- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Trade and the Vietnamese gulag

The column “Opening Vietnam trade doors” (Commentary, July 16) paints a rosy picture of Vietnam’s economic potential, but it cannot hide that the country remains one of the poorest and most oppressive in the world. The country’s desire to control its people will continue to inhibit any real economic development.

Daniel Christman repeats the same old argument that economic growth will bring along political reform. In fact, following almost two decades of U.S. goodwill gestures, such as lifting the embargo, normalizing diplomatic relations, waiving the Jackson-Vanik restrictions of the 1974 Trade Act and signing a bilateral trade agreement, Vietnam has not shown any improvement in basic human-rights areas such as the rights to worship, free speech or democratic elections. Following the Chinese model, Vietnam is perfecting its strategy of expanding economic relations with the West while at the same time continuing to suppress almost all basic freedoms of its people.

The pending U.S.-Vietnam World Trade Organization agreement is another example of that strategy. In the agreement, Vietnam manages to retain the unilateral right to prevent U.S.-produced cultural, literary or entertainment materials from entering that country; exclusive control of Internet systems; and complete control of telecommunication systems, which may carry objectionable information from the outside world. Although the agreement benefits some business sectors, the deal still gives Vietnam the ability to prevent its population of more than 80 million from having meaningful interaction with the rest of the world.

In addition, the WTO bilateral agreement with the United States does nothing to address the enormous risks American businesses often encounter when doing business in Vietnam, some of which may include:

• Any investment in Vietnam can be at risk because the regime can change any law for any reason without any regard to basic constitutional protection, much less the rules of trading according to the terms of the WTO agreement.

• There is no independent court in Vietnam to arbitrate business disputes. The court is controlled by the party or the government, which often is a party in business disputes.

• Rampant corruption in the country can endanger any business investment because people can eliminate their competitors with the right money or connection.

• Any business can be vulnerable to abuse by government officials because there is no effective redress for such abuses under the current regime.

• The lack of freedom of speech or an independent press will allow corruption to foster without deterrence.

• Businesses’ trade secrets or confidential information can be exposed to the prying eyes of the government, which controls all communication means, such as the postal service, telecommunications and the Internet. Without a legally recognized right to privacy, there is nothing to prevent corrupted officials from selling intercepted information to competitors.

Why would the American business community lobby the government to expand business relations in such a risky environment? The answer is: The United States would provide insurance protection for those businesses in loan guarantees through the Export-Import Bank, underwritten by American taxpayers.

The current U.S.-Vietnam WTO accession agreement relies heavily on Vietnam’s promise that it will change its laws to accommodate the agreement. However, many of the promised laws exist in the Vietnamese Constitution but have never been complied with. In Vietnam, having a law on the books is one thing, but effectively enforcing it is a different matter.

It is about time the United States says enough is enough with the Vietnamese totalitarian regime. It also is about time that the U.S. government stands with the Vietnamese people, not the opportunist businesses seeking to make quick money in that country.

LAN QUOC NGUYEN

Westminster, Calif.

No help from Mikulski

In reading the article “Governor’s race turns attention to health care” (Metropolitan, Monday), I became quite perplexed, namely in regard to the comments made by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. In supporting the gubernatorial campaign of Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, Miss Mikulski spoke of the pending nurse shortage and the lack of activity by President Bush and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.As a registered nurse, I consider her to be a prime example of political hypocrisy.

I was employed as a nurse by the U.S. Army. Because of a situation in my place of employment, I developed a significant work-induced medical problem. The Army informed me that I was being removed from the employment rolls. I went to Miss Mikulski’s office in Annapolis for assistance. I was told that I would have to speak to someone in the Baltimore office for employment-related problems.

I went to the Baltimore office to request assistance. The staff there appeared to have little interest in the matter, and as a result, I never received one word from the senator. I guess she wasn’t going to blame the president for this, considering that it occurred in 1998.

Her concern about the nursing problem seems to apply only if it can be used against the opposing political party.

D.J. SULLIVAN

Annapolis

Hypocrisy in the House

Christina Bellantoni’s revelation of the House’s private smoking areas (“House’s own smoke-filled room,” Page 1, Monday) unfortunately is nothing new. Obviously, representatives, in their infinite wisdom, are able to tell us how best to lead our lives, and, in fact, protect the general population from harm within their hallowed walls by not allowing smoking in areas accessible to the public.

I find it interesting, however, that these same representatives are allowed to make their own decisions regarding their health and smoke consumption — they are allowed to set their own rules — whereas we, the naive public, must be directed for our own good. A little consistency from Congress on this issue would be refreshing. Perhaps smoke has gotten in their eyes and prevented them from seeing their own hypocrisy.

NICOLE KUROKAWA

Deerfield, Ill.

Misinformation on stem cells

President Bush’s recent veto of a bill to overturn restrictions on federal funding of embryonic-stem-cell research did not indicate that he was against stem-cell research, only that he wouldn’t support federal funding when embryonic stem cells are involved (“Bush vetoes stem-cell funding,” Page 1, Thursday). The president could have done nothing, but he showed his strong moral courage by acting on his convictions. Much of the reporting in other papers would make one believe that Mr. Bush, along with the Catholic Church, is against stem-cell research, when the fact is that both strongly favor it, just not at the risk of another life. Why do we have to compromise our moral ethics and decide against life?

Adult stem cells can be used and are better controlled than embryonic stem cells. They have shown better results than the 21 usable lines of embryonic stem cells that are available from the federal government. The conjecture that embryonic stem cells hold more opportunities is just that — conjecture. The taking of embryonic stem cells kills the embryo, but we have all the adult stem cells we would ever need without ending a life.

Reporting on this issue is often biased, which prevents people from hearing all sides.

JOSEPH JOHN

ROTHENGAST

Raleigh, N.C.

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