Vietnam took an important step this week toward stabilizing the political climate that undermines its global economic aspirations. The country released and deported a popular Vietnamese American activist who had been accused of conspiring to overthrow the Communist government.
Authorities said activist Nguyen Quoc Quan, accused of terrorism when he was arrested in Saigon last April, confessed to a downgraded crime of subversion and asked for leniency to be reunited with his family in California. The US sought his release; supporters say he is a nonviolent advocate of democratic reforms in Vietnam.
Hanoi’s action represents a significant departure from past practice: prison terms for dissidents — sentences that inspire headlines across the world highlighting Vietnam’s human rights record. The latest was in January when 14 political activists were sentenced to prison.
Are these cases examples of political oppression or measures necessary for national security? Regardless of your point of view, they are bad for business. They raise anxiety among global corporations that wonder whether their investments in Vietnam are sound and safe.
Although Vietnam is objectively one of the best investment opportunities among the world’s frontier markets, it has serious economic challenges. The country, especially its economy, needs positive public relations on a global scale, and freeing Nguyen Quoc Quan is a step in the right direction. It helps defuse the still-lingering hostility between Vietnamese Americans and the ruling government of Vietnam. And it promotes healthy Vietnam-US diplomatic relations, military cooperation and trade.