Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have steadily improved in many areas. Trade between the two countries now totals almost seven-billion dollars a year. President George W. Bush has expressed strong support for Vietnam's bid to join the World Trade Organization and said he would travel to Vietnam in 2006 for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. And the Vietnamese government has reaffirmed its willingness to continue to help account for Americans listed as missing from the Vietnam War.
Mr. Bush recently met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai at the White House. A statement issued after the meeting said, among other things, that relations between the U.S. and Vietnam are characterized by a shared interest in peace, prosperity, and security in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific region, and by increasing cooperation on a range of concerns. But significant issues remain.
The human rights situation in Vietnam remains poor. The Vietnamese people do not have the right to change their government. Reports of the suppression of the ethnic Montagnards continue. Pro-democracy advocate Dr. Nguyen Dan Que is still under surveillance by Vietnamese authorities after being released from prison in February. Pham [fahm] Song Hong and others have been jailed for posting articles critical of the Vietnamese government on the Internet.
On May 5th, the U.S. and Vietnam reached an agreement that commits Vietnam to make progress in protecting religious freedom. But there continue to be reports of religious persecution in Vietnam. According to human rights groups, there are an estimated one-hundred Vietnamese either in jail or under some form of house arrest for practicing their faith. The human rights groups also say that hundreds of churches, home worship centers, and meeting places remain closed. And despite legislation to ban coerced renunciations of faith, there are reports from the Central Highlands that the Vietnamese government's "Instructions on Protestantism" are being misused by security forces to compel ethnic minority Protestants to join the government-approved Protestant organization.
The U.S. will continue to call attention to human rights violations and religious persecution in Vietnam. "The right to believe and express one's beliefs in words and practice," said President Bush, "is a right that should belong to all people."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.