Minitrue: Clean Up Obama’s Vietnam Speech
The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
President Obama made a three-day visit to Vietnam last week before heading to Japan. In a speech in Hanoi on Tuesday (full text), he discussed the ongoing maritime disputes in the South China Sea and the value of human rights, as well as hailing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and the two nations’ path from war to cooperation. Although Obama did not mention China by name in the South China Sea comments, his meaning was clear, especially amid recriminations over the allegedly unsafe interception of an American reconnaissance plane by Chinese fighters the previous week. The speech also followed his announcement that the U.S. would lift its ban on arms sales to Vietnam.
[… T]he 20th century has taught all of us – including the United States and Vietnam – that the international order upon which our mutual security depends is rooted in certain rules and norms. Nations are sovereign, and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its sovereignty should be respected, and it territory should not be violated. Big nations should not bully smaller ones. Disputes should be resolved peacefully. (Applause.) And regional institutions, like ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, should continue to be strengthened. […]
In the South China Sea, the United States is not a claimant in current disputes. But we will stand with partners in upholding core principles, like freedom of navigation and overflight, and lawful commerce that is not impeded, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, through legal means, in accordance with international law. As we go forward, the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same. (Applause.) [Source]
On human rights, meanwhile, Obama stressed the protection of those enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution. While trumpeting China’s own constitution, Xi Jinping’s government has made it clear that it will not serve as a shield, and activists calling for adherence to it have been harshly prosecuted. Obama’s acknowledgement of rights issues at home also undermined Beijing’s routine accusations that “the U.S. government refuses to hold up a mirror to look at itself.”
[…] No nation is perfect. Two centuries on, the United States is still striving to live up to our founding ideals. We still deal with our shortcomings – too much money in our politics, and rising economic inequality, racial bias in our criminal justice system, women still not being paid as much as men doing the same job. We still have problems. And we’re not immune from criticism, I promise you. I hear it every day. But that scrutiny, that open debate, confronting our imperfections, and allowing everybody to have their say has helped us grow stronger and more prosperous and more just.
I’ve said this before – the United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam. The rights I speak of I believe are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They’re written into the Vietnamese constitution, which states that “citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and have the right of access to information, the right to assembly, the right to association, and the right to demonstrate.” That’s in the Vietnamese constitution. (Applause.) So really, this is an issue about all of us, each country, trying to consistently apply these principles, making sure that we – those of us in government – are being true to these ideals. [Source]
Obama subsequently spoke in favor of freedom of artistic expression at a town hall meeting in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday, saying that “if you try to suppress the arts, then I think you’re suppressing the deepest dreams and aspirations of a people.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to the Hanoi speech by accusing the U.S. of pursuing “a ‘freedom’ exclusive to the US military vessels and planes to do whatever they want” and, as an outsider to the region, of failing to “respect regional countries’ efforts to safeguard peace and stability, and respect regional rules and order set up by regional countries under international law.” Referring to Obama’s statement that “big nations should not bully smaller ones,” she said that “a country’s size is not the crux of relevant issue. What really matters is the sincerity and resolve of countries concerned to jointly settle mutual disputes through negotiation and consultation.”
To the editors of The Guardian, meanwhile, Obama’s talk of human rights rang hollow:
[… T]he price of the strategic rapprochement is that human rights have been all but marginalised. It is true that Mr Obama met a group of Vietnamese civil society activists in Hanoi and made the case for better governance through respect for universal values in his speech. But the lifting of the arms embargo – a move that US diplomacy had long asserted was dependent on Vietnam improving its human rights record – was granted without any serious bargaining. It was not a good sign that Mr Obama expressed only regrets after several of the activists who were supposed to meet him were stopped from doing so by security forces, who in some cases put them under house arrest just before the visit started.
Vietnam remains a repressive state. The Communist hold on power is total. Dissenting voices are routinely silenced, as they were this month when environmental protesters were rounded up in several cities. Geopolitical calculus not human rights dominated this trip. That’s perhaps understandable in the tense regional context. But the outcome is that the hopes of those Vietnamese who expected a boost for basic freedoms were largely spurned. That too is part of Mr Obama’s foreign policy legacy. [Source]
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