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Vietnam Military Cooperation And Human Rights

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right, speaks with Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh during an arrival ceremony at the Ministry of Defense in Hanoi, Vietnam Monday, June 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool)

Panetta noted that for the U.S. and Vietnam to take their relationship to the next level, Vietnam must do more to respect and protect citizens' rights.

America’s top defense official met with his Vietnamese counterpart in Hanoi recently to continue building closer ties between our country and the Southeast Asian nation. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh discussed forging stronger military cooperation, an important factor in the United States’ strategic re-balancing in the Asia-Pacific.

America’s maturing relationship with Vietnam is based on shared goals of peace and security in the region. This growing and deepening relationship has resulted in increasing bilateral military cooperation in areas such as high-level dialogues, humanitarian assistance programs, military exchanges, and most recently, the repair and maintenance of U.S. Navy vessels in the Vietnamese port of Cam Ranh Bay. In their meeting, Secretary Panetta and Gen. Quang Thanh discussed continuing high-level dialogues and increasing co-operation in search and marine rescue efforts, disaster relief and security and maritime safety.

As has been the case when other U.S. officials have met with Vietnam's leaders, Secretary Panetta noted that in order for the United States and Vietnam to take their relationship to the next level, Vietnam must do more to respect and protect its citizens' rights.

Vaguely worded laws allow security officials to arrest or detain political activists for taking part in peaceful protests. New government measures also limit freedom of the press, speech and assembly.

For the U.S. government, respect for human rights is an integral aspect of the bilateral relationship with Vietnam. America supports a strong, prosperous and independent Vietnam, and if the government in Hanoi gives a greater say to human rights issues, it will only help build a more fruitful, closer bilateral relationship.