Lawmaker Calls for Envoy’s Dismissal

Posted on July 10, 2012

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U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear

The White House is urged to remove the US Ambassador to Vietnam.

A congressman who has been critical of Vietnam’s human rights record asked President Barack Obama on Monday to fire the U.S. ambassador to Hanoi following the detention and imprisonment of a Vietnamese-American activist in the Southeast Asian state.

U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf said in a letter to Obama, a copy of which was made available to RFA, that Ambassador David Shear’s “entire handling” of the issue over 58-year-old Nguyen Quoc Quan has been “unacceptable.”

Quan was detained April 17 as he deplaned in Ho Chi Minh city’s Tan Son Nhat airport and Vietnamese authorities charged that the member of the banned opposition group Viet Tan planned to “instigate a demonstration” and disrupt the anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, which forced U.S. forces to withdraw at the end of the Vietnam conflict.

The U.S. citizen has been imprisoned in Vietnam since then, and Wolf wrote that during a May hearing at which Quan’s wife, Mai Huong Ngo, gave testimony, he was “shocked and dismayed” to find that no one from the U.S. State Department had been in touch with her since his detention.

“This was disturbing on a number of levels. I have long believed that U.S. Embassies should be islands of freedom—especially in repressive countries like Vietnam,” Wolf wrote.

“Under Ambassador Shear’s leadership it didn’t appear that the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi was embracing this important task,” he said.

“But even more troubling is the fact that Dr. Quan is an American citizen, and yet there appeared to be little urgency to securing his release.”

July 4 event
Wolf went on to chastise Shear for breaking a pledge to host a number of Vietnamese religious freedom and democracy activists at a July 4 U.S. Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, which he said would have sent “a strong message that America stood with those who stand for basic human rights.”

After speaking with Shear by phone to request a copy of the event’s guest list, Wolf said the ambassador acted “uncooperative at best and obstructionist at worst.”

“In light of these realities, I write today to call for the firing of Ambassador Shear.”

Wolf said that Shear’s “sidelining of serious human rights issues in Vietnam is symptomatic of this administration’s overall approach to human rights and religious freedom.”

“Time and time again these issues are put on the back-burner—to the detriment of freedom-loving people the world over.”

He called on Obama to put forth a Vietnamese-American to serve as ambassador in Vietnam, saying that such a candidate would better understand the country, the language, and “the oppressive nature” of the Vietnamese government.

“Such an individual would not be tempted to maintain smooth bilateral relations at all costs. Such an individual would embrace the cause of freedom,” he said.

“The Vietnamese people, and frankly millions of Vietnamese-Americans, deserve better than what Ambassador Shear and this administration are giving them,” he said.

Bilateral relations
The U.S. has been actively courting Vietnam in recent months in an effort to counter aggressive territorial claims and economic influence by China in Southeast Asia.

And Washington has also recently taken steps to back off of earlier criticism of Hanoi’s rights record.

In September last year, the U.S. State Department did not include Vietnam in its annual “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) blacklist of top violators of religious freedom, as demanded by rights groups.

Two months ago, the department expressed “great concern” over the deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam, which was on the CPC blacklist from 2004 to 2006.

Describing the situation as “unacceptable,” the department’s human rights chief Michael Posner said Hanoi’s desire to increase engagement with the U.S. is contingent on measurable progress in improving its rights record.

The independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a congressional watchdog, had asked President Obama’s administration to reinstate Vietnam on the blacklist, saying the communist government there severely restricts religious practice and “brutally” represses those who challenge its authority.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has accused Vietnam of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent that includes detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 165th out of 178 countries on its press freedom index and listed the country as an “Enemy of the Internet” in a report issued in March this year.

Joshua Lipes

Clinton: ‘Pivot to Asia’ about promoting democracy, not countering China

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a whirlwind tour of Asia this week, hoping to convince allies that the administration’s much-touted “pivot to Asia” is about promoting human rights and democracy, rather than curtailing China’s rise.

Clinton acknowledged that U.S. military outreach to regional partners worried about Chinese ambitions has dominated the headlines since the administration announced the new strategy last fall.

The realignment, however, has three main dimensions — security, economic and “common values” — she said in a speech Monday, the last of which is at the “heart” of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Asia.

“I have to say that in many ways, the heart of our strategy, the piece that binds all the rest of it together, is our support for democracy and human rights,” Clinton said during a visit to Mongolia. “Those are not only my nation’s most cherished values; they are the birthright of every person born in the world.”

Clinton’s visit to the continent — she attended an Afghan donors’ conference in Japan over the weekend and next travels to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum – follows Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s own highly scrutinized Asia trip last month.

Panetta met with other Asian defense chiefs in Singapore to discuss tensions in the South China Sea and other hotspots where China is asserting its power, following earlier announcements that the United States is boosting its military presence in Australia, the Philippines and other areas.

In her speech, Clinton praised Mongolia, which has been viewed as a shining democratic example in the region since it got rid of communism in its democratic revolution of 1990 and this year is hosting the Community of Democracies, a global intergovernmental coalition of democratic countries. She went on to highlight recent elections in Taiwan, the Philippines and Timor-Leste and the democratic progress in Thailand and Burma to take a dig at China, without mentioning the country by name.

“These and other achievements across the region show what is possible,” she said. “And they stand in stark contrast to those governments that continue to resist reforms, that work around the clock to restrict people’s access to ideas and information, to imprison them for expressing their views, to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders, to govern without accountability, to corrupt the economic progress of the country and take the riches onto themselves.”

Despite the dig, the State Department says it sees China as a partner and rival, but not an enemy. To underscore that point, Clinton is set to have a “very substantial session” with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the margins of the ASEAN summit.

“One of the things that we are seeking to underscore during this visit is … a strong determination to show the region that the United States and China are committed to work closely together,” a senior State Department official told reporters traveling to Mongolia.

“There will be inevitable competition, but we want to channel that competition into areas that are productive. And we want to make very clear that the two countries are prepared to work in a constructive manner here in the 21st century.”

Julian Pecquet

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