Cablegate: Codel Faleomavaega Touts Engagement During January 4-5 Visit

DE RUEHHI #0124/01 0330352
R 020351Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Codel Faleomavaega Touts Engagement during January 4-5 Visit
to Vietnam


1.(SBU) Summary: Congressman Eni Faleomavaega led a three-member
congressional delegation to Vietnam on January 4-5. In meetings
with senior GVN officials in Hanoi, the Congressman and
Representatives Honda and Cao stressed their commitment to building
bridges between the American and Vietnamese peoples, and deepening
engagement between the two governments. The delegation stressed
that the "real" differences between the U.S. and Vietnam should not
impede engagement. Congressman Cao openly expressed his
differences with the GVN over human rights and religious freedom
issues, but stated he opposed efforts to overthrow the Vietnamese
government and instead supported a strong, stable Vietnam. The
Vietnamese interlocutors welcomed the delegation's assurances and
agreed that the U.S. and Vietnam should resolve their differences
through engagement and dialogue. The self-proclaimed "first
Asian-American" Codel, including the first Vietnamese-American
congressman, received considerable and largely positive press
coverage in Vietnam. End summary.

2.(U) Congressman Eni Faleomavaega led a three-member congressional
delegation to Vietnam on January 4-5 that included Representatives
Michael Honda and Joseph Cao. In HCMC, Representatives Honda and
Cao met with ERO officers and visited (on their own) Tu Du
Hospital. Congressman Cao visited his hometown, Trung Chanh.
Congressman Faleomavaega arrived in HCMC January 4 in the morning
and joined the other members of the Codel for their flight to
Hanoi. In Hanoi, the delegation met with Chairman of the National
Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee Nguyen Van Son, Chairman of
the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese Vice Minister Nguyen
Thanh Son, and Vice Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. Vice Chair of
the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee Ngo Quang Xuan
hosted a dinner for the delegation on January 4, and the Ambassador
hosted a working lunch for an informal discussion about Agent
Orange and climate change. The CG and CG officers accompanied the
delegation throughout its visit in HCMC (with the exception of a
visit to Tu Du hospital), and the Ambassador accompanied the
delegation throughout its time in Hanoi.

3. (SBU) During their January 4 dinner, National Assembly Foreign
Affairs Vice Chairman Ngo Quang Xuan and the Codel discussed their
backgrounds and exchanged views on the overall relationship.
Discussions were mostly general and included largely positive
statements about the overall relationship and the importance of
deepening engagement, especially between legislative branches.
However, Congressman Cao offered his personal, frank assessment of
the current human rights and religious freedom situations in
Vietnam, including a recommendation that Vietnam be returned to the
CPC list. Not surprisingly, the Congressman's statements prompted
a strong rebuttal from Vice Chairman Xuan, who strongly defended
the GVN position on human rights and religious freedom with
well-known talking points.

4. (SBU) During a meeting the following morning, National Assembly
Foreign Affairs Chairman Nguyen Van Son welcomed the delegation as
the National Assembly's first official visitors in 2010. Chairman
Son said GVN was committed to deepening relations with the U.S. in
2010 and expressed hope that additional congressional delegations
would visit Vietnam this year. Representatives Faleomavaega and
Honda expressed their support for the Administration's policy of
engagement in Asia, arguing it would lead to strengthening
relations with countries in the region, including Vietnam.
Congressman Honda underscored that the three Congressmen differ
philosophically and politically, but share a common goal of working
to increase bilateral relations with Vietnam. Congressman Cao,
speaking in Vietnamese, assured Son that he did not intend to
overthrow the Vietnamese Government. All political disagreements
should be expressed openly in order to find common ground on issues
of concern. "It is important that we continue to talk together and
address any differences," he noted.

5. (SBU) Congressman Faleomavaega suggested to Chairman Nguyen that
Vietnam make "good use" of Congressman Cao's position as the
"unofficial representative" of the approximately 2.2 million
Vietnamese-Americans living in the U.S. Chairman Nguyen welcomed
Congressman Cao's comments and criticisms, even when they are
controversial. He expressed hope the U.S. and Vietnam would

HANOI 00000124 002 OF 002

continue to make progress on bilateral relations, and stated his
interest in meeting with Congressman Cao again to discuss issues of

6. (SBU) During a follow-on meeting, Chairman of the State
Committee for Overseas Vietnamese Nguyen Thanh Son highlighted the
importance of having Representative Cao as a Vietnamese-American
participate in the first "all Asian-American congressional
delegation" to Hanoi. Son said his committee sought to work with
the overseas Vietnamese community to further Vietnam's development.
The Vice Minister said he was aware that Vietnamese-Americans
distinguished themselves in many fields and contribute to the U.S.
growth and prosperity. Congressmen Faleomavaega and Cao responded
that America's strength comes from its diversity and added that the
Vietnamese-American population would welcome the opportunity to
assist in Vietnam's development.

7. (SBU) Representative Cao stated that many Vietnamese-Americans
are vocal about issues facing Vietnam because they want to see the
country prosper. Vice Minster Son responded that the few political
differences between the U.S. and Vietnam can be overcome through
dialogue, and expressed hope he could work with Representative Cao
to gain the support of the Vietnamese-American community. Son
noted he intends to visit the U.S. "in the near future," and would
welcome the delegation's assistance in scheduling meetings,
including meetings with members of the Vietnamese-American

8. (SBU) During a brief meeting, Vice Foreign Minister Pham Binh
Minh observed that 2010 marked the 15th anniversary of
re-normalization of U.S.-Vietnamese relations. He expressed his
wish that the Codel's visit would be the first of many high-level
delegations from the U.S. this year. Minh thanked the delegation
for its work in promoting bilateral relations and stated that
Representative Cao played an important role in this process. Cao
thanked the GVN for granting him a visa and allowing him to return
to his country of birth. (Note: We understand from our discussions
with the Codel on the ground that the GVN did not approve
Congressman Cao's visa until "the last minute," and that
Congressman Faleomavaega was prepared to cancel the visit if the
GVN did not issue Congressman Cao a visa. End note.) Congressman
Cao noted that he continues to have a strong affinity for Vietnam
even though he left when he was eight years old.

9. (SBU) Congressman Cao said he would continue to express his
personal opinions on issues facing Vietnam, but only with the
intent of making Vietnam a stronger, more stable and prosperous
country. VFM Minh replied that differences and disagreements are
natural, but dialogue is the key to resolving them. Referring to a
comment he made during the U.S.-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue in June
2009 in Washington, D.C., Minh argued that a strong and prosperous
Vietnam was good for the U.S. and for the region. "No one wants to
see a failed state, we want to grow and succeed." Minh thanked
Congress for granting $3 million to assist with Agent Orange health
and remediation projects.

10. (U) Codel Faleomavaega did not have an opportunity to clear
this message before departing Post.

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