US congressional leaders urge Vietnam to match economic progress with political reforms
HANOI - A high-ranking congressional delegation led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer praised Vietnam's economic reforms on Thursday and urged the communist nation to match them with human rights reforms.
"We think that freedom of individuals and free markets go together and complement one another," said Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and the second-ranking leader in the House of Representatives.
Hoyer led a 13-member delegation that also included House Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2-ranking Republican in the House.
They met with President Nguyen Minh Triet, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai and leaders of Vietnam's National Assembly.
The delegation arrived as Vietnam begins a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council.
"Vietnam is increasingly important, and our relationship is important," Hoyer said.
The two sides discussed trade issues, the protection of intellectual property rights and relations with China, Vietnam's powerful northern neighbor, Hoyer said.
Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization last year and has one of the world's fastest-growing economies. Trade between the former foes has surged since a trade agreement in 2001, reaching $12 billion last year.
While relations between the two countries have grown closer in recent years, U.S. officials have continued to express concerns about human rights in Vietnam, which does not tolerate opposition to the ruling Communist party.
"The economic dynamism of Vietnam will only be expanded by encouraging more individual rights among the population," Blunt said.
The delegation planned to leave Vietnam on Friday, when it will travel to Australia.
The Associated Press - January 3, 2007.