The President of Vietnam meets with President Obama later this week — just the second time a leader from that country has visited the U.S. since the end of the war. In anticipation, a bipartisan group of California lawmakers are pushing President Obama to pressure his Vietnamese counterpart to stop human rights abuses.
At a Tuesday press conference, lawmakers cited a long list of alleged abuses: religious leaders tortured with electric prods, the arrest and beatings of three dozen young dissidents, bloggers – the closest thing Vietnam has to a free press – locked up.
Fullerton Republican Congressman Ed Royce, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Vietnamese government "continues to round up anyone who continues to speak the word 'democracy' or speak the word 'human rights.'" He said it’s the responsibility of the U.S. to live up to its agreements, including the one with Vietnam that requires progress on human rights.
Royce was joined by Democratic colleagues Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach and Susan Davis of San Diego – all of whom represent districts with large Vietnamese communities – to ask the President to use his leverage to stop the abuse. The President also got an earful Tuesday from the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, members of which pressed the issue at a White House meeting.
It’s a delicate balance for the president. The U.S. is looking for allies in the region to balance the growing power of China. The administration is negotiating an Asian-Pacific trade pact with Vietnam and other countries. Last year, the U.S. and Vietnam conducted $26 billion in trade.
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang told the Associated Press this week that human rights concerns by the U.S. shouldn’t stand in the way of stronger economic and military ties.