"In relationships, you have difficulties, but we are still family," the president said as Ky stood and waved to flashing cameras. "The government of Vietnam is doing everything possible to create a good business environment. We will always greet you with big smiles."
Triet won another standing ovation and continued: "I had an open and effective meeting with President Bush. We were very frank with each other. My second impression is that the American people greeted me with warmth and hospitality. It is so clear to me that we Vietnamese and Americans want to live in peace, friendship and solidarity. Don't you agree this is very encouraging?"
Orange County trip elates onetime Viet Cong soldier and now Vietnam President Triet. Click photo to go to slide show.
If the president of Vietnam had professional speech writers, he might have milked the applause. However, he spoke without notes. Despite his rank and power over the second-fastest-growing economy in the world, Triet is a man who appears to have few pretensions. At the end of his speech, he merely stepped away from the podium and bowed politely to the audience.
To Royce, Triet is "window dressing" for a repressive police state. But several American businessmen at the forum said part of Vietnam's current appeal is Triet's character. He is a man who is proud of his country yet shows no arrogance and wants progress, they told the Weekly. "If you listen to the protesters, you'd think he is a monster," said one businessman. "He's really a likable man."
At the end of the forum, the protesters knew nothing of what had taken place inside the St. Regis, and based on interviews at the scene, they didn't care. They searched for evidence of a moral victory and noted that the president's departing motorcade hadn't displayed Vietnam's flag. Triet had been "scared," they speculated.
Back in reality, it had been the Secret Service—not Triet—that advised against using flags. They were particularly concerned about the motorcade's passage through heavy traffic on the San Diego Freeway back to LAX. Near Little Saigon, home to more than 130,000 Vietnamese Americans, there are many highway overpass perches for a sniper who hasn't escaped the mental anguish of defeat nearly three decades ago.
But Triet likely felt no fear when he jumped in the back of a black, bulletproof stretch limousine that had been flown in from Washington, D.C., courtesy of the White House. If the 64-year-old president from humble rural origins felt anything other than exhaustion from the weeklong trip around the globe, it must have been joy. He was flying home with $11 billion in new business and humanitarian contracts for his country.