Cablegate: Senator Webb's December 23-24 Meetings in Hanoi

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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In a wide-ranging set of meetings in Hanoi
December 23-24, Senator Jim Webb emphasized the considerable
progress made since he first re-engaged with Vietnam as a civilian
in 1991. Speaking with officials from the National Assembly (NA),
MFA and Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT); the Archbishop of
Hanoi; local intellectuals; and U.S. businessmen, the Senator
emphasized the need to continue to develop a relationship he
described as one of the four most important in Asia. At the same
time, the Senator stressed that true reconciliation must also
embrace those in Vietnam's south, as well as in the diaspora, who
had suffered after 1975. The Vietnamese side was well briefed, both
on the Senator's personal history with Vietnam and on issues
particular to Virginia, and spoke from common talking points on GSP,
market economy status, and catfish exports. END SUMMARY.

Building a Bridge

2. (SBU) The consistent theme of Senator Jim Webb's December 23-24
meetings in Hanoi was the need to continue strengthening the
U.S.-Vietnam relationship, which he characterized as one of the four
most important in Asia. In separate discussions with VFM Pham Binh
Minh, NA Vice Chairman Nguyen Duc Kien, NA Foreign Affairs Committee
Chair Nguyen Van Son, and MOIT VM Do Huu Hao -- as well as in
conversations with Vietnamese intellectuals at the Ambassador's
residence December 23 and with the American Chamber of Commerce
December 24 -- Senator Webb emphasized the impressive growth in
U.S.-Vietnam ties in the years since the Senator first became
re-engaged with the country as a business consultant, journalist,
and war veteran in the early 1990s. Particularly striking, the
Senator noted, were improvements in the business and investment
climate, as well as efforts -- on both sides -- to heal the wounds
of war.

3. (SBU) At the same time, Senator Webb emphasized candidly, as a
longstanding friend of Vietnam, that true reconciliation would
remain elusive as long as substantial elements of Vietnamese society
in Vietnam's south, as well as in the diaspora, remained excluded.
In making this point, the Senator noted that "bridges," while
invaluable, are vulnerable to hostile fire from either side. In
this vein, Senator Webb emphasized to National Assembly Vice Chair
Kien the tremendous symbolic importance of his planned visits to the
Ho Chi Minh City Martyrs Cemetery (for NLF and PAVN soldiers) and
the Binh An Cemetery (for soldiers of the ARVN).

4. (SBU) The Senator's official interlocutors voiced general
agreement and argued that attitudes were changing; VFM Minh noted,
for example, that Vietnam's embassy in Washington was actively
pursuing better relations with the Vietnamese community of Northern
Virginia. The only discordant note was struck by NA Vice Chairman
Kien, who complained about the activities of Vietnamese Americans
critical of the GVN; however, Kien's remarks appeared almost
perfunctory, and overall the tone of the Senator's visit was
extremely positive. VFM Minh urged the two sides to boost
cooperation on education, while NA Foreign Affairs Committee Chair
Son and his deputy, former UN Ambassador Ngo Quang Xuan, called for
more legislative exchanges and support for the National Assembly's
efforts to carve out a more robust law-making and oversight role.
MOIT VM Hao urged closer collaboration on science and technology
issues, particularly in the energy sector.

GSP, Market Economy Status, Catfish

5. (SBU) The Senator's official counterparts presented a closely
coordinated message urging Senator Webb to support Vietnam's efforts
to be granted GSP status. The most forceful advocate of the GVN
position was MOIT VM Hao who expressed hope that a favorable
decision could be reached before the end of the Bush Administration,
as was discussed during PM Nguyen Tan Dung's June visit to
Washington. VM Hao (and others) cited a letter his ministry had
sent to the USTR detailing plans to revise Vietnam's labor laws by
2010. VM Hao and NA Vice Chairman Kien also made a strong push for
Market Economy Status, arguing that such a move would help Vietnam
in its efforts to redress its trade surplus with the United States.
The Senator explained continuing U.S. concerns over labor standards,
stressing that these were standards that the United States sought to
apply universally, not just with Vietnam. The Ambassador urged
Vietnam to consider a Presidential decree to cover the period until
appropriate legislation could be pass.

6. (SBU) Moving to an issue of direct concern to the Senator's
constituents, VM Hao, Chairman Kien, and VFM Minh urged Senator Webb
to oppose efforts to reclassify certain types of Vietnamese fish,
such as the basa, as catfish. Senator Webb responded that his
primary concern was less with categorization than with food safety
and inspection.

HANOI 00001408 002.2 OF 002

Local Intellectuals: U.S. Elections and China

7. (SBU) While the Senator's GVN counterparts were generally
circumspect about the change in U.S. administrations, intellectuals
hosted by the Ambassador the evening of December 23 were more
effusive. The former President of Hanoi University, Dr. Nguyen Xuan
Vang, and Institute of Development Studies economist Le Dang Doanh
expressed admiration for the U.S. electoral process and said they
hoped that an Obama administration would remain engaged in Asia.
Doanh, Vang, and the head of Hanoi Moi newspaper's foreign affair
division, Nguyen Quoc Chinh, also voiced familiar concerns about
China, in particular fears that Vietnam was becoming economically
dependent on its northern neighbor.

AmCham Focuses on the U.S.

8. (SBU) At an American Chamber of Commerce breakfast December 24,
members of the U.S. expatriate business community expressed concern
that Vietnam, despite certain advantages, would be hit hard by the
global financial crisis. Attention was primarily focused on the
United States, however, with the Senator fielding tough questions on
the Treasury Department's troubled assets relief program (TARP), the
extension of TARP funds to U.S. automakers, and foreign policy
priorities for the incoming Obama administration. Webb said that he
has advised both President-Elect Obama and future Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton that the United States should concentrate on
strengthening its relationships with countries in the region besides
China and listed Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand as
potential key partners. Senator Webb noted that he was particularly
heartened to see where the U.S.-Vietnam relationship is today.

A Moving Discussion with the Archbishop

9. (SBU) In his final official meeting, Senator Webb and his wife
exchanged Christmas greetings with Hanoi Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang
Kiet. (Note: The next morning, Senator Webb and his family attended
the Christmas service conducted by the Archbishop. End note.)
Archbishop Kiet eschewed more sensitive topics such as land
disputes at the former residence of the Papal Nunciate and Thai Ha
parishes, instead focusing on Pope Benedict's call for world peace
and an end to poverty. Senator Webb's allusion to his work as a
"bridge" between Vietnam and the United States, and the
sensitivities this involves, appeared to resonate with the
Archbishop, who himself has come under pressure from the Chairman of
the Hanoi People's Committee. Noting that reconciliation was in
harmony with the teachings of Catholicism, Archbishop Kiet expressed
hope that divisions within Vietnamese society -- regional
differences, political divisions, ethnic and religious tensions --
could be bridged and old wounds healed.

10. (SBU) The Senator declined an opportunity to clear this cable.

© Scoop Media

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