WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (AFP) – US criticism of religious freedom in Vietnam is an irritant in the relationship between the two nations, but one that can be overcome, a top Vietnamese lawmaker said Thursday.
Ton Nu Thi Ninh, vice chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs committee of Vietnam’s National Assembly, said the US designation of Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders on religious freedom is “an unfortunate development that is based on slander or insufficient information.”
Ninh is touring the United States in an effort to promote US-Vietnamese dialogue. She has scheduled meetings with university students, think-tanks, business leaders, journalists and members of the 1.5-million-strong Vietnamese-American community.
She said she also has met with rights groups to explain Hanoi’s position as international concern mounted over religious persecution in the communist nation.
“Nobody ever asked us, ‘Is it true? What are the facts?’,” she said. “There are some people in Vietnam who know how to pull the strings of the international community.”
Ninh arrived in the United States November 30, just days after the US ambassador in Hanoi, Michael Marine, criticized its treatment of the leaders of an outlawed Buddhist church amid ongoing deliberations in Washington over what sanctions Vietnam may face because of the US designation.
An announcement on the type of punitive action could be made by December 15 unless Washington decides to defer the decision for another 90 days.
Hanoi, which is extremely sensitive to criticism of its human rights record, is likely to respond furiously to whatever punishment is handed down. Vietnam has lodged an official protest with Washington over the designation.
The two former foes established diplomatic relations in 1995, two decades after the US-backed Saigon regime fell to communist forces. The United States has swiftly become Vietnam’s most important trading partner.