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Cablegate: Ambassador's Farewell Visit to Ho Chi Minh City

VZCZCXRO0179
PP RUEHHM
DE RUEHHM #0841/01 2262107
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P R 142107Z AUG 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2979
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2105
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3183

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000841

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV KIRF ECON VM
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S FAREWELL VISIT TO HO CHI MINH CITY


1. (U) Summary: On August 5-8, Ambassador Marine paid farewell
calls on Ho Chi Minh City's political, economic and religious
leaders, noting significant progress in the U.S.-Vietnam
relationship and highlighting possible areas for improvement.
During his visit, the Ambassador met with HCMC People's
Committee Chairman Le Hoang Quan, political activist Dr. Nguyen
Dan Que, Catholic Cardinal Pham Minh Man, representatives from
the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV), and a group
of house church pastors. He also spoke about reform challenges
in Vietnam's higher education system at the University of
Hawaii's Shidler School of Business Executive MBA program in Ho
Chi Minh City, met with members of AMCHAM and visited a
PEPFAR-funded legal HIV/AIDS Clinic. The Ambassador's visit,
which included a press roundtable, received broad and positive
coverage from the Vietnamese media. Meetings with Dr. Que and
religious representatives reported in septels. End Summary.

Ho Chi Minh City'S MODEL ECONOMY
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) During his farewell call on HCMC People's Committee
Chairman Le Hoang Quan, Ambassador Marine said he could see Ho
Chi Minh City's rising economic success through the changes on
the city streets during his time in Vietnam. He praised the
People's Committee for its role in creating a business
environment that facilitates fast-paced economic growth, setting
the standard against which all other urban centers in Vietnam
are measured. He encouraged the People's Committee to find ways
to share Ho Chi Minh City's successful model with other parts of
Vietnam. The Ambassador stressed the USG stands ready to assist
the GVN to make progress on transparency, governance and rule of
law issues, which would create a more predictable commercial and
investment environment in Vietnam. Chairman Quan thanked the
Ambassador for his efforts to improve ties between the United
States and Vietnam, and Ho Chi Minh City in particular.

3. (SBU) In response to points raised by the Ambassador,
Chairman Quan said that the growing trade deficit could be
linked to the high cost of American products. Although the
products are high quality, Vietnam can often purchase American
products from a third-country at a cheaper rate than buying
direct. Chairman Quan suggested that Vietnam would like to
establish a food quality control center to assure that its food
exports are of the highest quality.

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT
---------------------

4. (SBU) Reinforcing points made during his meeting with
President Triet July 31, Ambassador Marine said the USG is
prepared to engage more fully with the GVN on establishing a
Peace Corps program to improve English language teaching in
Vietnam and strengthening law enforcement cooperation. He added,
however, that we need a firm commitment from central and
provincial GVN leadership before we can begin providing funding
and programming for such efforts. Echoing comments from
President Triet, Chairman Quan said the GVN is ready to
implement a Peace Corps agreement and stands ready to finalize
details of the program. He indicated the GVN was also willing
to enhance law enforcement cooperation to fight burgeoning crime
and social problems.

5. (SBU) The Ambassador praised HCMC's leaders for their
outstanding partnership in the joint fight against HIV/AIDS, but
urged more progress in granting permits for non-governmental and
religious organizations to assist people living with HIV/AIDS
(PLWHA's). Chairman Quan said that NGOs and religious groups
are allowed to provide social services. He added, however, that
the government carefully considers the skill sets of
organizations offering assistance when approving requests and
fears opening too many clinics would promote the false
impression of an AIDS epidemic in Vietnam.

6. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that, despite progress the GVN
has made on freedom of religion, there remain strong differences
between the USG and GVN's approach to human rights and that in
order to maintain a close bilateral relationship, the GVN needs
to show significant improvements in its human rights policy.
One way the GVN could demonstrate its commitment to democracy
and human rights would be through programs that support rule of
law, good governance and anti-corruption in Vietnam. Quan
agreed differences of opinion on human rights remain, and
encouraged more visits from members of Congress to assess the
situation here firsthand.

7. (SBU) Note: One day before the Ambassador's visit, HCMC
External Relations Office (ERO) Deputy Director Le Hung Quoc
requested a meeting with Consul General Fairfax to discuss the
Ambassador's visit. At the meeting, Quoc said it would be
inappropriate for the Ambassador to meet with democracy activist
Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, People's Committee Chairman Quan, and Party

HO CHI MIN 00000841 002 OF 002


Secretary Le Thanh Hai during the same visit. The Consul

SIPDIS
General said that, while he understood GVN sensitivities, this
would be Ambassador Marine's last opportunity to meet with key
contacts. He also urged GVN to view the Ambassador's contacts
with a broad spectrum of individuals as a sign of the deepening
of our bilateral relationship. The Consul General promised to
relay ERO's concerns to Hanoi, but in an aside with Quoc after
the meeting noted that if Ambassador was forced to choose
between meeting HCMC leaders and Dr. Que, he would choose Dr.
Que. Subsequently, the ConGen was told by ERO that Party
Secretary Hai's busy schedule did not permit a meeting, but

SIPDIS
confirmed the Ambassador's farewell call with Chairman Quan.
End Note.

VISIT TO PEPFAR-FUNDED HIV/AIDS LEGAL CLINIC
--------------------------------------------

8. (U) Ambassador Marine toured facilities at the Lawyers'
Association of Ho Chi Minh City HIV/AIDS Legal Clinic and met
with staff and volunteer peer-counselors living with HIV/AIDS.
The clinic staff thanked the Ambassador for his commitment to
the prevention of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam, and shared stories of
struggles and successes. When asked about their biggest
challenges, the staff told Ambassador Marine that they have not
received full guidance on the process for supporting PLWHA's
because the sub-ordinance of the Law on HIV/AIDS Prevention and
Control is not yet finished. Staff also said that facilities at
the clinic, which opened in January 2007, are already proving
too small and under-resourced.

Vietnam's Education Sector: Opportunities for Growth
--------------------------------------------- --------

9. (U) At the University of Hawaii's Shidler School of Business
Executive MBA Program, Ambassador Marine spoke to an audience of
students, business people and educators about the challenges of
reforming Vietnam's higher education system and opportunities
for cooperation with the United States. Citing statistics from
the World Bank 2006 World Development Report, he noted that in
comparison to other countries in the region, Vietnam is lagging
well behind in education. He said Vietnam's key challenges were
building a better infrastructure, training more qualified
teachers, and generating more high-quality independent research.
The Ambassador highlighted a number of United States
universities that have created partnerships with local
universities to provide undergraduate and graduate education
opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City. He also described the
successes of the Fulbright Economic Teaching Program and the
Vietnam Education Foundation, and affirmed the desire of the USG
to provide curriculum design assistance to the Ministry of
Education.

AmCham SHOWS APPRECIATION
-------------------------

10. (U) Ambassador Marine met with a group of governors and
former chairs of the Ho Chi Minh City branch of AmCham to
discuss U.S.-Vietnam relations and share Mission Vietnam's
impressions regarding President Triet's recent visit to the
United States. He encouraged the organization to continue
keeping Mission Vietnam updated on concerns and activities of
the U.S. business community and to maintain dialogue with the
GVN and the U.S. Congress on the state of the business
environment in Vietnam. Local AmCham branch Vice Chair Walter
Blocker thanked the Ambassador on behalf of the Ho Chi Minh City
business community for his leadership for the past three years
and specifically for his support during President Triet's visit
to the United States and the APEC summit.

PRESS COVERAGE -- EXCELLENT
---------------------------

11. (U) During his final press roundtable in Ho Chi Minh City
on August 7, the Ambassador took the opportunity to respond to
questions on trade and investment, human rights, and bilateral
achievements, including those dealing with Agent Orange/dioxin,
HIV/AIDS and education. Ho Chi Minh City print and broadcast
media also covered Ambassador Marine's education speech and his
visit to the PEPFAR-funded Legal Clinic. At the close of each
event, the Ambassador took questions on education, the economy
and bilateral relations in general.

12. (U) Nine print dailies covered the Ambassador's visit,
along with a front-page report by the Saigon Times. In
addition, his visit to the Legal Clinic and his farewell meeting
with Chairman Le Hoang Quan received primetime news coverage on
HTV.


13. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi and
cleared by Ambassador Marine.
FAIRFAX

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