|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Conference, Daewoo Hotel
Hanoi, Vietnam, June 27, 1996, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman in Hong Kong,
June 29, 1997
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good afternoon everybody. I am pleased to be here on my first visit to Vietnam. Before continuing on to Ho Chi Minh city I wanted to say a few words about my talks this morning with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister about U.S.- Vietnam relations.
In recent years, Vietnam has moved steadily in the direction of greater openness to the outside world and greater participation in regional organizations. I made clear in our meetings today that the United States welcomes this. As I said at Harvard earlier this month, today the international system should be open to every nation that is willing and able to abide by its rules. This applies emphatically to Vietnam. America wants to see the Vietnamese people prosper and their society contribute to the well-being of Southeast Asia.
To this end our two countries continue to make progress in normalizing diplomatic, political and economic ties. Two months ago, we exchanged highly distinguished ambassadors. Today Foreign Minister Cam and I announced the planned opening of consulates in Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco and we signed an important agreement to protect intellectual property. I have authorized the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for the first time to include Vietnam within the scope of its programs.
We had good discussions this morning about how to make progress in interviewing Vietnamese returnees from first asylum countries for possible resettlement in the United States. Progress in the resettlement program is important for humanitarian reasons. It would also enable us to recommend waiving the Jackson-Vanik requirement and thereby permit Ex-Im Bank and other programs to operate in Vietnam. Based on what I heard during my meetings, I am optimistic that we will see the kind of steady progress that will enable me to recommend to the President that we go forward soon with the Jackson-Vanik waiver. All these is to the good. But I also had to convey, in the meetings this morning, our disappointment with the recent pace of economic reform. Over the past decade, the policy of renovation --"doi moi" -- has served Vietnam well. But what is needed now is "doi moi 2".
The key to economic integration and to a mutually beneficial bilateral trade agreement is for Vietnam to remove barriers to trade and investment, reduce the role of inefficient state monopolies, and create a legal framework in which foreign investors will have confidence and local entrepreneurs may thrive. This is not just an American view. To participate and prosper in today's global marketplace, societies must strive to ensure that their markets are open, contracts are honored, corruption is curbed, and competition is fair. It is also important to see progress on human rights, on which we recently held the fifth session in our bilateral dialogue. It is our view that Vietnam is holding itself back from greater international participation and respect through its failure to permit organized political opposition and a free press, its unwillingness to observe fully the right to religious expression and its refusal to release prisoners of conscience.
As I stressed to Vietnam's leaders today, economic and political openness are two sides of the same coin. Ultimately, you cannot have one without the other. Both are required for development and both depend on creation of a viable civil society and respect for the rule of law. Although U.S.-Vietnam relations are broadening, one issue remains paramount. That is obtaining the fullest possible accounting of Americans still missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. As Ambassador Peterson can explain, perhaps better than anyone else, Americans want to learn everything that can be learned about the fate of our countrymen. We are proud of the efforts being made by the Joint Task Force, from which I received a briefing this morning. We are pleased with the help we've received both from the government and from the people here. And we understand that ours is not a unique sorrow, for the burdens of loss are heavy as well among the families of Vietnam.
One of the great tests of our era is the ability of nations and peoples to overcome past differences and go forward together. That challenge, whether in the Middle East the Balkans, Southeast Asia or elsewhere, must be met, both at the bargaining table between governments and in the thoughts and actions of average citizens. Although the rate of forward movement may be deliberate by any measure, America and Vietnam are on the road to passing that test. For the United States, there is no better guide as our journey unfolds than Ambassador Peterson, whose own journey from airman to POW to legislator to diplomat is an inspiration for Americans and Vietnamese alike.
In closing, I would like to thank Foreign Minister Cam and his colleagues for their hospitality, and I look forward to returning the favor in the not too distant future. And now I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, to take you forward a little bit to Hong Kong. We've heard the U.S. rationale from your aides, but I'd like to hear from you why you decided to ask the Consul General Richard Boucher to stay for the legislature swearing-in in Hong Kong? What does that say to democrats in Hong Kong, who are making public their disappointment that the U.S. boycott of that ceremony is not total?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me make very clear that I had announced very early on that I would be attending the reversion ceremony in Hong Kong, not only because of it's historic value and importance, but also in order to very carefully watch what is going to be happening in terms of the ability to preserve the way of life of Hong Kong. That is part of the Sino-British Agreement. I believe that my being present at the reversion ceremony, but not being present for the swearing-in of the Legislative Council, is a significant political act, and one which I think carries a fairly important message. I am being joined by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. I am as yet unclear as to the number of other foreign ministers who will be taking similar action.
But it is also, I think, very important as we made clear quite a long time ago, that American interests have to be protected in Hong Kong. We have large numbers of ship visits, there are American citizens and businesses that are in Hong Kong, and it will be important to carry on business with the authorities in Hong Kong. The swearing-in ceremony, while it does include a swearing-in for the Legislative Council, also does swear in other authorities, the Government of Hong Kong, with which our Consul General will have to have business. So we determined immediately that it was important to have working level representation at the ceremony while making a strong political statement by my not being there.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, as I understand it the United States submitted a draft trade agreement to Vietnam three months ago. Did that subject come up today, and can you report any progress?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes, we spoke quite a lot about the importance of the trade agreement. I explained at some length both to the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister the importance of steps that had to lead up to that and the importance of their cooperating in what is known as the ROVR program of the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, and that it would be difficult for me to recommend a waiver of Jackson-Vanik which needs to precede a trade agreement if, in fact, there was not a more speeded up approach to the ROVR program. We discussed this at some length. I pointed out that the Vietnamese have been slow initialing exit visas, because we, the U.S., cannot interview until those exit visas are in fact issued. Both of the officials took my explanation on board so that they would do everything in order to be able to speed it up. And also that we would extend our dialogue about various parts of the text of the trade agreement.
QUESTION: I'm from Vietnam Central Government Television. Good evening, first of all, if it would be possible to have an exclusive interview with you after this press conference.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think it will not, so go ahead and ask your question.
QUESTION: What are the difficulties our two countries (inaudible) bilateral relations, and when will Vietnam be given MFN status and GSP status? Another QUESTION: What is your opinion of the development of ASEAN 10? Does it make any influence, if any, on the U.S. policy on the ASEAN 10?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: On the first question, I think that our bilateral relations have obviously deepened in the last years with our exchange of ambassadors and our much more developed political relations. I came here for this trip to talk a great deal more about the deepening and broadening of our economic relations and the economic normalization process, which does require that there be several things put in place. I think the copyright agreement that I signed today with Foreign Minister Cam is an example of the necessity of having a basis of the rule of law and a better investment climate in order for trade relations to go forward.
Second, as I just answered in the previous question, I think it is important that the immigration policies be regularized to this ROVR program so that I can recommend a waiver in the Jackson-Vanik so that the Most Favored Nation treatment can go forward. So, what we have to do is create a climate that will allow the economic relations to go forward.
At the same time, an issue which is always of the highest priority in dealing with our bilateral relations is for a full accounting on the POW-MIA program and of living up to what the president has asked be rectified in the program. First of all, that they are able to deal with the issue of live sightings, that remains be returned, that there be trilateral cooperation with Laos, and that we have access to archives. I was well-satisfied with the fact that process is moving along, and at the same time I made quite clear the centrality of the POW-MIA process to our bilateral relations.
I also stressed the very high degree of importance we place on an improved human rights record in Vietnam, that we are very concerned about some specific cases and are generally concerned about the fact that there is not enough freedom of press, religion and association. On the question of ASEAN, we believe that it is a good idea that Vietnam is a part of the ASEAN group, has been a part of it. In meetings that I have attended in New York where Secretary Christopher met with the ASEAN members during the General Assembly, I think it became very evident that Vietnam's membership there served Vietnam well and also that it helped to broaden the reach of ASEAN, an organization for which we have great respect.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, knowing how central the issue of MIAs is to the relationship, I wonder, given the rather vast sum of money--we were to believe it was something on the order of about ten million a year is being spent on this effort all total with forty-eight services basically unaccounted for-- how long will the United States be willing to expend this kind of money on this program? Is there some point at which it will be seen as not cost effective any longer?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think, Steve, it is very important for all of us to understand the depth of emotion and depth of pain and suffering that surrounds this whole issue and the necessity in many ways to first of all understand the toll on families involved. Also the deep effect it has on everybody in the United States in terms of our ability to move forward. Ambassador Peterson, I think, is probably the finest example of someone who is able to put the past behind him and move forward. We would like to have this issue be dealt with so that we can focus on the future. It is very hard to put a price on this kind of an effort and it is my sense we will be willing to expend monies until we are satisfied that everything has been done to deal with what is such a difficult issue for so many people.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, did your talks today include any discussions of security issues, specifically the prospect of some kind of military-to-military cooperation between the two countries? And what would be the prospect over the immediate term?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Bob, we did not discuss that subject. There is some low-level military cooperation going on now, mil-mil cooperation but that is not the key aspect of our relationship at this stage.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, other than the immigration issue, purely in economic terms, why do you think progress has not been better in the last two years since normalization and since Secretary Christopher's visit? What is it about the democracy here that has held things back?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that there has been some slowing down in terms of their doi moi process and a certain amount of bureaucratic recalcitrance, at least that is the sense I got in terms of talking. Particularly in talking with the Prime Minister, who I think is very personally engaged in the whole economic reform process and is desirous of having it move forward. I do think, from having watched other countries either reform communism or emerge from communism, is that we need to understand that this is not an easy process where there are large numbers of state-owned companies, enterprises, and how one moves away from that kind of a system to a free market system.
Also, I think it is a little bit of a vicious circle, in that if the reform process slows then there is much less inclination for foreign investment to come in which then in some ways does not show enough of a reward to those as they are trying to adjust the system inside. Where they say what are we getting for our reform process? That's why I think, for instance, signing a copyright agreement was important in terms of protecting intellectual property. And, being able to explain to American investors that there is movement here in terms of the rule of law for business. The TBA announcement that I have just made, I think, will also help, but I have also made very clear that they need to move faster on their reform, deal with privatization of some of their state enterprises.
QUESTION: (inaudible) nearly two million Vietnamese people contaminated and badly affected by Agent Orange during the Vietnamese war. Is there any solution on the part on the USG to resolve this problem to Vietnam?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we are all aware of the existence of this problem and while we believe it is very important to operate not on the basis of emotion but on the basis of scientific fact, and we obviously will be continuing our work on this. But it is very important to base information on scientific fact and not anecdotal information.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, two questions if I may. Was there, besides the issue of POW/MIA, any kind of discussion of the American war in Vietnam with officials you met today, anything less specific and more philosophical? And secondly, just out of curiosity, if you did raise specific human rights cases with the Vietnamese, as you seem to imply that you did, what was their reaction?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: On the first question, interestingly enough there was not a lot of discussion of the war. I think there is very much a sense that I got from dealing with these officials as well as with Ambassador Peterson that there is a great desire to look to the future rather than to the past. And I must say that all of us who have spent a great deal of our lives talking, walking, and studying about Vietnam, I think we are overwhelmed by the fact that one drives through the streets of Hanoi with an American flag and people wave and are friendly. There is a little traffic problem but basically there is a sense that one can feel good about being an American in Hanoi.
I did not imply that I allegedly spoke about the human rights issue, I did speak about the human rights issue very directly, provided some names that we have particular interest in and spoke generally about the importance of human rights. I was told they expected me to raise this issue. I always like to live up to my billing and so I did raise the issue quite strongly. They responded that they would look into the specific cases I raised. But also as might be expected, they gave me an answer, which was their approach to human rights is different from ours. I responded that from my travels around the world, I believed that there was a universal sense about the importance of human rights within every country. And it was very difficult for countries to move forward in terms of their democracy or market reforms or have the respect of the entire international community if they did not live up to some universal human rights standards.
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