The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 24, 2016
JW Marriott Hotel Hanoi
11:45 A.M. ICT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I just had a wonderful conversation with some preeminent civil society activists here in Vietnam. And I just want to thank them for taking the time to meet with me and discussing with me some of the important work that they’re doing, and the progress that’s being made here in Vietnam.
We have a wide range of activists here. We have pastors whose congregations are doing important work helping individuals fight addiction and encouraging the faithful around the values of their faith. We have advocates on behalf of the disabled who are doing important work to make sure that they have full access to jobs and opportunity here in Vietnam. We have LGBT activists who are making sure that the marginalized in society have a voice. We have advocates on behalf of freedom of speech and press and the Internet, who are doing important training throughout the country. We have a very popular artist here who is speaking out on behalf of freedom of speech and expression and artists throughout Vietnam.
And so what I’ve heard consistently from all of them is a recognition that Vietnam has made remarkable strides in many ways — the economy is growing quickly, the Internet is booming, and there’s a growing confidence here — but that, as I indicated yesterday, there are still areas of significant concern in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, accountability with respect to government.
I emphasized in my meetings yesterday with the President, the Prime Minister, the General Secretary, the Chairwoman of the National Assembly that we respect the sovereignty and independence of Vietnam. Ultimately, it’s up to the Vietnamese people to determine how their society functions and the nature of the government.
But we do believe in certain universal values and it’s important for us to speak out on behalf of those values wherever we go. And it’s particularly important and useful for me to hear directly from those who, under often very difficult conditions, are willing to make their voices heard on behalf of greater freedom and human rights.
I should note that there were several other activists who were invited who were prevented from coming for various reasons. And I think it’s an indication of the fact that, although there has been some modest progress and it is our hope that through some of the legal reforms that are being drafted and passed there will be more progress, there are still folks who find it very difficult to assemble and organize peacefully around issues that they care deeply about.
And it’s my hope that the government of Vietnam comes to recognize what we’ve recognized and what so many countries around the world have recognized, and that is that it’s very hard to prosper in this modern economy if you haven’t fully unleashed the potential of your people. And your people’s potential, in part, derives from their ability to express themselves and express new ideas, to try to right wrongs that are taking place in the society. And so it’s my hope that, increasingly, the Vietnamese government, seeing the enormous strides that the country is making, has more confidence that its people want to work together but also want to be able to assemble and participate in the society in ways that will be good for everybody in the long run.
So, again, I want to thank all of you for your courageous work and I want you to know that you will continue to have a friend in the United States of America because we think the work that you’re doing is work that’s important everywhere — including, by the way, in the United States, where there are all sorts of activists and people who are mobilizing, oftentimes are very critical of me, and don’t always make my life comfortable but, ultimately, I think it’s a better country and I do a better job as President because I’m subject to that accountability.
Thank you so much. I very much appreciate it. Thank you, everybody.
11:50 A.M. ICT