An Anchor Buddy from Vietnam

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The Vietnamese community continues to debate the significance of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet's historic visit with President Bush in Washington. Two prominent Vietnamese-American journalists offer analysis.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now it's time for a visit with a couple of our anchor buddies. Those are reporters or hosts who help us dig into the latest news and happenings from around the world.

Today, we go to Vietnam. Last week, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet paid an historic visit to the White House. He is the first president from the communist-led nation to visit the U.S. since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, more than 30 years ago. He and President Bush signed a bilateral trade pact, and Mr. Bush said he was pleased that the U.S. and Vietnam are building a good relationship. But Mr. Bush also said he wants the Vietnamese government to place more emphasis on human rights.

We're going to speak with De Tran, editor of Vtimes, based in San Jose, California. He'll talk to us about how Vietnamese Americans here are reacting to President Triet's Washington visit.

But first, joining us on the line from Hanoi, Vietnam, is Nguyen Qui Duc, editor of "Pacific Time." That's a radio program from member station KQED, focusing on Asia and U.S.-Asia relations.

Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you both for speaking with us.

Mr. DE TRAN (Editor, VTimes): Good to be here.

Mr. NGUYEN QUI DUC (Editor, "Pacific Time"): It's always a pleasure.

MARTIN: Duc, let's start with you. Why this visit now?

Mr. NGUYEN: I think it's very important for the president to make a stand within his own party and within Vietnam in terms of his ability of reach to the American public, to reach to the American president against the factions in Vietnam now who would rather have a closer relationship with China. And so he was very insistent on making the trip, even though the U.S. put pressure on him to release dissidents, to think about human right issues.

MARTIN: Let's turn to De Tran, who's editor of VTimes. That's a Vietnamese language newspaper here in the U.S. De, was this a big story for you, and how did the Vietnamese-American community react to the visit?

Mr. TRAN: Well, this is one of our biggest stories in a while. At one point, we had - out of the six stories we have on the front page, four were related to this trip. And the Vietnamese-Americans here are definitely concerned about human rights, but I think for the most part they realize that by going forward with improving the economy and the educational system in Vietnam, it will lead to reform somewhere down the road. But at the same time, there were protests in both Washington, D.C. and in Orange County in southern California when Mr. Triet visited these two places.

MARTIN: President Bush said he did speak to President Triet about Vietnam's human rights record. Does the Vietnamese community feel that he said enough or did enough over the course of the visit to advance that issue?

Mr. TRAN: Well, I think a lot of the Vietnamese Americans here thought it was significant that President Bush actually invited four dissidents into the White House into the exact spot where he later met with President Triet to discuss human rights. So they thought it was significant in that way.

MARTIN: Duc, I want to come back to you. Do you have any sense of whether - forgive me for asking this in the way - grassroots Vietnamese felt about President Triet's visit?

Mr. NGUYEN: What was interesting in relation to what De was saying is that the news here have been reporting about it, people don't pay that much attention. But what they did show was the visit between the president and Vietnamese-American businesspeople. And that had some impact, but they did show pictures of Vietnamese-Americans protesting outside such events.

MARTIN: The U.S. and Vietnam have an existing trade agreement. I mean, since normalization of relations 12 years ago, the trade agreement between the two countries is about six years old. It's my understanding that it's worth about $10 billion a year. The U.S. is already one of Vietnam's largest trading partners. So what is the next step here?

Mr. TRAN: Right now, Vietnam is in love with the United States, with American technology and its entrepreneurial spirit. And it was no accident that, you know, President Triet met with the people from Harvard University to talk about building better universities over in Vietnam. And yet, if you look at China, whatever happens in China will happen to Vietnam, you know, a couple of years down the road.

And I saw a thing that there'll be higher technology in Vietnam. There'll be more cooperation with the United States, both economically and militarily. There's been talk of doing joint military exercises. And all of this is part of, you know, of the United States trying to contain the growing influence of China.

MARTIN: And Duc, I wanted to ask you. I know that Agent Orange is still a source of concern in Vietnam. Did President Triet bring up the desire for, I think - what is it - for compensation on the part of people, of Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange? Was that part of the talks?

Mr. NGUYEN: The question of Agent Orange is very clearly on the minds of a lot of people here, and that they do expect the U.S. to do the right thing in terms of compensating for these people. There is still a lot of images of really badly wounded and people badly hurt, people and young children being born to this day. And those images touched the hearts of the people here.

MARTIN: De Tran, finally, any surprises? Was there anything surprising about the visit to you?

Mr. TRAN: Well, I thought everything was going as predicted. If anything, I thought that the U.S. emphasis on human rights was important, and that it's - was more a forceful and more straightforward than has happened in the past.

And also, I thought it was surprising that a former prime minister of Vietnam -Vo Van Kiet, who was the architect of the new reform that is currently happening in Vietnam - came out this week and actually criticized the pace of reform in the country. He said that both economic and human rights reform were not going as fast as he would like to see. And he is really the mentor of the current leadership of Hanoi.

MARTIN: Oh, that is interesting. All right. Well, good, I hope you'll both keep us posted.

De Tran is editor of Vtimes, based in San Jose, California. He joined us from the studios of Stanford University in Palo Alto. I was also joined by Nguyen Qui Duc. He is editor of "Pacific Time," a radio program from member station KQED. He joined us from his home in Hanoi.

Gentlemen, thank you both for speaking with us.

Mr. TRAN: Thank you.

Mr. NGUYEN: Thank you very much.

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