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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Stanley O. Roth
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Statement before the House International Relations Committee
Subcommittees on Asia-Pacific Affairs and International
Economic Policy and Trade
Washington, DC, September 19, 2000

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The U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement and U.S. Policy on Vietnam

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I am pleased today to join Ambassador Barshefsky and Deputy Under Secretary Hauser to discuss the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement.

Before beginning my remarks, I would like to express my deep appreciation for Ambassador Barshefsky's strong personal role in bringing us to this important milestone in U.S.-Vietnam relations. I know we wouldn't be sitting here today delivering this testimony without her extremely hard work in bringing a lengthy, challenging -- and, no doubt, at times a trying -- negotiation to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Chairman, the BTA is a milestone. And in the context of the slow and careful development of a fully normal relationship with Vietnam, it's a large one. It is a milestone many of us, perhaps most of us, in this room would have expected to see receding in the rear view mirror by now. Five years ago, when initial work toward this agreement began, few of us would have believed that only now, 5 years later, would we find ourselves before these distinguished subcommittees to explain our work and ultimately to seek its approval.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your offering me this opportunity to put the Bilateral Trade Agreement into the context of our developing relationship with Vietnam, and as part of that developing relationship, in the context also of Vietnam's continuing cooperation on MIA issues.

The focus during the President's first term was on diplomatic normalization itself. It could not proceed without Vietnamese cooperation on the central element of our relationship then, and now -- the fullest possible accounting for our missing servicemen. Three separate presidential missions were sent to Vietnam to pursue this key to normalization. The first of these, led by the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Hershel Gober, visited Vietnam in July, 1993. The delegation included representatives from the VFW, AmVets, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and the National League of Families. The other two missions, also led by Mr. Gober, visited in July 1994 and March 1996. In response to the second of these presidential delegations, in July 1994, Vietnam created unilateral search teams -- a point to which I'll return in a moment.

Congress, too, was involved early on in this effort. Senior staff from the Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific visited Hanoi in January 1994 to assess Vietnam's progress on POW/MIAs and concluded that cooperation was good.

From the start, of course, we also worked hard to resolve other central issues, including emigration and the settlement of U.S. Government property claims in the former South Vietnam, to which Vietnam agreed in 1995. The dialogue on human rights began in 1992, and has continued and deepened.

This first phase of the Administration's approach to normalization with Vietnam culminated with the joint announcement by the President and Vietnamese Prime Minister Kiet on July 11, 1995 of the establishment of diplomatic relations. In August of that year, then-Secretary Christopher visited Vietnam and opened our embassy in Hanoi. At the same time, Vietnam opened its embassy here in Washington. Consulates were established in Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco.

Vietnam and the POW/MIAs

The Administration took these steps because it was our assessment, shared by many in the Congress, that Vietnam had cleared the bar we had established to set the normalization process in motion.

There could be no relationship to build without initial progress on the key issue of accounting for our servicemen missing in action.

The focus of this Administration from the start was, first and foremost, to insist on continued cooperation from Vietnam on this front, and then, and only then, to develop other aspects of the relationship as we made progress. The quest to obtain the fullest and most comprehensive possible accounting of POW/MIAs has remained the most important issue of our policy toward Vietnam. Ambassador Pete Peterson, who has a personal as well as a professional stake in this enterprise, affirmed for members of the Ways and Means Committee earlier this year that Vietnam's cooperation remains excellent and in good faith, and that its efforts have been exemplary in pursuit of the fullest possible accounting of our MIAs.

Secretary Cohen's visit to Vietnam earlier this year was the first such visit by a Defense Secretary since the end of the Vietnam War. Secretary Cohen's visit provided a real boost to the joint search by U.S. and Vietnamese service volunteers for the remains of our MIAs, especially as it moves inevitably to some of the most rugged, dangerous, and difficult terrain in the world -- the only places still unsearched.

Shortly after Secretary Cohen's visit, Vietnam proposed several new search initiatives, among them a desire to focus on more excavations, especially in the central region of the country. The Vietnamese also stressed that their efforts on every Last Known Alive (LKA) case would continue until all cases are resolved, and sought our views on expanding the unilateral (Vietnam only) activities begun 6 years earlier at our request.

We are still assessing the Vietnamese proposals made during Secretary Cohen's visit. But as we do, it is difficult not to conclude that Vietnam's record of cooperation on POW/MIA issues has been exemplary.

Vietnam and Emigration

Turning to another issue of importance to many members of the Committee and to their constituents -- emigration -- I am pleased to report, as Ambassador Peterson has before me, that Vietnam continues to live up to its commitments. In fact, progress has accelerated on these issues since the lifting of the embargo. Vietnam's citizens are able to emigrate freely under our various refugee programs; over 1.2 million Vietnamese have resettled in the United States since 1980. Tens of thousands of these Vietnamese-Americans return annually to their homeland to visit relatives and forge ever-stronger, grass-roots links between our two societies. With Vietnam's cooperation, we are now approaching completion of many of the refugee admissions categories established under the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), as well as the Resettlement Opportunities for Vietnamese Returnees (ROVR) sub-program, the Former Re-education Camp Detainees (HO) program, and the Montagnard programs.

Vietnamese progress on freedom of emigration since 1998 has demonstrated that the waiver of Jackson-Vanik is working in the way the law intended. Over the past 2 years, the number of Vietnamese returnees who have not been cleared by Vietnamese authorities for interviews by INS has declined from 3,463 to 201. INS has interviewed over 18,000 returnees under the ROVR program, and 15,886 have departed for the U.S. The number of former re-education camp detainees not cleared for interview has fallen from 2,461 to 635. The number of Montagnards not yet cleared has dropped from 636 to 261.

If not perfect, these are still impressive numbers. And because it is likely that some of the "uncleared for interview" numbers include people who simply cannot be located, the actual situation may be slightly better than the numbers indicate. As is, the numbers reflect our assessment that Vietnam's cooperation on emigration issues has been good. We nevertheless are committed to ensure that all eligible applicants have the opportunity to be interviewed and, if approved, to depart for the U.S.

Second Term

The focus during the President's second term in office has been to develop a functioning relationship from the fledgling start we had made and, especially, to intensify the effort to thrash out differences on important issues that continued to stunt the development of a fully cooperative and normalized relationship. Put another way, we moved from diplomatic normalization to diplomatic engagement.

In addition to our continued emphasis on POW/MIA and emigration issues, we broadened our focus to other topics, including pressing the Vietnamese harder on human rights and humanitarian issues and promoting economic reform.

Vietnam and Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues

Improvement of human rights has been, and will remain, an important part of our policy toward Vietnam. In announcing the signing of the Bilateral Trade Agreement, President Clinton said,

We hope expanded trade will go hand in hand with strength and respect for human rights and labor standards. For we live in an age where wealth is generated by the free exchange of ideas and stability depends on democratic choices.
The Secretary of State, Ambassador Peterson, Assistant Secretary Koh, Ambassador Seiple, and I have all delivered similar messages to Vietnam's leaders and its people. And we will continue to do so because Vietnam, while it has made some progress, is nowhere near meeting international standards on human rights. A look at this year's human rights report will provide anyone interested -- and I believe I can include all of us in this room in that category -- with a long list of Vietnam's shortcomings. No one in Vietnam, be they government or dissident, has any doubt where we stand.

That said, our activities are having a positive impact on Vietnam's attitude toward human rights. They are changing -- slowly. Our human rights dialogue, begun in 1992, is beginning to yield some results. In June, we held annual high level discussions with Vietnamese officials here in Washington. Our sense was that these talks, held for the first time at the Assistant Secretary level and led by Assistant Secretary Koh on our side, were productive. Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom Robert Seiple also participated in the Vietnamese visit, which featured meetings with international human rights NGOs. Secretary Albright raised human rights issues prominently in her discussions with Vietnam's senior leadership last year and in her earlier visit in 1997.

Since normalization began, Vietnam's central government has substantially reduced its intrusive behavior, and it is beginning to restrain heavy-handed provincial governments. "Block Wardens" no longer closely monitor everyone's activities. Vietnam has released 20 religious or political prisoners from jail so far this year, including 12 Hmong Protestants and three Catholic priests. Dissidents released from prisons still face harassment, but they can meet outsiders and supporters. Without a doubt, greater freedom of religious expression and worship exists in Vietnam than during the two decades after 1975. Vietnam is also making progress toward meeting international standards on workers' rights. We expect further progress in the near future.

In no small part, the progress we have seen can be attributed to Ambassador Peterson's persistent pursuit of our concerns, to our annual human rights dialogue, and to Ambassador Robert Seiple's advocacy for greater religious freedom. We can also credit cooperation between the Congress and the Executive. Members of the House and of these subcommittees have engaged on these issues to great effect with Vietnamese leaders, making clear the bipartisan support for promoting progress on human rights.

Vietnam and Economic and Trade Issues

Another important objective of our effort to engage Vietnam was, of course, economic and trade reform, the focus of our discussions today.

The testimony you have just heard from Ambassador Barshefsky documents our engagement with Vietnam on economic and trade reform leading to the BTA. I cannot improve on the specifics of what's been said in this regard. But I can share with you our broader objectives in pursuing economic and trade reform with Vietnam, and how these objectives complement our larger foreign policy objectives, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

The BTA is not only the result of intensive engagement, it is also the vehicle for further engagement. Vietnam's emergence into the regional and global community as a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic state cannot possibly be complete until it has granted its own people the rights and freedoms they are owed.

The Bilateral Trade Agreement is very much in our national interest because it will lock Vietnam into a broad band of commitments that will strengthen its private sector. A stronger private sector will allow everyday Vietnamese greater ability to determine their own economic future. Provisions in the agreement require Vietnam to extend trade and distribution rights to every citizen. The freedom to make individual economic decisions is one of the many individual freedoms we have been encouraging Vietnam to grant to its people.

Conclusion

Since diplomatic normalization, the overall objective of our Vietnam policy has been to encourage the emergence of Vietnam as a stable, prosperous, and open participant in the region. This kind of Vietnam -- fully engaged and integrated in the region -- would become a more vigorous and influential partner, working with us and with its neighbors to foster regional stability and manage regional problems. It would have a dynamic economy which could offer its citizens an improving standard of living, attract imports and investments, and export its own products competitively. This kind of Vietnam would be not only secure and prosperous itself, but would, through its own security and prosperity enhance the security and prosperity of its neighbors.

That kind of Vietnam does not yet exist, but it is moving closer to these goals. And engagement is the vehicle in which it is moving. We have been engaging Vietnam at every level and at every available opportunity to manage, if not resolve, specific differences and identify and expand issues on which we take a common approach. The Bilateral Trade Agreement is a paramount example of this effort.

Vietnam needs competitive access to the U.S. market to attract the foreign direct investment, technology, and knowledge it requires to employ its rapidly growing workforce -- the key to achieving prosperity. Only a prosperous Vietnam can become a major consumer of U.S. goods and services.

Recently, Ambassador Peterson described to me some developments that indicate the kind of Vietnam we could be looking at in the very near future. I was most struck by his description of the "cybercafe phenomenon." Thousands of young Vietnamese are accessing the Internet at scores of cybercafes across the country. They are obtaining and exchanging information, and many are doing so by finding innovative ways to circumvent the layered firewalls conservative elements of Vietnam's government have placed on Internet access. This story reflects the thirst of Vietnam's young people for a tangible connection to the world beyond their borders; I think it also underscores the tremendous future export and investment opportunities available to America's technology companies.

Our regional allies and partners are also working toward the end of integrating Vietnam into the regional community. And the Vietnamese recognize the importance of the process. Shortly after the signing of the Bilateral Trade Agreement, Vietnam Trade Minister Vu Khoan observed that when the agreement enters into force, Vietnam would at last be equal, in terms of competitive access to the U.S. market, to America's oldest friends within ASEAN.

Vietnam's entrance onto a more level playing field will foster its more active participation in forums, such as ASEAN and APEC, in which countries are cooperating to expand trade and investment, to eliminate barriers, and to offer businesses and workers greater commercial opportunities. Both ASEAN and APEC offer Vietnam, which joined ASEAN in 1995 and APEC in 1998, access to a wider peer group of countries that can serve as role models.

Let me close by sharing a thought from one of Vietnam's leading independent voices about the BTA. Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Vietnam's most visible dissident, recently told one of our diplomats in Vietnam that "opening the country economically will increase the people's power to make their own economic decisions. Integrating into the global economy and increasing contact with developed countries will increase the people's awareness of what it means to be modern. The sooner the trade agreement is ratified and put into effect, the better."

I heartily agree with Dr. Que, a man whom I greatly admire and respect. Now it is the United States Congress that stands at a crossroads on Vietnam policy. Implementation of the BTA is the key to achieving our goals. We are urging Vietnam to ratify the BTA as quickly as possible. When it is submitted to the Congress, I would strongly urge the House to keep America consistent with our values and our national interests by quickly approving the BTA.

[end of document]

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