Hillary Clinton can use hervisit to Hanoithis week to press for freedom.

By Hoang

When U.S. Secretaryof State Hillary Clinton arrives in Hanoi on July 22 for the Association ofSoutheast Asian Nations’ Regional Forum, she will step into a dynamic countrywhere the vast majority of people want a forward-looking political and economicrelationship with America. With diplomatic ties fully normalized after 15 yearsof bilateral effort, Mrs. Clinton now needs to focus on next steps. It will behelpful if U.S. policy toward Vietnam is mindful of what’s in the long-terminterest of both countries—a free and modern Vietnam.

Hoang

Associated Press

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy is escorted froma court room in Hanoi, Vietnam Friday, April 16, 2010

On the economicfront, Vietnam is gradually ditching a failed centrally planned economic model.But the Communist Party remains insistent on monopolizing political power. Theinherent contradictions between an open economy and closed politics play out inmany , some of which affect American businessinterests. Corruption remains a serious problem, for instance, which an unfreepress struggles to police and for which an unfree public can’t hold officialsaccountable. By pushing for greater openness, Mrs. Clinton can help bothVietnamese and Americans.

One way would be for Mrs. Clinton to bring to Vietnam a message she hascarried elsewhere: the importance of Internet freedom. Internet use in Vietnamhas grown exponentially in the last decade, with some 25 million people nowonline. But Vietnam’s netizens, many of whom are young and restless, are facingincreasing censorship. A directive by the People’s Committee of Hanoi issued inApril requires all retail establishments providing Internet services, such ashotels and cafes, to install monitoring software and report user violations toauthorities. These broadly defined violations include “abusing theInternet” to oppose the government, disclosing national secrets orproviding so-called distorted information. Meanwhile, those who want to useFacebook and other social-networking sites must circumvent censorship attemptsbecause the Ministry of Public Security has ordered local Internet serviceproviders to block access.

These Internetrestrictions, which Vietnamese face everyday, run counter to the Hanoigovernment’s stated objective of developing a knowledge-based economy. Theyalso interfere with U.S. programs to support higher education in Vietnam. Oneoft discussed project, creating American-style universities in Vietnam, wouldbe meaningless without unfettered access to information.

Besides calling onher hosts to repeal Internet censorship, Mrs. Clinton could also advance humanrights in Vietnam byjoin members of the U.S. Congress in calling for therelease of Vietnamese rights activists, including three prominent women:novelist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan and cyber-activist PhamThanh Nghien. The case of Ms. Thuy is of particular concern to anyone who has astake in an open and fair Vietnam legal system. According to eyewitnesses, shewas beaten by police at her home in October 2009, apparently in retaliation forattending the trials of fellow activists. She was then charged with assault.State media published a picture of a bloodied man that the 5-foot-tall Ms. Thuysupposedly assaulted. Vietnamese bloggers proved, however, that the picture wastaken in 2005 and photoshopped to appear to have happened at the time of theincident. Ms. Thuy was sentenced to three and a half years in jail on the phonycharge.

Ms. Nhan is a human rights lawyer currently under house arrest foradvocating multiparty democracy. Prior to her arrest, she analyzed how a decreegranting security police the power to detain citizens for years without trialviolated Vietnam’s Constitution. Ms. Nghien got in trouble with police forattempting to organize a peaceful demonstration against the Beijing OlympicTorch Relay in 2008 and later for publicizing the plight of Vietnamesefishermen attacked by Chinese navy vessels in a disputed area of the SouthChina Sea that historically belonged to Vietnam. She was imprisoned for herpublic opposition to government policies toward China.

Mrs. Clinton’s visit is an opportunity to raise these specific cases. Whilesome observers view the current crackdown by Hanoi as a precursor to nextJanuary’s Communist Party Congress and therefore something that just has to betolerated, the Vietnamese authorities are not immune to outside pressure. Hanoicraves a visit by President Obama later this year along with the granting ofeconomic carrots like the Trans Pacific Partnership. The regime has made someimprovements in the past on issues like religious freedom in response tocriticism from the U.S., although those have often proven fleeting as soon asthe pressure eases. This suggests that iIf Mrs. Clinton makes an issue ofHanoi’s rights record—and then Washington keeps up the pressure—shecan do some good for Vietnam.

It may seeminconvenient to raise such sensitive issues. But it would be short-sighted totake a narrow view of America’s interests in the region and the best wayforward for U.S.-Vietnam ties, but that’s a short-sighted view. With 86 millionpeople and so much economic promise, Vietnam has the potential for anchoring amore prosperous and liberal region. But this requires the participation andempowerment of the entire country, not just aprivileged elite. Mrs. Clinton’s visit is a chance to work toward that goal.

Mr. Hoang is a U.S.-based leader of Viet Tan, anunsanctioned pro-democracy political party in Vietnam.

Courtesy: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703720504575377984024082128.html

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