnam hopes that ASEAN could be a solid
political bloc, but some members -- such as Indonesia -- are
focusing on internal political matters; "the sooner
stabilized, the better," Binh continued. Vietnam is
concerned about ASEAN stability, particularly as some
members sometimes seem to be more concerned about their own
national interests rather than those of the group as a


11. (SBU) Vietnam's relationship with Japan is positive,
thanks in large measure to Japan's status as Vietnam's
largest ODA provider. Binh agreed that U.S. assistance --
particularly in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention -- is
significant, and Vietnam hopes for continued U.S. economic
and other support, such as in bilateral WTO negotiations.
The EU had recently concluded its WTO talks with Vietnam,
and Japan had "promised" to conclude its bilateral
negotiations soon. The United States and China were the
only two question marks, and Vietnam hopes to persuade China
not to have "greater requirements" than the United States
and the EU. WTO accession could help Vietnam to play an
even more prominent role in preserving peace and stability
in the region, Binh said.

12. (SBU) The year 2005 would be significant because of the
removal of textile quotas for WTO members China and India,
who stood to benefit greatly, Binh noted. As a result,
Vietnam's textile industry could "collapse." This would put
great pressure on Vietnam and would lead to increased
unemployment. WTO accession, while generally positive,
would also have negative aspects, and Vietnam hopes that the
United States will help to mitigate these downsides.
Vietnam's economy could not become strong overnight, and
Vietnam thus needed the "sympathy" of big countries like the
United States, Binh argued.


13. (SBU) Returning to the subject of Vietnamese-Americans,
Binh expressed his hope that the USG would play a role in
improving the "atmosphere" and promoting "positive and
favorable elements" while reducing "negative elements." For
example, the Vietnam Caucus on the Hill is a positive
element and is playing a constructive role in building the
bilateral relationship. However, the USG, by failing to
take action against individuals and groups that sought to
harm Vietnam, only created an unfavorable image of the
United States in the eyes of many Vietnamese. Binh said
that the GVN hoped that the USG would not hesitate in
dealing with individuals such as Nguyen Huu Chanh and Vo Van
Duc, whom many Vietnamese believe the United States supports
by not bringing them to justice. (Note: Nguyen Huu Chanh
is the president of the Government of Free Vietnam (GFVN),
an exile group which calls for the overthrow of the GVN.
The GFVN has previously operated camps of "freedom fighters"
along the Thai border, and is accused by the GVN of
involvement in attacks on GVN facilities in Vietnam and
abroad. GFVN supporter Vo Van Duc was convicted in absentia
by a Thai court of attempting to place a bomb in front of
the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok. He is currently
imprisoned in California while his extradition hearings
continue. End Note.) The Ambassador stressed that the USG
would take action if we had evidence of wrongdoing and urged
the GVN to provide us with whatever information is available
on the individuals and groups of concern.


14. (SBU) Binh agreed with the Ambassador that, in areas
such as law enforcement cooperation and intelligence
sharing, improving cooperation and diminishing the mistrust
held by some can only come through a step-by-step process.
Vietnam's leadership holds many different opinions, and some
believe that the risks of closer relations with the United
States outweigh the benefits. Country of Particular Concern
(CPC) designation did not help, Binh continued, and only
served to convince some in Vietnam that the bilateral
relationship has more negative than positive aspects. In
the area of human rights, Vietnam, like other Asian
countries, believes that the group is more important than
the individual, and that efforts to improve the lot of the
greatest number of people outweigh those to help individuals
or small groups. That said, Binh continued, Vietnam would
pay attention to the individual cases the United States
raised. While true that the United States and Vietnam have
different systems, the Ambassador responded, human rights
and religious freedom are issues of serious concern to the
American people, and our two countries must work together to
resolve our differences in these areas.


15. (SBU) Over time, increased contacts between Vietnam and
the United States will gradually decrease differences, but
both sides need to make efforts, Binh continued. Vietnam is
small, and pressure from a large country like the United
States would be "counterproductive." However, if the United
States sets out to resolve bilateral differences through
dialogue, then Vietnam would be ready to work with the
United States. Unfortunately, resolutions by certain
American localities to "prevent" the visits of GVN officials
have led some Vietnamese provincial officials to consider
blocking the visits of USG officials. The Ambassador
explained that these resolutions were a statement of local
sentiment and had no force in law. Hopefully, the MFA would
understand this and work with the Mission and Vietnamese
local governments to ensure that USG travelers had safe and
productive trips, the Ambassador urged. Binh concluded by
underlining the importance of dealing with Vietnam with
"peace and friendship." If the United States is able to do
this, then there will be no "difficulties."

16. (SBU) Comment: Vice Foreign Minister Binh was an easy
and knowledgeable interlocutor whose Asia experience -- he
was Vietnam's first ambassador to South Korea in 1992 -- was
reflected in his thoughtful discussion of regional issues.
While he might be the first to admit that his brief --
promoting reconciliation between Vietnam and Vietnamese-
Americans -- is not an easy one, his apparent open-
mindedness in dealing with this issue will likely serve him
well in the task ahead. End Comment.

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