Visit to U.S. by Vietnam's President Nguyen Triet Draws Criticism

E-mail Lindsay Stewart

WESTMINSTER, Calif. — The largest population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam lives, in of all places, Orange County, Calif., in a small community called Little Saigon. And when Vietnam's president, Nguyen Triet, came to town last week, those that reside there were not happy about it.

Before Triet flew to California, he stopped in Washington, D.C. to meet formally with President Bush. Although this was not the first time the two had met, Triet's visit did make history as it was the first time a president of Vietnam had ever set foot on U.S. soil since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Last year, President Bush traveled to Vietnam to celebrate Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization.

And, according to anti-communist leaders, who often protest Vietnam's domestic policies, it is the prospect of more trade and economic development that motivates the Vietnamese president's landmark visit. What I found particularly interesting is that some anti-communist leaders believe that Triet's visit to the United States could improve human rights in Vietnam.

Diem Do, chairman of Viet-Tam, a activist group based in California, says that President Triet will not make positive changes in his country without the urging of American leadership. "I don't think that it is going to be business as usual anymore. I think we need to realize that Vietnam needs the U.S. in order for Vietnam to integrate into the world's economy, [and] in order for Vietnam to integrate into the international community, Vietnam needs to maintain a good relationship with the United States," he told me, when I interviewed him via satellite. Before our interview, Do already had met with United States Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to make it known that the Vietnamese-Americans are watching government leadership closely to make sure the Triet is not handled too gingerly.

But no visit is one visit too many for local leadership in Little Saigon, who believe Vietnam's government has no intention of moving towards a democracy or improving human rights. Andy Quach, a Westminster city councilman, says Triet came to southern California for selfish reasons only: "I believe that and by their own admission that they are here for economic reasons, nothing to do with political reform or looking at ways to improve their political system." While in the Golden State, Triet held an 800-person dinner designed for business leaders who have the intention of investing in Vietnam, but held no public events with community activists.

The Vietnamese community in Orange County is a very active one. While doing interviews and research, I spoke to Deepa Bharath, a reporter for the Orange County Register, who often covers community news in Little Saigon. While I was taken aback by the Vietnamese community's ability to organize a large protest in a short amount of time, she said the community has a long memory and is very motivated. “The people here are just concerned for the people back home; they still have families back there," she said. "They just worry that they don't have the same freedoms, the same privileges that people have here.”

E-mail Lindsay Stewart

Lindsay Stewart produces political stories in the western United States. She started at Fox in 2004 as a general assignment producer. Before coming to Fox, she produced Special Projects and Investigative pieces in the Los Angeles and Las Vegas television markets. In addition to covering politics, she values her time covering Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and loves putting together visually interesting profile pieces like Bob Barker's last day on the Price is Right.