Statement by Senator John McCain in Hanoi, Vietnam

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Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today [August 8, 2014] delivered the following statement at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam:

“I am Senator John McCain, and it is always a pleasure to be back in Vietnam. I am joined by my colleague Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

“We have come to Hanoi at an important time: Next year is the 20th anniversary of the normalization of our relations. For those of us involved in that process, the progress we have made in this time has been astounding. At the same time, we recognize that we can do so much more together as partners, and that we need an ambitious agenda as we head into next year, especially in light of troubling recent events in the East Sea. In short, now is the time for Vietnam and the United States to take a giant strategic leap together. That is why we are here.

“For our part, the United States is ready to meet this challenge with new thinking and action. We are ready to conclude a high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Vietnam as a full partner. We are ready, in the context of TPP, to work with Vietnam to meet the criteria for U.S. recognition as a market economy. We are ready to increase our military cooperation and ship visits as much as Vietnam permits – not by establishing bases, which we do not seek, but through agreements for increased access, as we are concluding with other countries in the region. We are also ready to increase our security assistance to help Vietnam improve its maritime domain awareness and build its capacity to defend its sovereign rights.

“To that end, I believe the time has come for the United States to begin easing our lethal arms embargo on Vietnam. This will not, and should not, happen all at once. Rather, it should be limited at first to those defensive capabilities, such as coast guard and maritime systems, that are purely for external security.

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UN Official: Vietnam Violates Religious Freedom

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HANOI, Vietnam — Jul 31, 2014, 1:24 PM ET

A U.N. official who went to Vietnam to assess religious freedom in this Southeast Asian country said Thursday that security agents closely monitored his visit and people he wanted to meet were harassed and intimidated.

Heiner Bielefeldt, the U.N. special rapporteur, told journalists he concluded that serious violations of religious freedom existed, while noting some improvements.

Planned visits to three provinces were interrupted, Bielefeldt said. “I received credible information that some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police,” he said.

“I was closely monitored of my whereabouts by undeclared “security and police agents” while the privacy and confidentiality of some meetings could have been compromised. All these incidents are in clear violation of the terms of reference of any country visit,” he said of his 11-day, fact-finding mission.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told a press briefing Thursday that the government has done its best to facilitate the special rapporteur’s visit including arranging all requested meetings.

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U.N. religion expert concerned over ‘interrupted’ Vietnam visit

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Thu Jul 31, 2014 9:50am GMT

By Martin Petty

HANOI (Reuters) – A U.N. expert expressed worry on Thursday over “serious violations” of religious freedom in Vietnam following a fact-finding mission he said was interrupted by surveillance, harassment and intimidation.

Heiner Bielefeldt, U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said parts of his trip were hampered by interference by unidentified agents, with people he met followed or questioned and others warned or blocked from seeing him.

Religion remains under state supervision in mainly Buddhist Vietnam, which has long been accused of suppressing freedom of worship by groups and individuals with faiths not registered or recognised by the communist country’s rulers.

Bielefeldt said he had seen positive developments in terms of coexistence of faiths and “cautiously widened” space to practice religions, but that was marred by breaches of agreements to guarantee unsupervised access without threats or punishment to those he met.

“I received credible information that some individuals whom I wanted to meet with had been either under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by police,” he told a news conference.

“I was closely monitored of my whereabouts … while the privacy and confidentiality of some meetings could have been compromised.”

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UN Envoy Accuses Vietnam of ‘Serious Violations’ of Religious Freedom

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RFA 2014-07-31

A special U.N. envoy on a mission to Vietnam has accused the authoritarian government of “serious violations” of religious freedom and said the country’s police harassed and intimidated people he had wanted to meet in the course of his investigations.

Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, acknowledged that the one-party communist government was increasing efforts to improve freedom of religion but said he observed during his 11-day visit that “serious violations of freedom of religion or belief are a reality in Vietnam.”

He said the violations affected independent groups of Buddhists, including Hoa Hao-Buddhists, and of the Cao Dai religion, some Protestant communities and activists within the Catholic Church.

Hanoi officially recognizes nearly a dozen religions in a country of 90 million, but those not sanctioned are banned

Bielefeldt said religious communities in Vietnam should be able to operate also outside of the officially established channels for religious practice.

Besides, official registration status with the government “is no guarantee that freedom of religion or belief is fully respected,” he said at the end of his visit aimed at assessing the level of freedom of religion in the mainly Buddhist nation.

“Granting autonomy for religious communities to function independently would be a litmus test for the development of freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam,” he said. “In the current situation, their ability to operate as independent communities is unsafe and restricted.”

“Freedom of religion or belief has the status of universal human rights to be respected prior to, and independent of, any particular acts of administrative approval,” he stressed.

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Vietnam’s Angry Feet

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Published: June 6, 2013

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — LAST month, Vietnamese courts imposed heavy sentences on two patriotic students in their early 20s who had been charged with “speaking ill of China.” These charges touched the most sensitive nerve in the nation’s psyche — our patriotism and spirit of nationalism — and publicly exposed the government’s shady collusion with foreign aggressors.

Vietnam’s greatest tragedy is that the illusion of a common socialist ideology has been used by the Vietnamese government as an excuse to allow Chinese expansionism to run rampant and to stifle democracy, censor and suppress information, and psychologically terrorize its citizens. Earlier this week, the police in Hanoi broke up an anti-China demonstration and sent the organizers to jail.

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