Vietnamese human rights and religious freedom activists have appealed to the Trump administration to take up the cases of jailed colleagues when Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visits the White House on Wednesday.
Phuc, who will be the first Southeast Asian leader to meet U.S. President Donald Trump is believed to be seeking a bilateral trade pact to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have reduced tariffs for Vietnamese exports to the United States but was scrapped by Trump. Hanoi also seeks enhanced security cooperation with Washington in the face of expansive Chinese territorial claims and artificial island building in the South China Sea.
In a statement issued on Tuesday Duy Hoang, a Washington-based spokesman for Viet Tan, a Vietnamese pro-democracy party with members inside Vietnam and around the world, said Phuc "comes to the White House following a crackdown against peaceful activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam."
"In the short run it might be possible for the U.S. to pursue a transactional relationship with Hanoi. But a 'comprehensive relationship' that’s in the long-term interests of the United States requires an open and free Vietnam," he said.
"The Hanoi government desperately wants a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. President Trump has the opportunity to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam that significantly improves on the TPP. To ensure fair trade, Hanoi needs to respect worker rights and stop censoring American internet companies which is a de facto trade barrier," Hoang added.
On Friday, five Vietnamese activists and Amnesty International met Matt Pottinger, senior advisor to Trump on Asian affairs, the activists told RFA's Vietnamese Service.
"During the meeting, I presented three issues: the first is the environmental disaster caused by Formosa, the second is the Dong Yen parish being persecuted, the third is the two priests Dang Huu Nam and Nguyen Dinh Thuc, who are being harassed by the authorities who also organized protests to threaten the two priests," said Nguyen Van Thong, from a Catholic student group in the diocese of Vinh.
An April 2016 waste spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s steel plant, which killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen jobless in four coastal provinces, has spurred a serious of protests by people who lost their livelihoods or who disagree with the scope and pace of Formosa's promised payment of $500 million in compensation.
Many of the protests have been spearheaded by local Catholic priests, who have been punished by authorities with arrests and beatings.
"All of us raised issues of democracy, human rights, and we focused on religious freedom," Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of Boat People PSOS, told RFA.
"We have given Matt Pottinger a list of nearly 100 religious prisoners to ask Trump ... to ask Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc or senior officials of the Vietnamese delegation, to consider," he said.
Thang also said the group raised the issue of land he said was seized by authorities from Con Dau Parish in the coast city of Danang, and sold to private investors to build a five-star resort that will be the site of the Asia-Pacific Economic (APEC) cooperation forum that Trump will attend.
"We called on President Trump to raise his voice about this. In addition, President Trump should explain to Mr. Phuc how Magnitsky law should be applied," said Thang, referring to U.S. legislation that punishes officials who commit human rights abuses.
"We presented a number of issues such as how Vietnam should have a clear policy for political and social change, such as changes in civil society, fundamental rights like freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of protest, freedom to use the Internet," The Binh, president of Vietnam For Progress, told RFA.
"We understand that President Trump is very concerned about human rights violations, so we want him to put human rights (ahead of) business benefits with Vietnam," added The.
Also on Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam announced that the U.S. Coast Guard in Honolulu, Hawaii had transferred a High Endurance Cutter to the Vietnam Coast Guard.
The cutter, commissioned in 1969 and decommissioned last month, will be renamed CSB 8020, and is expected to help the Vietnam Coast Guard’s improve maritime domain awareness and boost its capacity to perform maritime law enforcement operations, search and rescue and humanitarian activities, the embassy said. On May 22, the Vietnam Coast Guard received six 45-foot Metal Shark patrol boats from the United States.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written by Paul Eckert.