Human rights issues are indirectly blocking productive business and investment relationships between the US and Vietnam. Even as the two countries forge military and diplomatic ties that could not have been imagined a generation ago, many Americans continue to assail Vietnam’s record on religious, speech, and press freedom.
This month a US congressional committee approved the Vietnam Human Rights Act, which would cap development aid to Vietnam unless the country makes “substantial progress” on rights. Supporters of the bill contend Vietnamese authorities tolerate forced labor, sex trafficking and other forms of repression.
The conflict persists not only because of reports of abuse but also because of lingering resentments and dissonance between the government of Vietnam and Vietnamese Americans whose families fled their homeland after the war that ended 37 years ago.
Even if the bill became law, it wouldn’t have much effect in the short run because the US development agency has requested just $125 million in aid to Vietnam this year, a $9 million decline. Meanwhile US investors are falling behind their European and Asian counterparts, whose governments are less engaged in human rights issues, in forging vital business relationships with Vietnam.
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