- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) — Vietnam’s prime minister met with Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates yesterday as part of a weeklong visit to the United States, the first by a Vietnamese leader since the end of the war 30 years ago.

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai met privately with Mr. Gates at the software company’s Redmond headquarters. Mr. Khai also was given a tour of Microsoft’s “home of the future” display of consumer technology and a company research center.

Mr. Khai arrived at Microsoft in a motorcade with a police escort, but there were no signs of demonstrators who had protested his U.S. trip the previous day, when they marched through downtown streets, shouting “Down with communists,” and calling for an end to political and religious persecution in Vietnam. Some held a sign that read “Khai is another Saddam Hussein.”

Mr. Khai and Mr. Gates announced that the Vietnamese government and Microsoft had signed two memorandums of understanding, to train and develop more Vietnamese information technology companies, and to offer computer and software training to more than 50,000 teachers in the country. Specifics were not disclosed.

Through the agreements, “We’ll be able to reach new highs in information technology and software development,” Mr. Khai said through an interpreter. “Our success in the future will be a tribute to you, Mr. Bill Gates.”

Mr. Khai invited Mr. Gates to visit his country. Microsoft employs 10 persons in Vietnam, with offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Mr. Gates noted that in March, Microsoft introduced a Vietnamese language package to work on its Windows operating system and Office business software. Since then, he said, the package has been downloaded more than 18,000 times.

“That really makes us rededicate our commitment to Vietnam,” he said.

Mr. Khai, 71, is hoping to strengthen ties with the United States during his U.S. tour, particularly as Vietnam tries to gain admittance to the World Trade Organization. He is scheduled to meet with President Bush today.

In the 10 years since diplomatic ties were restored, the United States has become Vietnam’s top trading partner. The two-way trade was worth $6.4 billion last year.

“Despite differences on sensitive issues, it should be noted that there are not major differences between the two countries,” Mr. Khai said through a translator.

Mr. Khai said increased economic development in Vietnam will improve people’s lives and bring stability to Southeast Asia, and asked Vietnamese people living in the United States to help bolster the connection between the two countries.

Sai Nguyen, an organizer with the Vietnamese American Coalition in Northwest America, criticized the Communist Party’s push to open the Vietnamese economy to foreign investors, saying it would not improve the lives of the people.

“It is only to help the party,” he said.

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