Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Patrolling the Pacific: Vietnamese Vise

Part of the pincer that will trap China:

"Top Vietnamese official to visit US" Associated Press  July 04, 2015

HANOI — The powerful head of Vietnam’s Communist Party will travel to the United States for the first time next week and said he expects President Obama will visit Vietnam later this year.

Nguyen Phu Trong, the party’s general secretary, said that he hopes to build trust and create more opportunities to improve relations.

Trong’s visit comes as the former battlefield foes mark the 20th anniversary of normalized diplomatic ties.

The White House said Trong will arrive Tuesday, and the leaders will discuss trade, human rights, and defense cooperation. It did not confirm a visit by Obama to Vietnam, which would be his first.


"US to host Vietnam’s communist party chief; Will meet Obama, business group in bid to boost ties" by Grant Peck Associated Press  July 06, 2015

HANOI — Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong doesn’t hold an official government post, but it’s not surprising that he will meet with President Obama on his visit to the United States this week. He is the de facto top leader of his country.

More telling is one of Trong’s other engagements — a dinner reception hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce, bastion of American free enterprise. Economic imperatives drove the United States and Vietnam to normalize relations 20 years ago, and they remain a major incentive to boost ties.

President Bill Clinton announced the normalization of relations with Vietnam on July 11, 1995, following up on the lifting of punitive economic sanctions imposed after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 with a communist victory.

The bitterness on both sides gave way to pragmatism. Vietnam’s socialist planners were running the economy of the newly unified nation into the ground, and needed a helping hand. American businesses saw opportunities that might otherwise be seized by Asian and European competitors.

Trong said he expects Obama to make his first visit to Vietnam this year, though the White House has not confirmed the trip.

US officials are eager to take relations with Vietnam — currently friendly but hardly intimate — to a new level. Vietnam could be a linchpin in Obama’s pivot toward Asia, playing a strong geopolitical and economic role. As a front-line country nervous about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, Vietnam also would not mind the United States directing at least a little hard talk at Beijing.

‘‘We believe that as one of the world’s leading major powers and a member of the [UN Security Council], the US has a great interest and responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific,’’ Trong said in response to questions.

In careful diplomatic language, he said he hoped ‘‘that the US will continue to have appropriate voice and actions to contribute to peaceful settlement of disputes in the [South China Sea] in accordance with international law in order to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and the world.’’

US ambitions to remain a Pacific power hinge in large part on projecting its power by drawing a line with China.

Popular sentiment in Vietnam is generally hostile toward China’s assertive maritime territorial claims, but the country’s leaders are loath to antagonize their much bigger neighbor. The practical perils of proximity are one matter, but more doctrinaire communists such as Trong are uneasy about casting their lot with the democratic West rather than their old communist kin in Beijing.

In Washington’s view, however, wooing a hard-line skeptic such as Trong is key to achieving the two countries’ goals.

While Trong’s trip is a sign of how far the US-Vietnam relationship has come in the 40 years since the end of the war, that doesn’t mean an alliance is in the works, said Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

‘‘They want to have eggs in the American basket to balance off what they’ve got in the Chinese basket, all in the service of Vietnam’s interest and strategic vision,’’ he said.

What Washington has to offer Hanoi are economic benefits, particularly under the yet-to-be-finalized multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Oh, I see. When the issues of power and money are involved....


RelatedThe Lessons of Vietnam

Finding, recalling veterans at Wall That Heals

A search for peace at Vietnam wall replica

No mention of the millions of Vietnamese dead.

"Vietnam seeks end to US ban on weapons sales; Human rights concerns are still a sticking point" by Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press  June 02, 2015

HANOI — Vietnam’s defense minister, after meeting Monday with his US counterpart Ashton Carter, said that questions about his nation’s suspected human rights violations should not influence any US decision to fully remove its ban on weapons’ sales to Hanoi and that the two nations are planning to conduct military operations together.

When the issues of power and money are involved....

Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh also said the United States will help Vietnam prepare to begin participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

A Vietnamese military band performed “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ and warmly welcomed Carter on his arrival. The display, once unthinkable between the wartime adversaries, partly represents Vietnam’s concern about the military expansion of its communist neighbor, China.

But Western nations and international human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about human rights violations by Vietnam’s authoritarian government.

Vietnam is a one-party state that squelches dissent, and Amnesty International has said that scores are still being detained for exercising freedom of expression. Hanoi says only those who violate laws are jailed.

Asked if the human rights issue should play a role in the US military relationship with Vietnam, Carter would only say that US officials routinely have ‘‘very candid’’ discussions on political and internal issues with Vietnamese leaders and said those issues intersect with security matters.

Speaking at a news conference, Thanh said through an interpreter that the full removal of the weapons sales restrictions would be ‘‘in line with the interests of both countries. And I think we should not attach that decision to the human rights issue.’’ And he offered a broad defense of the government, saying it respects the rights and freedoms of the people.

Carter said the United States will provide $18 million to Vietnam to buy vessels for its coast guard. And the two men signed a joint statement calling for expanded cooperation between the two militaries.

Last October the United States partly lifted its ban on weapons sales to Vietnam, allowing only the sale of lethal maritime security and surveillance capabilities. To date no weapons have been sent to Vietnam.

For the last several years, the administration and the Pentagon focused more on the Asia-Pacific region, in what has been called a strategic pivot after more than a decade of war and intense focus on the Middle East.

The United States insists the rebalance is not aimed at China and its military, but it is working to expand and solidify relations with nations across the region, including many who have been at odds with China’s moves to exert its sovereignty in the South China Sea, which the United States and other nations consider international waters.

Beijing has also bristled as America has moved more ships and other assets to the region, expanded military exercises, and rotated troops more frequently in and out of other Pacific nations.

Another key issue discussed by Carter and Thanh involved the land reclamation projects being conducted by China, Vietnam, and others in the South China Sea.

Carter said that the government of Vietnam is considering stopping its reclamation program and that both nations support a peaceful negotiation process to end the disputed claims in the South China Sea.

China’s rapidly expanding building projects have raised tensions and caused concerns among countries in the region. Beijing’s building program on reefs and atolls now totals more than 2,000 acres, according to the United States.

China is vigorously defending the projects in the face of persistent criticism from US leaders, who say that the building programs will not provide Beijing any additional sovereign land. The United States and others are concerned that China will use the artificial islands as military bases and to assert control over navigation in the South China Sea.


Can't mention Vietnam without talking about Cambodia:

"Cambodians roiled by video of tycoon’s attack on TV star" Associated Press  July 17, 2015

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The country’s prime minister added his voice Thursday to growing outrage over a drunken tycoon who was captured on video viciously attacking a female TV star, calling the man’s actions intolerable and warning that his riches will not help him escape justice.

What started this month as the latest social media frenzy has turned into a national scandal that has raised big questions in the Southeast Asian country, where the wealthy often act with impunity and are widely known to pay for their crimes with cash rather than prosecution.

Prime Minister Hun Sen implicitly acknowledged the judicial system’s shortcomings and vowed that this time justice will be served.

‘‘Don’t think that because you have money you can escape,’’ Hun Sen said in comments directed at property tycoon Sok Bun, who is believed to have fled the country. ‘‘What you have done is intolerable.’’

He ordered Sok Bun to come out of hiding and report to authorities. He said an arrest warrant has been issued, a manhunt launched, and if Sok Bun turns himself in he can avoid being handcuffed.

In a grainy black-and-white video, Sok Bun is seen dragging the well-known Cambodian actress known as Sasa off a couch at a Japanese restaurant in Phnom Penh. He throws her to the ground, kicks her head, and when she tries to get up he punches, kicks, and stomps on her in a beating that lasts about a minute.

The attack, which occurred in the early hours of July 2, was captured by the restaurant’s security cameras.


Vise is now closed tight.