WASHINGTON, 11 JULY: President Barack Obama has invited his Vietnamese counterpart to visit the United States this month, sources has said, looking to boost cooperation on security and trade despite concerns over the communist state’s rights record.
President Truong Tan Sang’s visit would be only the second by a Vietnamese head of state to Washington since the former war adversaries normalised relations and comes as both governments see growing common interests.
Two people familiar with the trip plans, who were not allowed to be quoted by name, told AFP yesterday that Mr Obama has invited Sang to the White House during the last week of July.
The White House and Vietnamese embassy declined immediate comment.
Vietnam has been eager to expand military cooperation with the United States as Southeast Asian nations accuse a rising China of increasingly aggressive tactics to exert territorial disputes.
While tensions remain high between China and the Philippines, friction has appeared to ease between Beijing and Hanoi in the run-up to Mr Obama’s decision to invite Sang.
The Vietnamese president visited Beijing last month to discuss disputes. Chinese state media said that the historic rivals agreed to establish a hotline to resolve incidents involving fishing boats in the hotly contested South China Sea.
But the growing US relationship with Vietnam has faced sustained criticism on Capitol Hill, which accuse the administration of paying only lip service to calls on Vietnam to improve human rights.
Representative Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, charged that the Mr Obama administration has been “incredibly weak” in promoting human rights in Vietnam and elsewhere.
“If you voted for Mr Obama and you thought that he was going to be an advocate for human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam, you have been cheated,” Mr Wolf told AFP.
“He is the worst president we have ever had on this issue,” he said.
Administration officials who testified before Congress last month said that Vietnam’s human rights record was deteriorating, with the country holding more than 120 political prisoners and stepping up curbs on the Internet.