Kerry says US ties can grow if more freedom in Vietnam
HANOI – US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday lauded the warming of ties with former war enemy Vietnam but said the scope of relations would depend on the communist rulers’ willingness to protect human rights and freedoms.
Kerry is Vietnam’s latest high-profile visitor from Washington as the former war enemies mark two decades of calibrated engagement since the normalization of ties that have expanded rapidly in the past year.
In a speech to mark the anniversary, Kerry said barriers of “mistrust and misunderstanding” were falling and urged Vietnam to show greater commitment to pursuing legal reforms and allowing freedom of expression and assembly.
“Progress on human rights and the rule of law will provide the foundation for a deeper and more sustainable strategic partnership,” Kerry said.
“Only you can decide the pace and direction of the process in building this partnership.”
Despite seeking deeper Western engagement and reform to its economy, Vietnam’s government has been criticised for its zero-tolerance approach to dissent, with bloggers, religious activists and journalists among those facing harassment and arrest, or languishing in jail.
The United States has been intensifying efforts in building stronger ties with Vietnam to boost its clout in Asia and offset China’s influence, but human rights and political prisoners have been a sticking point.
Kerry said the United States respected the different political systems of both countries but said it was important for stability to formally recognise free speech and assembly, which millions of Vietnamese were already demonstrating with Facebook and through workers defending their rights.
“The United States recognises that only the Vietnamese people can determine their political system.
“But there are basic principles we will defend: No one should be punished for speaking their mind so long as they are peaceful.”
He added: “We believe that progress in upholding these basic human rights will serve Vietnam’s interests in several ways.”
Kerry earlier met President Truong Tan Sang, who recognised the importance of guaranteeing human rights, he said.
“In our conversation today with President Sang, he couldn’t have been more clear about how important it is (to Vietnam’s leaders) to respect the rights of their people,” Kerry said. -Reuters