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ICC Note:  It is not surprising that the meeting between these two leaders was focused on the threat posed to Southeast Asia by China, and heartening to note that at least the issues of religious freedom and human rights were raised (and differences noted).  ICC will continue to watch, however, whether or not anything comes out of the high-level meeting. 

By Asia News / Agencies

07/08/2015 Vietnam (AsiaNews.it)

US President Barack Obama yesterday received the Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong at the White House, in a historic meeting between the two countries, once rivals and protagonists of a bloody war at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s.

It is the first such high-level meeting between Hanoi and Washington since the normalization of relations between their respective governments, 20 years ago. This gradual rapprochement between Vietnam and the US masks the common goal to stop Beijing’s “imperialist” policy, particularly in Asia-Pacific seas.

Addressing the Vietnamese communist leader, President Obama emphasized that in spite of the different “political philosophies”, the two countries are strengthening strategic cooperation and partnership. There were “difficulties” in the past, added the head of the White House, and significant “differences” in philosophy and in governance persist.

However, Obama concluded, there has been growth in “constructive relations” recently based on “mutual respect” and “benefits” for both nations.

In response Nguyen Phu Trong spoke of  “cordial, constructive, positive and frank”, discussions even if positions on the subject of human rights, religious freedom and even the signature on  trade in the Pacific region remain distant.

If the summit satisfied the expectations of the two leaders and their governments, not everyone was equally pleased. Also yesterday outside the White House a large group of activists protested the violations of human rights and religious freedom taking place even today in Vietnam. A group of US lawmakers sent a letter to President Obama, expressing disappointment at this invitation.

Moreover, for some time now, Hanoi has been cracking down on internal dissent, even targeting religious leaders, Buddhists and Catholics, or entire communities as was the case with the diocese of Vinh, where the media and government led a smear campaign and targeted attacks against the bishop and the faithful. The repression also affects individuals, guilty of claiming the right to religious freedom and to respect the civil rights of citizens.

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