Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern”: What Effect on US-Vietnam Relations?
On September 15, the Department of State listed Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern for Religious Freedom” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Vietnam is now one of 8 countries worldwide to be so designated (the others being China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan). According to the 1998 act, CPC status is given to countries that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom in that country during the preceding 12 months.”
This is the first time that Vietnam has been so designated, even though State Department officials find that the status of religious freedom has “remained fundamentally unchanged” in the past year, with improvements in some areas and weaknesses in others. To many non-governmental observers, the improvements are more notable than the weaknesses.
CPC status obligates the President to apply one or more of a list of 15 responses within a period of 90 days, which can be extended to 180 days. It is unlikely that a decision will be taken until early 2005, when the next administration takes office. Statements by John Hanford, the current Ambassador At-large for International Religious Freedom, indicate that no decision has yet been made on what response, including sanctions, may be imposed.
The 15 possible responses are as follows, ranging from the perfunctory to the binding:
(1) A private demarche.
(2) An official public demarche.
(3) A public condemnation.
(4) A public condemnation within one or more multilateral fora.
(5) The delay or cancellation of one or more scientific exchanges.
(6) The delay or cancellation of one or more cultural exchanges.
(7) The denial of one or more working, official, or state visits.
(8) The delay or cancellation of one or more working, official, or state visits.
(9) The withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of United States development assistance
(10) Cancellation of Export-Import Bank, OPIC, or Trade and Development Agency guarantees and credit
(11) The withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of United States security assistance
(12) Directing US to vote against World Bank and IMF loans
(13) Limitations on export licenses for arms, atomic energy, and any other good or technology that requires prior approval
(14) Prohibiting any United States financial institution from making loans or providing credits totaling more than $10,000,000 in any 12-month period
(15) Prohibiting the United States Government from procuring, or entering into any contract for the procurement of, any goods or services from the foreign government.
It appears that the State Department sees the CPC declaration as a warning shot across the bow and hopes that Hanoi will accede to a list of specific actions the US has put forward to avert sanctions. (This is the same list as was presented to Vietnam as the way to avoid CPC designation.) It is unlikely that the Vietnamese government will make even small concessions to satisfy US demands. Given that the total amount of US assistance is relatively small (under $15 million), Vietnamese leaders would rather lose this funding than give in to what they see as threats and foreign interference in their affairs.
In response to the CPC decision, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien issued an official protest to the US Embassy in Hanoi, rejecting the decision as based on “distorted information.” According to news reports, Nien also wrote a letter addressed to Secretary of State Colin Powell warning that the move could damage bilateral relations in other ways. Other Vietnamese statements were similarly muted and non-specific. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Dzung said that “the erroneous decision by the US Department of State will cause no benefit to joint efforts made by the Vietnamese and US governments to build stable relations and long-term co-operation for the interest of the two peoples.”
In an open letter released in early October, the Vietnam-USA Society (FRD’s primary partner organization in Vietnam) noted improvements in religious freedom in Vietnam over the last 10 years and called on American organizations to work to reverse the State Department’s decision. “This designation and its potential consequence of sanctions hurt the dignity, feelings and self-respect of the Vietnamese people, particularly genuine religious followers, provokes indignation in the public opinion in Vietnam, as well as threatens to damage the on-going multi-faceted development of the growing Vietnam-US relations. Therefore, the designation runs counter to the aspirations and interests of the governments and the people, including religious followers, of the two countries.”
US observers have also begun to question the utility of the CPC label. In an article posted on the website of the Institute for Global Engagement in September, former State Department official Carol Hamrin describes the bankruptcy of US policy on religious freedom. (See http://www.globalengagement.org/issues/2004/09/advancing.htm.) The use of external pressure tactics and sanctions, Hamrin argues, is ineffective in changing behavior or attitudes, instead opening the door for a possible backlash. If we truly seek improvements in religious freedom and other areas of human rights, labels and sanctions are not the way to achieve them. Cooperation and dialogue—including, as Hamrin points out, socially-responsible business practices—stand a much better chance of success.
To date, no sanctions have been imposed on other countries as a result of CPC designation (though several countries on the list do have ongoing US sanctions for other reasons). One potential response that may be contemplated is a cap on the total amount of existing non-humanitarian assistance. This would not mean that no new programs can start, only that the total budget for FY 2006 cannot be higher than FY 2005. But such limits on rule of law and civil society programs would be counterproductive to the extreme, as it is precisely these forms of aid that assist Vietnam (and other countries) to build stronger systems of protection against the abuse of religious rights.
The Fund for Reconciliation and Development strongly supports a shift to a positive, incentive-based approach to religious freedom. We urge like-minded individuals and organizations to write to State Department officials, encouraging them to choose less-damaging responses to Vietnam. In particular, non-profit and educational organizations should be on the record in opposition to any limits on exchanges and development assistance. Although direct lobbying of the State Department is not the same process as with Congress, it is important that departmental officials—particularly new political appointees in the next administration—understand our concerns.
NHỮNG BIỆN PHÁP CHẾ TÀI CHO NHỮNG QUỐC GIA TRONG DANH SÁCH CPC