The Garden Grove city council is scheduled tonight to debate sending a "notice of support" letter to a powerful U.S. congressman who seeks the movement of Vietnam's communist dictatorship toward democracy in exchange for future favorable trade and security deals.
If the council agrees to the sentiment, Mayor Bao Nguyen will sign a letter applauding Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, for H.R. 2140, the so-called "Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2015."
In addition to boosting religious freedom in Vietnam, the congressional proposal wants the Southeast Asian nation to take "additional and sustained steps to advance human rights protections" for its citizens; stop jamming Radio Free Asia broadcasts providing U.S.-backed news; minimize human sex and slave trafficking; and promote educational and cultural exchanges designed to advance democratic reform notions.
At issue is Vietnam's 2006 U.S.-approved admittance into the World Trade Organization after communist leaders promised major reforms to win lucrative business deals. The move helped make the nation's rulers, family members and allies become ultra-rich and improved Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi as global travel destinations. But Vietnam's war refugees as well as international observers insist the cash-loaded communists "continue to disrespect and violate basic human rights."
The proposed Garden Grove letter to Smith states, "This legislation sends a much needed message and response to the government in Vietnam that the United States will not support expansion of trade at the expense of human rights. We applaud and thank you for your leadership on this very important issue."
China's increasing military obnoxiousness in the South China Sea off Vietnam's coast has made welcomed U.S. naval battleship, jet and submarine presence in the region an important comfort to Hanoi.
The debate over aid to Vietnam is an old one, but Nguyen isn't a screamer satisfied by long-winded rants. He's a congenial, soft-spoken but determined first-term mayor who is a Buddhist fluent in three languages. He was born in a Thai refugee camp shortly after his parents fled South Vietnam in the wake of the April 1975 communist takeover. He grew up in Garden Grove and graduated from UC Irvine. Political enemies aligned with Bruce Broadwater–the defeated ex-mayor and a career politician–have been working to ridiculously portray Nguyen as a communist puppet.
"We expect advancements in trade and security agreements to be made in good faith," Nguyen told me. "We are eager to see the Vietnamese government make concerted strides toward democracy with its people, whom have been fighting for the same values we cherish as Americans. When our values are shared, we will have a solid foundation where we can both stand."
Vietnam's rulers don't always ignore U.S. pressure. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-Anaheim) also has been a vocal advocate for democratization and religious freedom rights. In response, Hanoi officials–who don't like American meddling in their domestic affairs–denied her a visa to enter the country in 2010.
The council session near the heart of Orange County's Little Saigon, a region with more than 185,000 Vietnamese Americans, begins at 6:30 p.m. inside 11300 Stanford Avenue.
UPDATE, 9:15 p.m: At the meeting, councilman Phat Bui decided to play the role of passive aggressive smart ass on the proposal. Bui said he hopes the letter to Congressman Smith represents "the beginning" of Nguyen's support for human rights, a shamelessly stupid political line. Nguyen has always supported more freedom for Vietnam's citizens and, unlike Bui, has done so without performing stunts to win cheap applause. The measure passed 5-0.