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Vietnam ’s Leader Wants U.S. Visit to Be All Business

ICC Note: Vietnam has a reputation for persecution of Christians as well as many other Human Rights violations. President Triet hopes his visit will not require him to address these violations as he seeks to expand economic ties with the U.S.

By Seth Mydans

6/14/07 Vietnam ( — Bracing himself for criticism over Vietnam ’s human rights record, President Nguyen Minh Triet said Wednesday that he would keep his eye firmly on trade and investment when he visited the United States next week.

Mr. Triet, the first Vietnamese head of state to visit Washington since the Vietnam War ended 32 years ago, is a longtime proponent of his country’s economic liberalization and integration into the world economy…

“We really want the United States to increase its investment in terms of high technology in Vietnam ,” he said, “and we want the United States to create favorable conditions for Vietnamese goods in the United States market.”

He bristled, though, over recent criticisms of the arrests and trials of several dissidents that threaten to overshadow the broader positive relations that have made visits like this one less and less remarkable.

“ Vietnam has experienced war and understands well the loss of human rights and freedom,” he said. “Therefore, we really love the fundamental rights of man and respect human rights. But if anyone violates the law we have to punish them.”

Since Vietnam , a nation of about 84 million people, gained increased visibility as the host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last fall, it has rounded up many dissidents, most recently sentencing two activist lawyers to long jail terms last month.

The White House said President Bush would “express his deep concern” over the issue, and some critics of Vietnam in the United States had lobbied to cancel the visit.

The visit is all the more significant given the opposition it faced, several Vietnamese and foreign analysts said.

“It strengthens the hands of the outward-looking, reform types in the government,” said Jonathan Pincus, the senior country economist for the United Nations Development Program. “It shows Vietnam that the United States is a reliable and mature partner. That is hugely important to Vietnam .”

One strong motivation to proceed for both sides is a desire to cement their relationship in the context of the growing political and economic weight of Vietnam ’s northern neighbor, China .

Le Dang Doanh, a leading economist, said: “It is very important that the visit could take place because if not, the big neighbors to the north could try to push harder on Vietnam . And this is not good for the stability of the region and not good at all for Vietnam …”

The United States is Vietnam ’s largest trading partner, with an increasing two-way trade that rose to $7.8 billion in 2005, from $1.5 billion in 2001, according to Vietnamese government figures…

The United States ended a trade embargo in 1994 and established diplomatic relations with Vietnam the next year. In 2001, the two nations signed a trade agreement that was called the final step in postwar normalization of relations.

In January, with strong support from the United States , Vietnam officially joined the World Trade Organization….

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