Senator Ben Cardin
May 28, 2014
Mr. Cryder: Welcome to the Sheraton. My name is Spencer Cryder, U.S. Embassy Hanoi spokesperson. Today we’re going to have about 40 minutes for questions. We’ll go from international to local press. When you ask a question please state your name and outlet first. Also please limit it to one question. Mr. Thuc from the U.S. Embassy will be providing consecutive interpretation for the journalists. Please ask your full question. He will interpret it. For the Senator, I ask that you provide three to four sentences and then allow Mr. Thuc to interpret.
With that, let’s start with Mr. Bang of VTV1, please.
Press: You know that there are so many new actions from China in the recent days, so could you tell me what the U.S. and international community will do to maintain peace in the East Sea now?
Senator Cardin: I’m going to answer that question specifically, but first let me thank the people of Vietnam for the courtesies that they have shown in my first visit to this region. I do chair the Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific. I’ve had the chance to meet with President Sang, with Prime Minister Dung, with Deputy Prime Minister Minh, with the Chairman of Assembly Hung, and just recently with the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Hang, and I must tell you that these meetings have been very open, a very frank exchange among friends, recognizing the strategic importance of our partnership between the United States and Vietnam.
I also want to acknowledge Ambassador Shear and all the members of our mission here in Hanoi for the incredible service that they [give to] help the United States and for their facilitations of my visit.
Your question on the maritime security issue is very much on the mind of my visit. From here I will leave Vietnam. I will be traveling to Singapore for the Shangri-La Security Dialogue. I can assure you the maritime security issues will be one of the principal areas of my discussion.
The United States opposes the unilateral provocative action undertaken by China in the China Sea. Our policies concerning maritime security are well known, in that we believe they must be peacefully resolved. We expect the countries to refrain from provocative action. We would hope that they would deescalate and use international forums, such as that provided under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, to support ASEAN’s efforts to have a Code of Conduct, and to do direct diplomacy rather than trying to take provocative action. So this unilateral provocative action by China has created a very high tense circumstance in which we are very concerned. It affects more than the security of Vietnam, but it affects the regional maritime issues, which are of interest to the United States and the global community.
Mr. Cryder: Ms. Giang, Tuoi Tre.
Press: Thank you, I just want to follow a question on this point you made now the statement you had with five other Senators. In which you urge the U.S. government to make it clear with the Chinese authorities about refraining from provocative actions. And in which you call on the U.S. Congress to have a resolution on the matter. I just wonder what the latest updates are. Thank you.
Senator Cardin: Thank you very much. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee which I serve on has considered a resolution that I am one of the authors of that spells out pretty much what I just said in response to the first question, that we believe that we are opposed to unilateral provocative action in regards to maritime issues, and that China’s taking this action to us was wrong, and the resolution speaks to that. It also speaks that this matter should be resolved through peaceful means, direct negotiations between the parties, and I personally, as I’ve already expressed, would encourage claims to be pursued according to international law and according to established mechanisms that are available and not by unilateral action. That resolution underscores those points. The resolution has been approved by the Committee and we expect it to be on the Floor of the Senate shortly for consideration.
Mr. Cryder: Rick Paddock, Wall Street Journal.
Press: Hello, Senator. Can you tell us how this crisis has affected relations between the United States and Vietnam, and whether you see any progress in relations between the two countries?
Senator Cardin: I think we’re going to be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States. We have entered into strategic partnerships including most recently the meetings that have taken place between our two countries. So there’s been a continuous path of strengthening the strategic ties between Vietnam and the United States. We’re currently working on a TPP, a trade agreement that includes Vietnam. We exchange delegations dealing with human rights and good governance. So there’s been a strong path towards a closer tie between our two countries.
As we make progress on the economic front, as we make progress on the political, good governance and human rights front, we also are getting closer on dealing with security issues that affect both countries such as maritime security issues. So there are continuous discussions as to how we can enhance the relationship in a way that’s mutually beneficial for both countries, and those discussions are ongoing on all facets.
I want to just underscore, our role in our rebalance to Asia is for Vietnam to be a strong, vibrant, independent country. We believe that’s important for regional stability as well as advancing U.S. vital interests in this region.
Mr. Cryder: Ms. Chung, VietnamNet.
Press: In your coming trip to Shangri-La do you have any plan to meet with the Chinese representatives to talk about the South China Sea recently escalating issues? And the meeting between only U.S. and Chinese representatives, you will be there?
Senator Cardin: I clearly will be meeting and talking with Madame Fu, who the two of us are on a panel together on this issue involving security issues. So, clearly the two of us will have a chance to exchange views. I look forward to it. I met with Madame Fu when I was in Beijing a year ago so we know each other. I look forward to dialogue with China.
Our rebalance to Asia is to create stronger alliances or stronger ties with all countries including China. We want China also to be a strong independent country. So yes, I hope I’ll have the chance to underscore the importance of deescalating, not escalating, maritime tensions.
Mr. Cryder: Ms. Thuy, Lao Dong.
Press: I’d like to have a question for you frankly. How could you see and describe the action that Chinese ship rammed and sank a Vietnam fishing boat two days ago? And secondly, did you have, does the Vietnamese side seek any advice from you about suing China in international court? And if so, what is your advice to them? Thank you.
Senator Cardin: They did not seek my advice, so I don’t have an answer to the legal issues of the responsibility for damages.
Clearly, it is a dangerous situation where you have as much military presence as China has around this oil rig. As I understand it, the incident you’re referring to occurred many miles from the oil rig itself, and it caused a vessel to be sunk. That’s obviously unacceptable and at high risk of not only loss of property, but loss of life. So we for many reasons but including this, believe it’s important to deescalate not escalate circumstances where life can be lost.
Let me underscore, you’ve heard U.S. officials say this in the past but let me just underscore it again. We don’t take a position, the United States does not take a position in regards to the territorial claims that are being made but we do take a position against unilateral provocative action and we do believe that there are mechanisms available to try to resolve differences among countries as it relates to territorial or material claims. Use those mechanisms, get involved in direct dialogue in a peaceful way, but don’t escalate unilateral provocative action.
Mr. Cryder: Ms. Viet Anh, VnExpress.
Press: Thank you. I’d like to know your comment about the action from China that they moving the oil rig inside the economic zone of Vietnam. And what is your message from the U.S. if China does not deescalate in the coming time? Thank you.
Senator Cardin: I think I’ve already answered this question, but we know that they have moved the rig from one location to another in the same general area. We know about the loss of the fishing boat. We’ve heard of other instances that may have occurred. So clearly we think the situation is very tense and we have urged China to take actions to deescalate rather than to provoke through the presence of their military vessels, and their interference with maritime activities.
I notice there’s a lot of interest on the maritime issues and I fully understand that, but I just want everyone here to know that my visit involved more than just a discussion on the maritime security issues. We had good government discussions about the advancements on the economic fronts between our countries, on the political, and on human rights. I underscored the importance of advancements on all fronts. And that particularly in the United States Congress there will be particular attention to the progress being made on good governance, human rights, fighting corruption, et cetera.
I was very impressed with the discussions that took place with the government officials. They explained to me some of the changes that have already taken place in Vietnam on the constitution. That there is under consideration changes in the laws, criminal laws as they relate to the activities of peaceful disagreement with government. I raised the issues of prisoners of conscience. That was an issue that was raised.
So we had a very good discussion with the Vietnamese officials on these issues and we hope that we’ll see progress on all fronts, which include human rights, good governance, dealing with areas of corruption, and also advancing on the economic front and on some of the other areas.
We also had a good discussion on legacy issues such as Agent Orange contamination and what is being done in order to reclaim some of the lands that have been contaminated. We had an excellent discussion on environmental issues including our mutual interest to deal with global climate change.
So I just wanted to let you all know that it was a very broad area of discussions we had. All very positive, all very frank discussions. There is no question that there is a will on both Vietnam and the United States to strengthen the ties between our countries.
Mr. Cryder: Let’s go back to Wall Street Journal and then we’ll do Thanh Nien.
Press: Just a quick follow-up question. Do you see any progress on the issues of human rights and good governance?
Senator Cardin: The answer is yes. I think I have seen evidence of progress. We’ve seen the release of some of the prisoners of conscience. We have seen international NGOs get access in this country that we have not seen before. They’re ratifying the Treaty on Torture, which is another positive sign. They are working on changes of their constitution and laws as it relates to providing protection for human rights. So I think that we have clearly seen some movement in the right direction. There are of course a lot of other issues that need to be addressed, and we’ve gone through that. There are still a significant number, many prisoners of conscience that are still in prison. The laws still have not been changed to reflect the peaceful disagreement with your government not being subject to harassment, bloggers’ freedom. There’s been progress made on religious freedom, we’ve been informed, on organizations that have been able to register. There’s still progress that needs to be made.
We’re also awaiting their strategies for dealing with fighting corruption and dealing with state-owned enterprises. So there is significant progress that we’re still waiting to see specific with the game plan they implement.
I should also add, obviously we’re still very much focused on protecting labor rights, which progress needs to be made there also.
Mr. Cryder: Mr. Son, Thanh Nien.
Press: [Through Interpreter]. I would like to ask a question about the East Sea or South China Sea. Recently some commentators say that the reason why China has acted like what we have seen is that they see that the U.S. is busy with other matters and because the U.S. is lacking resources. So China took some actions in order to send a message and to test the U.S. What do you think about that?
Senator Cardin: I don’t quite follow the question. I understand what you said, but I don’t quite follow that.
The United States has been very consistent in our criticism of the action done by China. We have been very consistent about our policies as it relates to maritime security issues. There are areas outside of Vietnam and China that we have raised on a consistent basis on maritime issues. We are very supportive of ASEAN Code of Conduct as it relates to maritime disputes. So I think the United States has been very consistent and very strong in the policy that these issues need to be resolved peacefully, about provocative individual action and we will continue to take a very active role in making that clear at every opportunity that we have.
Mr. Cryder: Chris Brummitt, AP.
Press: I think some people might take issue with your characterization that human rights have improved in Vietnam. Are you sure you’re not looking for progress because you require congressional approval to get the TPP passed. There are bloggers that have been locked up, people are not free to protest or gather, there’s no freedom of the press. So I’m interested in how you think there’s progress.
Senator Cardin: I can assure you that I am not looking for a reason for particular action on a particular subject matter. I’m looking for progress on human rights. I have been outspoken universally on global human rights issues and I will continue to do that. Another hat I wear is Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission where we are engaged in human rights fights around the world. So I can assure you that I am looking for concrete steps.
But I do sense a change in attitude and a sincerity to try to make the type of improvements that we talked about. It will be judged by action not by words, and we are very much engaged in trying to see that that action takes place.
I think I did mention in that list where we expect improvement: the prisoners of conscience; the ability to criticize your government without fear of being arrested; the issues of bloggers. They’re all legitimate areas that we expect progress on.
I need to make this clear, though. This is not a U.S. desire. These are universal values of human rights. This is important from a point of view of a country moving forward and we are very clear that Vietnam must establish their own system based upon their own values, but that they tell me the values that I just expressed on the right to peacefully disagree with your government is one that they share. Let’s see whether they can implement those policies in an effective way.
Mr. Cryder: We have time for one last question. Let’s go to Marianne Brown, DPA.
Press: Thank you. I actually have two questions. And excuse me if you said this earlier about the East Sea/South China Sea. Do you think that the government of Vietnam is moving closer to taking its problems with China over the oil rig to an international tribunal? And secondly, just talking about human rights again, you mentioned prisoners of conscience is a big issue for the United States. There have also been calls from some people who have actually been highlighted as prisoners of conscience or have been released, to not focus so much on this, but to look at more on the broader issues because the problem of focusing on personalities is they can be used as bargaining tool for Vietnam.
Senator Cardin: Thank you for that second question.
It’s very clear that it goes beyond just the release of individuals who we believe should not have been in prison, the prisoners of conscience. That’s very important. But the changes we look for go beyond just the release of someone from prison. But when you put a face on the issue it makes it a little bit easier to get the type of attention to the type of changes that are needed. So we think it does help us not only with the individual freedom, but also to deal with the underlying issues.
And on the first question, I think I’ve outlined this. We think the preferred route for countries that have disagreements is to have direct discussions among the countries involved to try to resolve this through talks, diplomacy, but not by provocative individual action. So our first effort was to get China and Vietnam talking about this, recognizing that either party should be able to resort to international institutions that they believe are appropriate to resolve matters that cannot be resolved diplomatically.
Let me thank you all again. This has been a very important trip for me to be here in Vietnam and I have found it very informative. The information that I’ve learned I will be taking back to my colleagues in the United States Senate and working with the Obama administration to advance areas I think are mutually beneficial to the people of Vietnam and the United States. Thank you.
# # # #