The U.S. said Wednesday that it would not lift remaining sanctions on weapons exports to Vietnam unless Hanoi improves its human rights record.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Joseph Yun told a congressional hearing on U.S. relations with Vietnam that Washington would not support an upgrade in bilateral ties without “demonstrable, sustained improvement” on human rights.
“While we intend to pursue closer security ties with Vietnam, there remain limits on our military-to-military relationship related to human rights,” Yun told a panel on Asia and the Pacific of the U.S House of Representatives.
Yun said however that the U.S. would support Vietnam’s efforts to modernize its military “within the nonlethal realm” to maintain peace and security in Southeast Asia.
“[W]e have made clear to Vietnam’s defense and civilian leaders that for the United States to consider lifting the remaining restrictions on defense equipment exports, including on lethal weapons, there needs to be continued demonstrable, sustained improvement in the human rights situation in the country,” he said.
Vietnam has called for the removal of the remaining sanctions, saying it would serve both Washington and Hanoi’s mutual interests and allow Vietnam to “overhaul and upgrade our weaponry.”
Experts have suggested that the U.S. is unlikely to lift the ban any time soon, as the most recent annual human rights report released by the U.S. State Department does not support changing current policy.
Yun’s statement came as a delegation of British lawmakers was barred from visiting the leader of a banned Buddhist organization during a recent visit to Vietnam, proving that he endures harsh political restrictions despite Hanoi’s claims that he is free.
The delegation of Members of Parliament from the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) was blocked from meeting with the 85-year-old Thich Quang Do of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) while visiting Ho Chi Minh City, the Paris-based UBCV-affiliated International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) said in a statement.
The APPG was in Vietnam from May 25-31 to reinforce parliamentary links between the country and Britain, and the IBIB had set up a meeting between a group of nine people—including five members of parliament and staff, and three officers from the British Embassy in Hanoi—and Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery on the morning of May 30.
But the delegation was forced to cancel the meeting due to “last minute problems,” IBIB said, adding that the group received an anonymous call from an official with the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee who said Hanoi had specifically forbidden a meeting with Thich Quang Do.
“Vietnam continuously informs the international community that Thich Quang Do is under no form of house arrest, and is ‘completely free’ at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery,” IBIB Director Vo Van Ai said.
“If this is the case, why is he unable to receive visitors without the authorization of the authorities in Hanoi?”
The IBIB said it was “deeply disturbed” that Vietnamese authorities would prevent a meeting between the Buddhist scholar and Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the delegation of British members of parliament, who were visiting Vietnam “in a spirit of dialogue and mutual exchange.”
“This is an outrageous way to treat international public figures. It is also a clear proof of the political restrictions imposed upon Thich Quang Do,” the group said.
“This incident also underscores the discrepancy between Vietnam’s declarations to the international community and the reality of harassments and repression suffered daily by peaceful religious and political dissidents in Vietnam.”
Unsanctioned religious groups face strict controls in Vietnam, religious activity is monitored, and groups must be supervised by government-controlled management boards.
The State Department included Vietnam on its list of Countries of Particular Concern in 2004 but removed it from the blacklist two years later and has since ignored repeated calls by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) to reinstate the country’s designation.