The United States raised concerns with Vietnam on Thursday over its restrictions on media freedoms and other human rights that Washington views as a stumbling block to establishing a strategic alliance between the former foes.
International rights groups say Vietnam has tightened controls on the press and Internet this year and arrested bloggers and journalists. Senior U.S. and Vietnamese government officials discussed these and other alleged abuses in the communist-ruled country during their annual human rights dialogue in Washington.
The dialogue is aimed at narrowing the sharp differences that remain between them on the issue despite a rapid improvement in ties since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995. Dissenters in Vietnam’s one-party state still face stiff jail terms.
“We have made it clear to Vietnam that if we are to develop a strategic partnership, as both our nations desire, Vietnam must do more to respect and protect its citizens’ rights,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech in Hawaii on Asia policy.
She was speaking ahead of the weekend summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Clinton also was meeting Thursday with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.
The delegations at the two-day dialogue which ended in Washington on Thursday were headed by the top U.S. diplomat on democracy and human rights, Michael Posner, and senior Vietnamese Foreign Ministry official Hoang Chi Trung.
A U.S. official who took part described the talks as “respectful but very straightforward.” They touched on political prisoners, religious freedoms for both Christians and Buddhists and restrictions against lawyers and civil society.
The U.S. side also brought up Hanoi’s restrictions on Internet access and malware that has infected the computer databases of rights activists, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.
The U.S. also raised specific cases of political detainees, among them Nguyen Van Ly, a 65-year old veteran activist serving an eight-year sentence for pro-democracy activities. According to Human Rights Watch, Ly was released on temporary medical parole last year after suffering three strokes, but was then returned to prison in July this year.
The U.S. official said Vietnam did not provide a response that adequately answers U.S. points about Ly’s case.
Representatives of the Vietnamese delegation could not be reached for comment Thursday, but the government has in the past said it does not jail or harass people because of their political beliefs and incarcerates only people who break the law.
A coalition of international rights groups on Wednesday said Vietnam has imposed tighter restrictions on the press and Internet users this year, including a February government decree that fines journalists for vague infractions and requires them to publish sources.
The coalition, including Reporters Without Borders, said 20 reporters, bloggers and activists currently are in prison for writing about the denial of human rights in Vietnam.
Human Rights Watch says that in all almost 500 political and religious prisoners are being held in the country.
Vietnam has sought increased engagement with the U.S., even between their militaries. Hanoi particularly has welcomed Washington’s declaration that it has an interest in the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, where Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations have been alarmed by assertive Chinese territorial claims.
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