This past weekend, US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius took a three-day trip to Little Saigon to get a sense of the sentiments of the Vietnamese-American community. As part of that trip, he spoke at a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Alan Lowenthal in Westminster. During the two hours originally spec'd about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he spent most of his time answering questions about Vietnam's treatment of the overseas community, South Vietnamese veterans and war casualties, and the defacto embargo on Vietnamese-American produced products in Vietnam.
These are my notes from the event.
As expected, hundreds of Vietnamese Americans showed up in force, quickly filling the room to standing capacity. They were mostly from the older generation, including dozens of members of the Vietnamese-language press, and a handful of people from the community's second generation(granted, they were mostly political staffers).
The room's sound system kept cutting in and out, and translation always takes a bit, but the speakers managed to get everything out and leave a good chunk of time for a Q and A.
Garden Grove City Councilmember Phat Bui led off on the questions, asking Osius how he'd ensure the trade treaty wouldn't be biased towards Vietnam, with some comments on the current state of civil freedoms in the country. Osius acknowledges the imbalances, but says a lot of the problems aren't as bad as Bui makes it out to be. Says Vietnam wants an economy like South Korea's, which has civil freedom's up the wazoo.
Osius is well prepared. Called Saigon Saigon, understands more Vietnamese than I do, and can even speak a tiny bit. Accent's not half bad either.
Lowenthal's Vietnamese-speaking field rep, Phong Ly (also a former UVSA member) is doing virtually all of the question screening and translation himself. It's a tough gig.
Big moment from Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen:
As a gay mayor, thanks Osius for being an inspiration as the first gay US ambassador in South East Asia. Earlier this year, Osius flew the pride flag under the US flag when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Nguyen's never really been closeted, but I don't think most of his constituents knew that he's gay–not that it should matter. I asked Bao about the remark; he said he wanted to be a role model.
Later in the Q and A…
"Vietnam is the least developed country in the TPP"
This town hall is about the trade deal, but most people are asking about Vietnam's human rights record. The audience touched upon been religious freedoms (multiple times), the blocking of Little Saigon-produced cultural products from import, the Bien Hoa South Vietnamese Military Cemetery and property seizures.
If Osius were around for the sister-city row earlier this year, he would've been (mostly) appalled. He's a fan of cultural and educational exchanges. Best way to effect change, he says.
Lou Correa had two of his Vietnamese-American staffers arrested and deported when he visited the country as a state senator. Probably didn't bribe the right people.
And of course, it wouldn't be a Vietnamese political event without the politicos. In addition to Nguyen, Bui, Correa, and Lowenthal; Rohrabacher and Royce spoke during the press roundtable. In attendance were at least Diane Carey from Westminster and Loretta Sanchez in addition. Carey wore an ao dai with a South Vietnamese flag sash. Sanchez did a few interviews outside, stumping for her Senate campaign.