To stand loudly against the U.S.-Vietnam free trade agreement has been undertaken by American manufacturers, textile interests, Vietnam veterans, the human rights community, the Vietnamese freedom / democracy lobby, the Montagnard Foundation, the Free China Movement (FCM), the China Support Network (CSN), and American rock group NoManZero. For FCM, CSN, human rights, and American interests, this is a return engagement (or a rematch) of the fight they waged against China's PNTR six years ago. Vietnam is a different place, but with remarkably similar problems for the populace -- and, a trade deficit is equally bad from an American perspective, whether with China or with Vietnam. The intellectual justifications for opposing China PNTR require the same stand in Vietnam's case for consistency.
This time around, the matter has blown up in the administration's face, and I want to offer my thanks, appreciation, and encouragement to 161 Representatives who voted against PNTR, and the campaigners who worked against it. Against a backdrop of "rising protectionist sentiment," what happened for PNTR this time around may be described as "everything going wrong." Leaders from FCM, CSN, and NoManZero published an opening salvo in July, a joint article at http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/2905.html. This was followed by work done jointly and separately by CSN and the Montagnard Foundation. CSN (the China Support Network) has worked in support of Chinese democracy, beginning in the aftermath of the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. As political allies of Chinese dissidents, CSN fought against PNTR in 2000. See http://www.chinasupport.net.
Montagnards are a minority and Christian ethnic group in Vietnam's central highlands. In the Vietnam War, they fought alongside the Americans and the South Vietnamese. After being conquered, they have been subject to brutal repression by the Vietnamese government, to an extent that meets the international definition of genocide. The harshness of the Vietnamese government cannot be overstated, and Montagnards have been among its victims, on the receiving end of the oppression. "Remember the Montagnards" became the rallying cry of their campaign against PNTR -- with justification; they were America's military allies, and they do not want their human rights to be forgotten by Washington in the mad rush to twisted trade arrangements. See http://montagnard-foundation.org.
Campaigners pushed, but for our victory we must credit government blundering, as well. During the consideration of PNTR, Vietnam repeatedly shot itself in the foot, with more human rights abuses coming to light. Then, the Bush administration got in the game and shot itself in the foot, too. The matter has become a high-profile embarassment as Bush visits Vietnam on November 17, 2006. He had hoped to secure Congressional approval for his Vietnam trade deal and PNTR, in time for his summit meeting in Vietnam. But now, PNTR has failed in Congress. It was voted on in the House on Monday, November 13. Two weeks before the U.S. election, I published my urging, "Send Bush to Vietnam, empty handed!" Through the confluence of events, that came to pass -- Bush is arriving in Vietnam, empty handed.
Bush has been criticized for having a lack of vision for Asia, and the message in his visit may now be hemming and hawing. The original message of pandering to business interests is nearly eclipsed by the question of "rising protectionist sentiment" in the U.S. Congress. The message that he should deliver is: "No more free lunch for communists, dictators, tyrants and thugs." America's public and Congress increasingly see these twisted trade arrangements for what they are -- communist appeasment; an affront to human rights; counterproductive on national security; and ruinous in the trade deficits that they present to the American economy. I think that the word "twisted" is a keeper. Let "free trade" now be known as "twisted trade," if I have coined a good nickname. (It works in a sentence -- to speak of "the globalization of twisted trade" is apt terminology.)
Let's review and consider "what was the blundering" that we recently witnessed in this issue. Three U.S. Senators became notably unhappy with the deal.
. On August 2, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) placed holds on the bill in the interest of protecting the U.S. textile and garment industries.
. On August 7, this headline-- "Montagnard Degar Christian dies from torture."
. On August 23, it was the first torture session for a man named Y-Tao Eban and two of his family members.
. On August 30, this headline-- "Montagnard Degar Christian dies in prison." The report stated, "On August 30, 2006 our Christian Brother, THUP (left), died in Trai Ba Sao prison in Ha Nam due to severe torture." Also on August 29 and 30, two Montagnard college co-eds, majors in Economics, were expelled and arrested (for having cell phones!).
. On August 31, a Montagnard Degar Christian was ordered to report to the police. He was interrogated about his house church activities. A crowd of ~80 supporters gathered at the police station, concerned on his behalf. Authorities responded by sending seven truckloads of police to disperse the crowd, but not before his supporters could hear his screams from torture.
. On September 2, Vietnamese forces conducted a sweep looking for Montagnards with cell phones. Six were arrested (for having cell phones!), while five villages were sealed off by 150 soldiers.
. On September 6, Reporters Without Borders publicly warned that Vietnam is holding five "cyber dissidents," whose only crime was posting in favor of democracy on the Internet.
. On September 11, the Montagnard Foundation published a list of 24 recent arrests of house Christians.
. On September 14, it was the second torture session for Y-Tao Eban, Reports state that an AK-47 (assault rifle) was used to beat him.
. On September 16, the Bush administration's John Hanford touted a new report, saying "Vietnam has turned the corner and made enormous progress on religious freedom."
. On September 18, it was the third torture session for Y-Tao Eban. This time, he was beaten unconscious with an AK-47. The torturers, Vietnamese authorities, feared that he would die in custody, so he was released and taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with "bleeding inside his brain."
. On September 30, police arrest a Montagnard named Ngram who then went missing / whereabouts unknown.
. On October 9, police arrested and beat a Montagnard named Y-Leng Ya.
. On October 13, police arrested two Montagnards for refusing to join the government church.
. On October 15, police arrested three Montagnards for refusing to join the government church.
. On October 22, a Montagnard named Moi went missing. He was found hung, with a cracked skull, two broken arms, and other marks of torture. The instrument of his hanging was Vietnamese military-issue shoestrings.
. On October 28, U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) is reported by AP to be concerned about Thuong Nguyen "Cuc" Foshee, his Florida constituent who was held without charges by the Vietnamese government. Her activism in Florida for a free Vietnam was enough to make her "suspected of terrorism" as far as the Vietnam government is concerned. This is the second time that the PNTR bill was threatened by a hold in the U.S. Senate.
. On November 5, Vietnamese troops surrounded more villages, sealing off 16 villages.
. On November 10, this headline-- "Vietnam Convicts 3 US Citizens on Terrorism Charges" (Your author feels I should say, "I'm not making this stuff up, folks!") One of those convicted is Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, the Orlando Florida resident of concern to Senator Mel Martinez.
Most of the above items are behavior of the Vietnamese government, shooting themselves in the foot for passage of PNTR. (Your author feels I should say, "But wait, there's more!") In recounting events, we would be remiss if we didn't notice the Bush administration and the U.S. State Department, shooting themselves in the foot. Vietnam has long been on "the CPC list," a U.S. State Department list of Countries of Particular Concern due to their violations of religious freedom. Vietnam has repeatedly been cited as one of the eight worst countries in the matter of religious freedom.
On November 13, the U.S. State Department removed Vietnam from the CPC list described above. In light of the recent events above (a list with its own death toll!), the move to do this was ludicrous, unwarranted and disconnected from reality. In my view, the removal from that list was less about playing to Congress (which rejected PNTR on the same day), and it was more about pandering to the Vietnam dictators who are hosting this year's APEC summit, with a visit by President George W. Bush happening as I write this. Also on Monday the 13th, Vietnam released and deported Thuong N. "Cuc" Foshee, the Mel Martinez constituent, in an obvious gesture to remove an irritant in U.S.-Vietnam relations ahead of the summit.
Vietnam's removal from the State Department's CPC list flew in the face of a recommendation just a week earlier, by the bipartisan, independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which announced on November 6 that it had sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, urging that she maintain Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern. Their letter seemed to be far more connected with reality and with outcomes "on the ground" rather than diplomatic rhetoric. (In the realm of rhetoric, Vietnam's Constitution and laws ostensibly allow religious freedom.) The move by Condoleeza Rice might best be described as an expedient curtsey in fantasyland, for the benefit of communists, dictators, tyrants, and thugs.
Smoking gun emerges:
What ELSE was happening, simultaneously with this move by the Bush administration? Elsewhere, the disconnect from reality was being highlighted in a very embarrassing way. Consider this headline: "Leaked Vietnamese Government Manual Outlines Plan to Subdue Protestants." Multiple human rights groups reported this week about the "Training Document: Concerning the Task of the Protestant Religion in the Northern Mountainous Region," issued this year by Vietnam's Central Bureau of Religious Affairs. It said that its plan was to "resolutely subdue...development of the Protestant religion." In regard to Protestants, the manual said, "treat them severely and denounce them to the citizens."
In other reports, authorities in Vietnam have been harassing dissidents and rounding up street children in the run-up to this week's APEC summit.
What can George W. Bush say in Vietnam? --"Well, I'm here with 250 U.S. businessmen. Isn't that impressive?" Well, boo hiss. Also, if Condoleeza Rice chose to be intellectually consistent, she might now be renouncing her own religion. She is clearly asking 84.4 million people to submit to government fiat in the realm of religion. Once previously, I called for the resignation of Colin Powell as the U.S. Secretary of State. (He later did so.) Now, I cannot imagine a more crystal-clear aberration than this week's act to occasion a call for Secretary Rice to resign. With Protestants under attack, her maneuver was atrocious and reprehensible. Vietnam's can be described as a genocidal government on a rampage. --And evidently, it is not of "Particular Concern" to Condoleeza Rice. I believe that this was a shameful week and a low point in her tenure. Ms. Rice, you've been there too long!