July 7, 2015
By Dave Boyer
President Obama told the leader of Vietnam’s Communist Party that he plans to visit the Southeast Asian nation soon, as the two leaders discussed tensions with China and Vietnam’s poor record on human rights in an Oval Office meeting Tuesday.
Although Mr. Obama didn’t specify a date, he told Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong that he is looking “forward to visiting your beautiful country some time in the future.” Mr. Trong said he was glad that Mr. Obama “graciously accepted my invitation” to visit the country.
The president is scheduled to attend summits in Malaysia and in the Philippines in November, and it’s widely expected he’ll add Vietnam to his travel itinerary. The meeting on Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of President Clinton announcing the normalizing of relations with Vietnam, and it took place 40 years after the fall of Saigon.
Administration officials are eager to improve relations with Vietnam, viewing it as a possible key to Mr. Obama’s goal of rebalancing U.S. foreign policy toward Asia. Vietnam is a party to the Trans Pacific Partnership, Mr. Obama’s proposed massive free-trade deal with Pacific rim nations, and is concerned about China’s expansionism in the South China Sea.
Mr. Trong said he and Mr. Obama “shared their concerns” about China’s activities in the South China Sea that are “not in accordance with international law that may complicate the situation.” Neither man mentioned China by name.
Mr. Trong is the de-facto leader of Vietnam, although he holds no official government post.
Even as the two leaders emphasized areas of cooperation, Mr. Obama said they also spoke candidly about human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam.
“What I’m confident about is that diplomatic dialogue and practical steps taken together will benefit both countries, that these tensions can be resolved in an effective fashion,” Mr. Obama said.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the president before the meeting to challenge the Vietnamese leader on the country’s human-rights abuses, including the jailing of journalists and bloggers.
“This authoritarian one party system is the root cause of the deplorable human rights situation in Vietnam,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican. “As the list of detained Vietnamese bloggers and prisoners of conscience gets longer and longer, it is even more important than ever that the United States sends a clear message to the Hanoi authorities that respect for human rights is essential for a closer economic and security relationship.”