U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in talks in Hanoi this week raised U.S. concerns over human rights abuses in Vietnam, where freedom of speech and political dissent is routinely suppressed, Harris said Thursday.
“We’re not going to shy away from difficult conversations,” Harris told reporters at a news conference before departing Vietnam after a two-day visit. “Difficult conversations often must be had with the people that you may otherwise have a partnership with.”
“And we do have a partnership with Vietnam in addition to concerns about human rights,” Harris said.
In talks with Vietnam’s leaders on Wednesday, Harris called for shared efforts to counter “bullying” by China in the South China Sea, keeping a focus on regional security on a visit in which she also unveiled new American efforts to help Hanoi fight the coronavirus.
The Aug. 24-26 visit by Harris, the first U.S. Vice President to travel to Vietnam since the unification of the country under the Communist North in 1975, follows last month’s call on Hanoi by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Speaking in interviews with RFA, relatives of jailed Vietnamese dissidents and other rights activists welcomed Harris’s statements of concern for those jailed in Vietnam for advocating greater freedom in the one-party communist state.
“I was very happy to learn that the U.S. vice president raised human rights issues with the Vietnamese government,” said Tran Huynh Duy Tan, brother of jailed blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, now serving a 16-year prison term for his online writings criticizing Vietnam’s government.
“If they release Thuc and other political prisoners, this will demonstrate that they respect human rights and the rule of law, and this will show that Vietnam is a reliable partner in the eye of the United States and other nations.”
“We hope there will soon be a new signal about this from the Vietnamese government,” he said.
Vietnam-based rights activist Tran Bang told RFA that a wide number of activists, especially those “with the loudest voices,” had been jailed in Vietnam over the last two years.
Those now in prison include Facebook users, independent journalists, and journalists for state-run publications whose personal views strayed from the Party line, he said.
“To sum up, the movement for democracy has been slowed down,” he said.
Expressions of concern in visits by earlier U.S. leaders, including President Obama and President Trump, had come to nothing, though, he said.
“In my opinion, the Vietnamese people have to fight for their own human rights, without depending on foreign leaders.”
According to the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network, Vietnam is currently detaining around 300 political prisoners.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.