Cablegate: Ambassador's Meeting with Chairman of Ethnic Minority

Published: Mon 3 Jul 2006 02:57 AM
DE RUEHHI #1636/01 1840257
R 030257Z JUL 06
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Ambassador's Meeting with Chairman of Ethnic Minority
Affairs Committee
1. (SBU) During a June 30 lunch meeting with the Ambassador, GVN
Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs Chairman K'sor Phuoc previewed
his upcoming visit to the United States as an opportunity to learn
about U.S. policy towards Native Americans and describe Vietnam's
own ethnic minority policies. Phuoc noted the GVN's recognition
that its efforts to improve the conditions facing ethnic minorities
must continue another 50 years; stressed that incidents involving
Protestant adherents are often a result of religious differences
within families or villages; noted that his committee is working
with the Committee on Religious Affairs to facilitate religious life
for members of ethnic minority groups; and, outlined the GVN's
efforts to improve the lot of ethnic minority groups, including an
attempt to move to higher-value crops. End Summary.
United States, Vietnam Both Multi-Ethnic Societies
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2. (SBU) The Ambassador hosted a lunch June 30 for K'sor Phuoc, the
Chairman of the GVN's Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee, and the
delegation he will lead to the United States July 9-19. (Note:
Phuoc, himself an ethnic Jarai from Gia Lai Province, is the
equivalent of a government minister and is a member of the cabinet.
The delegation will have meetings in Washington and will travel to
Arizona to visit the Navajo Nation. End Note.) Phuoc's mission is
to learn about USG policy towards Native Americans and to explain
Vietnam's own ethnic minority policies. The Ambassador welcomed the
upcoming visit, noting that we have much to learn from each other.
In the United States, we give our Native American tribes
considerable autonomy, and they are able to take advantage of this
to create economic opportunities, such as through casinos.
3. (SBU) In respect to our indigenous populations, the United States
and Vietnam share some of the same challenges, the Ambassador
continued. These include how to create economic and social
well-being without destroying native culture and how to increase
educational opportunities without causing young people to drift away
from traditional ways and languages. The United States has been
dealing with these issues since before our founding, and we have not
always done a good job: there have been sad and tragic pages in our
history. Today, the story is better and future prospects are
bright, but there is still work to be done, the Ambassador said.
4. (SBU) Noting that this will be his first trip to the United
States, Chairman Phuoc said that he and his delegation hope to learn
how a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society like the United States
has been able to manage itself and maintain stability and
development. Also, as there are many USG officials and Members of
Congress who are interested in Vietnam's ethnic minority issues, he
will use the chance to pursue a dialogue on this issue. The
Ambassador agreed that it will be a useful opportunity to ensure
that our policymakers and legislators have a chance to hear
first-hand about Vietnam's experiences in this area. Many Viet Kieu
in the United States are ethnic minorities, and their strongly held
views have often shaped the opinions of their elected
representatives. That said, the Viet Kieu community is not
monolithic, and younger Vietnamese-Americans are increasingly
returning to Vietnam for job and other opportunities, the Ambassador
5. (SBU) Vietnam's own ethnic groups are widely diverse, the
Ambassador observed. Ethnic Muong in Phu Tho Province are virtually
indistinguishable from ethnic Kinh, but, in the Northwest Highlands,
there is still a large economic and social gap between ethnic
minorities and Kinh. It is good to see that in localities largely
populated by ethnic minorities, they also occupy a significant share
of local official positions. One useful tool for promoting the
social and economic development of ethnic minority groups is through
boarding schools that prepare them to succeed in life. However,
these schools are expensive, and there are still not enough to
respond to Vietnam's current needs, the Ambassador said.
6. (SBU) In response to the Ambassador's question about Phase Two of
the GVN's Program 135, which is aimed at rural development and
increasing opportunities for ethnic minority groups, Chairman Phuoc
said that the next phase's four goals are: continuing
infrastructure investment in disadvantaged localities; increasing
the production capacity of farmers; providing training to local
officials so that they can better manage Government programs; and,
improving the social status of farmers. To help members of ethnic
minority groups better integrate into society, the GVN believes that
it must continue its efforts for the next 50 years, with a focus on:
infrastructure investment; improving market mechanisms in ethnic
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minority areas; providing education; protection and development of
indigenous cultures; environmental protection and forestation;
training of local officials to ensure that they can make the
transition from traditional methods of ruling to methods based on
rule of law; and, stamping out social evils, such as drug abuse.
Religious Freedom
7. (SBU) The Ambassador expressed his agreement with the targets of
the GVN's efforts and its long-term commitment, and offered one
additional focus: finding a way to help ethnic minorities deal with
their changing environment and new elements that are coming into
their lives. This is a complicated matter. New roads are
beneficial, but can also introduce alcohol and new types of
narcotics. Education can expand young people's horizons, but it can
also strain traditional ways of life and family structure. A market
economy and a material lifestyle can also create strains on
traditional culture, the Ambassador said.
8. (SBU) Another significant change involves religions that are new
and not particularly well understood, the Ambassador continued. The
Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs can play a vital role in the
GVN's efforts to positively manage the impact of all these matters.
The United States and other donors are interested in the well-being
of all Vietnamese, but have a particular interest in that of ethnic
minorities. We are ready to be helpful in any way we can, and seek
to learn as much as possible about the situation that ethnic
minorities face. For example, we understand that reports of
problems encountered by Protestants are often the result of cultural
clashes at the family or village level and not because of local
policy. Vietnam's national policy on religious freedom is clear,
but what is needed is to ensure that this policy is uniformly
implemented at all levels, the Ambassador stressed.
9. (SBU) The GVN recognizes that the issues of land and religion are
of great interest to foreign observers and delegations, Phuoc said.
Vietnam is making efforts to provide land to ethnic minorities for
cultivation and settlement. At the same time, it is trying to
ensure that its policy on religion, as enshrined in the Constitution
and the Ordinance on Religion and Belief, is followed. Each citizen
has the right to believe or not to believe. As the Ambassador
observed, problems often emerge because different family members
adhere to different religions, or different generations within
families have different beliefs. It is also true that local
officials often do not have a correct understanding about religion.
In response to the Ambassador's question, Chairman Phuoc said he
works closely with Chairman Thi of the Committee on Religious
Affairs on these issues.
10. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that lifting Vietnam's designation as
a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom
violations will require greater progress in the Northwest Highlands
and northern Vietnam. Anything Chairman Phuoc and his committee can
do to facilitate the GVN's efforts to ensure that Vietnam's laws are
fully implemented and that new groups are allowed to register would
be helpful. The delegation will meet with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large
for International Religious Freedom John Hanford on July 12.
Ambassador Hanford is the key U.S. official dealing with matters
related to religious freedom and CPC, and he will be interested in
hearing Chairman Phuoc's views, the Ambassador said.
11. (SBU) The Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee is doing what it can
to encourage Protestant followers to register themselves and their
activities so that they can practice their religion in their own
residences and communities and eventually build their own churches,
Chairman Phuoc said. The committee is also working to send
Protestant trainers from Hanoi, HCMC and Nha Trang to ethnic
minority regions to ensure that they are learning correct beliefs.
The committee's aim is for Protestants to practice their faith as a
normal religion. The Ambassador praised the committee for its
efforts in this regard, adding that religion can help ethnic
minorities to have structure in their lives as their traditions are
disrupted by modern life.
Economic Development
12. (SBU) The USG also recognizes that improving the economic
conditions of ethnic minorities is a key goal, and to that end the
U.S. Congress put forward funds to create projects in the Central
Highlands, the Ambassador said. Cocoa production has seen some
success in the Mekong Delta, and may be a good crop the Central
Highlands. To date, we have worked with the MFA, Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development and PACCOM, and will also keep the
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committee informed about our efforts in this area.
13. (SBU) In response to the Ambassador's question about other
economic development areas that should be further explored, Chairman
Phuoc said that one area needing further effort is finding
higher-value crops for sale in the world market. Furthermore, the
GVN is trying to encourage entrepreneurs to set up processing plants
in ethnic minority areas. Vocational training is also important as
a means to better integrate ethnic minority youth. Finally, the GVN
is looking at the possibility of labor exports. The Ambassador
noted that, although labor export is a high-value area, there are
dangers that some unsophisticated ethnic minority workers would be
exploited. The GVN would need to ensure that their rights are
guaranteed and protected. The Ambassador welcomed the Chairman's
comments on high-value crops, noting that there is a need for
farmers to look beyond subsistence crops. For example, while rice
farming in upland areas is possible, it may be better to farm cash
crops and bring rice in from elsewhere.
14. (SBU) The Ambassador thanked the Chairman for his and his
committee's efforts to facilitate the USG's family reunification
goals. Close to 60 percent of the total number of our Visas-93
applicants had departed for the United States, and our goal is reach
100 percent by year's end. In closing, Chairman Phuoc pledged to
provide the Ambassador with a readout of his trip to the United
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