Trade and the
By Lan Quoc Nguyen*
The column "Opening Vietnam trade doors" (Commentary, July 16) paints a rosy
picture of Vietnam's economic potential, but it cannot hide that the country
remains one of the poorest and most oppressive in the world. The country's
desire to control its people will continue to inhibit any real economic
Daniel Christman repeats the same old argument that economic growth will bring
along political reform. In fact, following almost two decades of U.S. goodwill
gestures, such as lifting the embargo, normalizing diplomatic relations, waiving
the Jackson-Vanik restrictions of the 1974 Trade Act and signing a bilateral
trade agreement, Vietnam has not shown any improvement in basic human-rights
areas such as the rights to worship, free speech or democratic elections.
Following the Chinese model, Vietnam is perfecting its strategy of expanding
economic relations with the West while at the same time continuing to suppress
almost all basic freedoms of its people.
The pending U.S.-Vietnam World Trade Organization agreement is another example
of that strategy. In the agreement, Vietnam manages to retain the unilateral
right to prevent U.S.-produced cultural, literary or entertainment materials
from entering that country; exclusive control of Internet systems; and complete
control of telecommunication systems, which may carry objectionable information
from the outside world. Although the agreement benefits some business sectors,
the deal still gives Vietnam the ability to prevent its population of more than
80 million from having meaningful interaction with the rest of the world.
In addition, the WTO bilateral agreement with the United States does nothing to
address the enormous risks American businesses often encounter when doing
business in Vietnam, some of which may include:
• Any investment in Vietnam can be at risk because the regime can change any
law for any reason without any regard to basic constitutional protection, much
less the rules of trading according to the terms of the WTO agreement.
• There is no independent court in Vietnam to arbitrate business disputes.
The court is controlled by the party or the government, which often is a party
in business disputes.
• Rampant corruption in the country can endanger any business investment
because people can eliminate their competitors with the right money or
• Any business can be vulnerable to abuse by government officials because
there is no effective redress for such abuses under the current regime.
• The lack of freedom of speech or an independent press will allow
corruption to foster without deterrence.
• Businesses' trade secrets or confidential information can be exposed to
the prying eyes of the government, which controls all communication means, such
as the postal service, telecommunications and the Internet. Without a legally
recognized right to privacy, there is nothing to prevent corrupted officials
from selling intercepted information to competitors.
Why would the American business
community lobby the government to expand business relations in such a risky
environment? The answer is: The United States would provide insurance protection
for those businesses in loan guarantees through the Export-Import Bank,
underwritten by American taxpayers.
The current U.S.-Vietnam WTO accession agreement relies heavily on Vietnam's
promise that it will change its laws to accommodate the agreement. However, many
of the promised laws exist in the Vietnamese Constitution but have never been
complied with. In Vietnam, having a law on the books is one thing, but
effectively enforcing it is a different matter.
It is about time the United
States says enough is enough with the Vietnamese totalitarian regime. It also is
about time that the U.S. government stands with the Vietnamese people, not the
opportunist businesses seeking to make quick money in that country.
Letter to the Editor,
The Washington Times
July 26, 2006
*Lawyer and community
activist; President of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of
Education; Member of American Bar Association and California State Bar; currently
practicing law in Southern California.