Vietnamese diaspora urges Biden to prioritize human rights before visit

Coalition of pro-democracy groups say closer ties should hinge on Hanoi offering greater freedoms.
By RFA Vietnamese
Vietnamese diaspora urges Biden to prioritize human rights before visit Vietnamese security personnel arrest protestors in Hanoi, June 10, 2018.
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U.S. President Joe Biden should require Vietnam to do more to protect human rights before forging closer ties between the two countries, as is expected during his visit to Hanoi next weekend, Vietnamese diaspora groups said.

Biden is scheduled to meet with top Vietnamese leaders on Sept. 10 to upgrade bilateral ties to a “strategic partnership” or “comprehensive strategic partnership,” over the current “comprehensive partnership” status of the past 10 years.

But Biden should first insist that Vietnam offer greater freedoms to its people, a coalition of 37 Vietnamese diaspora pro-democracy organizations suggested in a joint open letter released last week.

“Specifically, the U.S. should voice its support for freedom of expression and independent labor unions in Vietnam, as conditions for diplomatic upgrade of bilateral relationship,” the letter said.

It also highlighted people detained for their religious activities or advocacy for human rights and democracy.

As of July 5, Vietnam has jailed more than 150 political prisoners according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Preoccupation with China

Without democratic freedom for the Vietnamese people, any upgraded partnership between Hanoi and Washington would be meaningless, said David Tran, a representative of the Washington-based Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy, one group that signed the letter.

While the world is busy condemning China for human rights violations, Vietnam is able to fly under the radar, Tran said.

A police officer stands guard in front of the venue for the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi, Jan. 28, 2021. Credit: Kham/Reuters

“While the U.S. forges a closer relationship with Vietnam for strategic reasons and goals, we believe the most sustainable ties should start from shared values,” he said. “No matter how strategic the ties will be, the group of dictators ruling Vietnam will not share the U.S.’ ideals of freedom and democracy.”

The letter also implored Washington not to “implicitly recognize that Vietnamese elections are free and fair,” pointing out that elections in the country are not up to international standards.

“The issue of free and fair elections is a matter of great importance to the Vietnamese people, in Vietnam and the U.S.,” the letter said. “We ask that the U.S. promote verifiable free and fair elections in Vietnam as a partner in our free and open Indo-Pacific initiative.”

Warning about AI

The coalition also warned against helping Vietnam develop semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

“AI, in the hands of an unchecked totalitarian system, is a tool for control and censorship of our people,” the letter said. “On the other hand, any export of semiconductor technology to Vietnam is possibly destined to China to evade the ban on Chinese chip procurement.”

Tran said that although there is no way to know how effective the joint letter would be, if the coalition of organizations had remained silent, their chances of being heard by the U.S. government would have been “zero.”

In a country of freedom like the U.S., raising one’s voice is a civic responsibility,” Tran said. “If we don’t speak up for our fellow countrymen, who will?” 

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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