A brief meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong in Hanoi Wednesday yielded some $21 billion in airline orders and service contracts for American companies, but no apparent mention of human rights, disappointing some activists suffering from Vietnam’s latest crackdown.
Vietnamese air carriers and U.S. companies signed the aviation deals with Trump and Trong looking on and Trump made upbeat remarks about Vietnam’s economic boom, but their public comments and transcripts released after the meeting showed no evidence of discussion of human rights in Hanoi. It is possible that Trump raised the issue in private.
Members of Vietnam’s beleaguered rights activist community, scores of whom have been jailed in a recent tightening of political controls, lamented Trump’s failure to raise human rights, although some noted that the U.S.-Vietnam top-level meeting was a sidebar to Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Vietnam is so clever to satisfy Trump with bilateral trade issues,” said veteran activist Nguyễn Quang A.
“Mr. Trump cares about the upcoming election, satisfying himself; he does not care about the core values of the USA: democracy and human rights,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Professor Hoàng Dũng said he had placed no expectations on Trump raising issues like human rights, which he said are “for Vietnamese to decide.”
“Mr. Trump is not a savior who would come to wherever there are calls for help. He just acts in the way that he thinks are good for the USA,” he told RFA.
“Vietnam now is good for the USA in terms of politics so Trump did not speak up for human rights,” Dũng added.
Trump’s trip to Hanoi came a week after three U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter urging the U.S. president to raise human rights issues with officials in Vietnam.
“Being chosen to host a summit of this magnitude is an honor the Vietnamese government neither merits nor has earned, particularly given its deplorable human rights record, the detention of American citizens, and a new cybersecurity law that has already led to the censorship of social media posts from American and German citizens,” wrote U.S. House of Representatives members Zoe Lofgren, Chris Smith, and Alan Lowenthal—co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam in a letter dated Feb. 19.
“We ask you to raise these issues in any discussion you may have with Vietnamese government and Communist Party leaders during your visit. They must not come away from the summit emboldened to expand restrictions on fundamental freedoms, but should know that the Administration views the status quo as unacceptable.”
Activist Nguyễn Chí Tuyến told RFA that Trump’s reason for visiting Hanoi this week is “to solve issues with Pyongyang” while having a brief meeting with Trong.
“Such a visit cannot be for raising human rights issues,” Tuyến said.
The visit brought heave policy pressure on Tuyến and other activists, he said.
“They deployed security agents at the houses (of activists) and mine is one of them or they brutally block some others," he said.
“The fact that they keep dissidents home reflects the real face of Hanoi which they boast is the ‘City of Peace.’ I would want to ask: Peace for whom and how is it?”
Former political prisoner Bùi Thị Minh Hằng said that on Tuesday his house was “locked from outside and the lock was filled with glue.”
“Nationwide, from the north down to the south, the dissidents are persecuted, detained, under house watch, kidnapped… Some have been detained when they are on the street,” Hang said.
“My viewpoint as a dissident inside the country is that the Vietnamese people should not vest too much expectation in Trump or anybody else who can intervene in the human rights issue of Vietnam,” he said.
Vietnamese people, he said “have to be more courageous in the face of current situation.”
“Do not expect from Mr. Trump because he is not responsible to care for the human rights of Vietnam,” added Hằng.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Ngyuen. Written in English by Paul Eckert.