US asks Vietnam to release political prisoners ahead of TPP

US wants Vietnam to release ‘prisoners of conscience,’ improve human rights record, before full engagement in potentially lucrative Trans-Pacific trade deal

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The US wants Vietnam, a country in negotiations to be in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to improve its human rights record in the near future, including the release of some political prisoners, a senior US official said on Friday.

“In the short term, we would like to see, of course, prisoners of conscience released,” said Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

“It is obviously a very critical moment in the relationship and human rights is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve,” he added.

Malinowski told reporters that while Vietnam had shown improvement, the human rights progress was still “very fragile” and that the US has “absolutely no illusions about the nature of the challenge.”

“Vietnam is still a one-party state and still a country that criminalises various forms of dissent,” he asserted.

He argued, however, that TPP which would cover 40 percent of the global economy was “the most important leverage we have to encourage Vietnam.”

“Absent TPP, I think we have very little chance of keeping this very fragile progress in Vietnam going. With it, I think we’ve got a chance,” he added.

Malinowski has just come back from Vietnam after a weeklong trip during which he met with top Vietnamese leaders, political prisoners, activists and religious minority community leaders.

“I left the Vietnamese government with a very clear message, that what they do on [sensitive issues such as rights], particularly in the next few weeks, will have a very significant impact on the prospects for TPP,” he reported.

Vietnam’s ambassador to the US Pham Quang Vinh claimed in March that there were no prisoners of conscience.

However AFP reports Washington is pushing for the release of about 100 remaining prisoners of conscience, down from 160 in 2013

2015 has not seen any convictions for political dissent in Vietnam, while there were 29 in 2014 and 61 in 2013.

TRTWorld and agencies