President Bush plans to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference Nov. 17-19 in Vietnam. We applaud this effort by Mr. Bush to make this historic trip to help foster what we call the “Vietnam Economic Miracle.”
Vietnam’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the granting of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) by the U.S. are virtually assured in the next month or two, or, for PNTR, sometime next year. We support the president and congratulate Vietnam on these successes in bringing the government of Vietnam into the greater world of economic cooperation and prosperity.
But we also urge the president and the American people to remain mindful of the human rights abuses in Communist Vietnam — abuses that have lessened somewhat in recent years but still paint a troubling picture.
The economy in Vietnam is starting to rumble and many want to participate in the anticipated new prosperity and wealth. Tourism is exploding in Vietnam along with the associated hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Tourist arrivals to Vietnam have grown on average 20 percent yearly over the last 15 years, shooting up from 250,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million last year. First-quarter 2006 saw more than a million tourists visit Vietnam, on pace to hit the government’s target of hosting 4 million tourists this year. Some industry analysts optimistically estimate tourist arrivals will double to 8 million in Vietnam by 2010. The industry’s positive cash flow to Vietnam is estimated in the billions of dollars yearly.
But many other industries and ventures currently thrive in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s textile industry is such a potent force it threatens to destroy what still remains of clothing manufacturing in the United States. So the Bush administration promised Sens. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in October that it would closely monitor textile and clothing imports from Vietnam after that country joins the World Trade Organization and the United States is required to drop import quotas.
This small promise by the president set off a fire storm among retailers anxious to sell inexpensive clothing from Vietnam without any restrictions.
There are at least 600 software companies in Vietnam. Computer chip manufacturing is huge and growing. Both Japan and China have recently announced huge investments in Vietnam’s computer industry.
Vietnam expects to be responsible for 10 percent of Japan’s $3 billion offshore software industry by 2010.
Bill Gates visited Vietnam earlier this year because he doesn’t want Microsoft left out of the “Vietnam Economic Miracle” many have predicted.
Some other aspects of “Vietnam’s Economic Miracle” trumpeted recently by the communist government-controlled media in Vietnam include:
Vietnam’s three major telecom companies are expected to be partly privatized next year with the majority of the stakes remaining under government control, officials said.
Authorities in Vietnam have fined an affiliate of South Korea’s Daewoo Corp. for using pirated software, the first time a corporate user of illegal software has been targeted in the Southeast Asian country, officials said on Oct. 11.
Intel has a new $300 Million microchip assembly and test facility in Ho Chi Minh City. It will open later this year, with as much additional investment money expected in the next two years. Canon has three printer factories near Hanoi, Canon’s largest manufacturing facility in the world.
Vietnam, Laos and China signed a border treaty last month; a breakthrough that will hopefully increase commerce and trade.
Vietnam announced last month it is firmly committed to “the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women” and gives enhancing women’s roles and status a top priority in national socioeconomic development programs. This was a new and breathtaking announcement, just a month ago.
Under a draft decree, Vietnam will permit transgender people to undergo gender reassignment surgery starting next January, according to local newspaper Saigon Liberation. This shows how eager Vietnam is to display openness and a liberalism in attitude.
In early September, Vietnam released prominent dissident and pro-democracy activist Pham Hong Son. Mr. Son was originally sentenced to five years in prison. His crime? He translated articles from the U.S. State Department Web site for an online journal in Vietnam. The articles were titled “What is democracy?”
Cong Do, an American citizen, was also falsely imprisoned earlier this year by Vietnam. He has now been released and advocates return from Vietnam of another U.S. Citizen: Thuong Nguyen “Cuc” Foshee.
Mrs. Foshee, a U.S. citizen, was taken into custody Sept. 8, 2005. She was not charged, not allowed to post bail, denied an attorney and put in a prison in Ho Chi Minh City. Her crime? While in the United States, she did business with an organization the government of Vietnam terms “seditionist.”
The Vietnamese people have no free elections. In Vietnam, the Communist Party chooses all candidates prior to an election and no person excluded by the communist system can run in an election. Since all candidates are nominated by the party, there is no legitimate “voice of the people.”
The communist government of Vietnam, like that of China and North Korea, controls and monitors all media including the internet and e-mail. Along with the U.S. Department of State Web site, the Web site of The Washington Times is not available to readers in Vietnam. The Washington Times is also too “seditionist.”
Although Vietnam has more than 600 newspapers, all are owned and controlled by the party. No private newspaper has ever been allowed to be published. Song lyrics are monitored and must be approved by the government in Vietnam.
Vietnam has one of the world’s strictest systems of control over public use of the Internet. Many Web sites with information on freedom and democracy are not available in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese people do not have freedom of religion and worship. In its annual report on religious freedom, the U.S. State Department listed Vietnam among its top eight “Countries of Particular Concern.”
So we applaud and thank the president of the United States on his planned trip to Vietnam. And we want the U.S. economy to share in all the benefits of Vietnam’s anticipated growth.
And Mister President: Please bring home Mrs. Foshee.
And let’s all remain mindful of our American commitment to human rights and our American values in the process of expanding the “Vietnam Economic Miracle.”
John E. Carey is a retired military officer and former president of International Defense Consultants Inc. Honglien Do escaped from Communist Vietnam after serving time in detention.