Cablegate: Reviewing Bilateral Relations with Deputy

Published: Fri 30 May 2003 09:43 AM
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. Hanoi 567 B. Hanoi 175 C. Hanoi 842
D. Hanoi 1263 E. Hanoi 907 F. 02 HCMC 966
G. 02 Hanoi 2761
1. (SBU) Summary. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Nguyen Tan
Dung and the Ambassador (accompanied by DCM Porter and
poloff) held a two-hour discussion on bilateral issues on
May 27. The meeting received generally positive coverage in
the state-controlled print and broadcast media. Dung
highlighted recent positive developments, such as the recent
National Assembly delegation visit to the U.S., increased
educational exchanges through the Vietnam Education Fund
(VEF), and the textile agreement. The Ambassador raised
human rights and religious freedom issues; Dung claimed that
persons of concern to the U.S. (and others) were prosecuted
for "violating Vietnamese laws." Interestingly, Dung
dangled the possibility of emigration to the U.S. by
detained activist Dr. Nguyen Van Que, a proposal to which we
will follow up. He also stated that US officials would be
allowed to attend Que's trial. Concerning religious
freedom, Dung admitted that some cadres in the Central and
Western Highlands "do not understand" the GVN's policy on
religious freedom. Dung expressed concern over
reintroduction of the Vietnam Human Rights Act (VNHA) in the
US Congress. Dung claimed that Vietnam is being treated
unfairly over the catfish issue. (Septels will cover their
discussion concerning the Ministry of Public Security and a
separate meeting the Ambassador held with Ngo Yen Thi, the
new chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee on May 28.)
End Summary.
2. (U) This was the Ambassador's first meeting with DPM
Dung since March 10, when they also covered a number of
bilateral issues (ref a). Dung and the Ambassador agreed
that a regular dialogue is useful to discuss both the
positive and negative aspects of the bilateral relationship.
3. (U) The meeting received coverage in state-controlled
print and broadcast media. The Party's mouthpiece, "The
People's Daily," noted that Dung and the Ambassador
"exchanged views on issues of mutual concern. . . Vietnam
attaches importance to its relations to the U.S." State
television reported that ". . . it was inevitable for some
problems to emerge during the course of improvement in ties
. . ." The media reports did not specifically mention the
discussions concerning human rights, religious freedom, and
the Ministry of Public Security.
4. (SBU) Dung said that, overall, the GVN "is happy" to
see progress in the bilateral relationship. Specifically,
he highlighted the "positive" results of Bilateral Trade
Agreement (BTA) implementation, the recently concluded
textile agreement, and the Vietnam Education Fund (VEF).
Dung commented that the GVN is pleased to see the first
group of students selected under the program. He noted
that, generally, young people in Vietnam have a "favorable"
view of the U.S. and many want to learn English and study
there in programs like VEF and Fulbright. He also thanked
the Ambassador for his help in raising funds to assist the
French Hospital. Such activity, he noted, expresses the
"good sentiments" of the USG towards Vietnam.
5. (U) Dung said that the recent visit of the National
Assembly delegation was "an appropriate step forward." The
meetings with congressmen and veterans' organizations went
well, he reported. In general, the GVN would like to see
more official visits and exchanges because they improve
"mutual understanding," he continued. The GVN is also
looking forward to MFA Vice Minister Nguyen Dinh Bin's
upcoming visit, as well future visits by Minister of Defense
Tra, DPM Vu Khoan, and Foreign Minister Nien, he added.
6. (SBU) Commenting on Dung's remarks, the Ambassador said
that the textile agreement was "a complicated process," but
"probably the best result possible." Regarding the VEF, he
said that the first group of participants had been selected.
The Ambassador added that he would meet with VEF's
leadership on his upcoming trip to the U.S. Concerning the
National Assembly delegation, the Ambassador said that he
had also heard it was quite successful and that people were
especially impressed with the delegation's leader, Madame
Ton Nu Thi Ninh. The Ambassador said that he was encouraged
to see that VFM Bin is leading a delegation (leaving May 31)
that will be engaging in outreach activities with the
Vietnamese-American population (septel). The Ambassador
noted that Bin's delegation seemed relatively "Northern,"
(as well as having at least one representative from the
Ministry of Public Security - MPS), but if both sides "are
willing to listen to each other, perhaps the mission will
succeed." Commenting on the last statement, DPM Dung said
that the GVN maintains a "consistent policy" concerning
overseas Vietnamese, therefore whether officials are
northern or southern "should not matter." However, he told
the Ambassador that he would discuss the Ambassador's
suggestion with to VFM Bin. (Comment: The GVN did add a
southerner. End Comment)
7. (SBU) The Ambassador explained to Dung that one purpose
for this meeting was to discuss human rights and religious
freedom issues. The Ambassador told Dung that USG concerns
over human rights should not be construed as trying to
change Vietnam's system or engaging in "peaceful evolution."
The Ambassador said that he is sure to be asked human rights
questions when he goes to Washington. Vietnam is getting
increased attention along these lines. The Ambassador
noted that Resolution Seven, adopted in January by the
Seventh Plenum of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)
Central Committee, seemed positive in its recognition of the
importance of religion. The Embassy is hoping to receive
more clarification from the GVN and CPV about this
Resolution, he added.
8. (SBU) The Ambassador said that he does not want to see
our long-term goals (e.g., helping Vietnam become more
integrated into the world community) affected by continuing
problems with human rights. There are certain flashpoints
that attract negative attention in the U.S. One is the
treatment of Protestants in the Central and Western
Highlands, where the GVN has a tendency to view all
Protestants as "subversive" elements along the lines of the
Dega separatists. The Ambassador said that he has met with
local provincial leaders and some acknowledged this problem.
He also pointed out that when officials from the U.S.
Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City visited Kon Tum
province, some local officials were unaware that the
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) is now legal.
The Ambassador further stated that we see many credible
reports about church closings and forced conversions. There
was even an MPS document from Khanh Hoa province that took
credit for preventing the spread of Protestantism and
convincing some people to abandon their faith.
9. (SBU) Another flashpoint, the Ambassador noted, is that
Vietnamese citizens continue to be arrested for what we and
other Western governments view as the "peaceful expression
of their views." No one in the West is impressed with the
typical GVN explanation that the people have broken the law
- often the "laws" cited are inconsistent with the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and/or
Vietnam's Constitution. The Ambassador said that, based on
information we receive from various sources, we and other
western nations maintain lists of persons of concern. He
noted that German Chancellor Schroeder presented the EU's
list to the Prime Minister during his May visit (ref d).
The Ambassador pointed out that Vietnam could generate
considerable good will by releasing these people.
10. (SBU) DPM Dung responded to the Ambassador politely,
but firmly. Dung said that he "fully understood" the
Ambassador's points and that Vietnam, as well as the U.S.,
needs to make more progress in the human rights area. The
GVN, he continued, would give the Ambassador's points
"careful consideration." Dung said that he did appreciate
the Ambassador's efforts to explain human rights issues in
Washington, because some officials there "have not received
adequate information." Dung said that when he was in
Washington, he had met with National Security Advisor Rice,
who "expressed appreciation for our endeavors in human
rights and poverty alleviation." He admitted, however, that
Dr. Rice specifically expressed concern over Father Nguyen
Van Ly. Dung said that he had told Dr. Rice that "we are
dealing with that case in a consistent manner; however, we
will consider immunity for Father Ly." Dung said that as
the chairman of the GVN's Amnesty Committee, he would
personally review Ly's amnesty request in the near future.
In response to the Ambassador's question about the recent
arrest of Father Ly's niece and nephew, Dung said that they
had violated Vietnam's espionage laws; he said that they
would have a public trial. (Note: Embassy sources have
heard that the expected May 30 trial has now been delayed.
End note)
11. (SBU) Dung raised Dr. Nguyen Van Que, a human rights
activist currently under investigative detention (refs e and
f). Dung claimed that Dr. Que (and others) are imprisoned
or under investigation not because of their human rights
activities, but because they have broken Vietnamese laws.
In Dr. Que's case, he will be prosecuted for espionage,
specifically for giving national security information to
several foreign non-governmental organizations. However,
Dung suggested that the USG should help Dr. Que emigrate to
the U.S. Ambassador responded that he understood Que had
declined a similar offer (note: during his earlier
imprisonment in 1999. end note) but would discuss this
possibility when he met with Dr. Que's brother in Washington
on June 2. He urged Dung to provide additional information
about this case. Dung assured the Ambassador that Dr. Que
would have a public trial; in response to the Ambassador's
request, Dung stated that U.S. officials from our Consulate
General in Ho Chi Minh City would be allowed to attend.
12. (SBU) Dung noted that Vietnam wants to move forward on
economic development, democracy, and transparency, all of
which require stability. The GVN's concern is if "we free
those who have violated our laws, we will have increasing
13. (SBU) Concerning Resolution Seven, Dung explained to
the Ambassador that this resolution "reaffirmed" the Party
and GVN position that all 54 ethnic minority groups should
be "united and equal and be mutually supportive for
development." To exemplify, Dung noted that some ethnic
minority groups in the Central Highlands have been compelled
to sell their land due to extreme poverty. The decree
instructs the authorities to take problems like this into
account when developing programs to raise their living
14. (SBU) Concerning religious issues, Resolution Seven
also reaffirms the GVN's policy of allowing citizens to
choose their own religion. Dung admitted, however, that
some local authorities have done better than others in
implementing the policy. Dung told the Ambassador that "we
do not permit anyone to use religion issues to affect
Vietnam's stability." Concerning the Ambassador's point
about the SECV, Dung claimed that he had "criticized" some
local authorities for not implementing the GVN's official
recognition of this church.
15. (SBU) Dung said that he remains concerned over the
reintroduction of the VHRA in the U.S. Congress. He noted
that, while the GVN understands the Department of State
opposes the bill, he hoped the Ambassador would further
explain to Congress why this bill would hurt the bilateral
relationship. In addition, Dung continued, "we do not agree
that a foreign body like the U.S. Congress has the right to
comment on our human rights record - after all, the U.S.
waged war here and killed millions - we cannot forget that."
The Ambassador advised Dung that Vietnam should get used to
other countries commenting on Vietnam's human rights
performance. The Ambassador pointed out that the U.S.
itself receives human rights criticism from the EU
Parliament. As for the War, the Ambassador said that it is
important to focus on the future and "both sides have a role
in that." Dung said that he agreed on this point: "it is
the GVN's policy and the will of the Vietnamese people to
look to a bright future in our bilateral relationship."
16. (SBU) The Ambassador told Dung that he has
consistently voiced his personal opposition to the VHRA. He
has met (and will continue to meet) with Congressmen and
explain to them why this bill would be a mistake. On the
other hand, he continued, the GVN could make it easier for
the Department to oppose the bill if it improved its record
on human rights along the lines we had just discussed. The
Ambassador also explained that the GVN exaggerates the
practical effect if the bill did pass.
17. (SBU) In a brief segue to the catfish issue, Dung told
the Ambassador that the U.S. Department of Commerce's
decision to designate Vietnam a non-market economy (ref g)
was "not objective." Dung characterized the decision as
"extreme" and "bad for our farmers and the American people."
Dung claimed that Vietnam is not "dumping basa on the US
market." Dung appealed to the Ambassador to put forward
Vietnam's view to the Department of Commerce during his
upcoming trip to Washington.
18. (SBU) The Ambassador explained that the GVN should
keep in mind that trade disputes such as the catfish issue
do not have a "political" solution. Dumping cases will be
settled through the trade dispute resolution process. They
are unlikely to receive attention at the senior political
19. (SBU) The possibility of parole and/or emigration to
the U.S for Dr. Que is the most striking aspect of this
discussion, and Ambassador will pursue this option both with
Dr. Que's brother and with GVN officials. The GVN may be
beginning to learn the Chinese lesson of the usefulness of
deliverables, although it is also possible that Dung was
talking off the top of his head. Dung continues to appear,
on the whole, to be a good interlocutor. Similar to the
March meeting (ref a), he showed flashes of "old speak," but
he is willing to listen, generally reasonable, and seems
genuinely interested in promoting stronger ties with the
U.S. in a number of areas. While the long-range impact of
the meetings is difficult to predict, they should help
increase mutual understanding and ensure that our point of
view is clearly heard by the senior GVN leadership.
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