Obama Lauds Vietnam, Nudges It To Improve Its Human Rights Record

May 24, 2016
Originally published on May 25, 2016 2:46 pm

In the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on Tuesday, President Obama celebrated the dynamism of the fast-growing country.

He also met with dissidents and encouraged the government to improve its human rights record.

Like a growing number of American tourists, Obama seems to be enjoying himself in Vietnam.

The president snacked on noodles in Hanoi's Old Quarter on Monday night but admited he didn't hazard a dash across the busy streets, buzzing with motorbikes.

Obama's not the first American president to visit Vietnam, but he is the first to have come of age after the war ended.

He thanked an older generation of leaders — including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is a former POW, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who also served — for paving the way to more normal diplomatic relations.

"Because our veterans showed us the way, because warriors had the courage to pursue peace, our people are closer than ever before," Obama said.

The president hopes to strengthen those ties with a new trans-Pacific trade deal, though it's controversial in the U.S.

The deal is designed to boost the U.S. profile in Asia and provide a counterweight to China's growing military and economic might.

"You'll be able to buy more of our goods, made in America," Obama told the audience. "There are strategic benefits: Vietnam will be less dependent on any one partner, and enjoy broader ties with more partners, including the United States."

The trade deal requires Vietnam to adopt labor and environmental reforms. Obama also pressed for political reforms such as freedom of assembly.

He notes that while he was able to meet with some human rights activists on Tuesday, others were barred from attending.

"It is my view that upholding these rights is not a threat to stability but enhances stability and is the foundation of progress," Obama said.

He acknowledged that reform won't happen overnight, but pledged the U.S. will continue to be a partner to Vietnam.

Obama suggested that's a hopeful example to other parts of the world, that even the most intractable conflicts can give way to a brighter, more cooperative future.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn now to Vietnam, where President Obama has been trying to strike a balance - celebrating a fast-growing country, while acknowledging its faults. The president met with dissidents and gently nudged the government to improve its human rights record, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Like a growing number of American tourists, President Obama seems to be enjoying himself in Vietnam. He snacked on noodles in Hanoi's Old Quarter last night but admits he did not hazard a dash across the busy streets buzzing with motorbikes. Obama's not the first American president to visit Vietnam. But he is the first to have come of age after the war ended. He thanked an older generation of leaders, including Arizona Senator John McCain, who was a POW, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who also served, for paving the way to more normal diplomatic relations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because our veterans showed us the way, because warriors had the courage to pursue peace, our peoples are now closer than ever before.

HORSLEY: Obama hopes to strengthen those ties with a trans-Pacific trade deal, which remains controversial back home. The deal is designed to boost the U.S. profile in Asia and provide a counterweight to China's growing military and economic might.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Vietnam will be less dependent on any one trading partner and enjoy broader ties with more partners, including the United States.

HORSLEY: The trade deal requires Vietnam to adopt labor and environmental reforms. Obama also pressed for political reforms, such as freedom of assembly. He notes that while he was able to meet with some human rights activists today, others were barred from attending.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: It is my view that upholding these rights is not a threat to stability, but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress.

HORSLEY: Obama acknowledged reform won't happen overnight. But he pledged the U.S. will continue to be a partner to Vietnam. He suggests that's a hopeful example to other parts of the world - that even the most intractable conflicts can give way to a brighter, more cooperative future. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.