June 4th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Gross desserts on the sex-education menu

CANBERRA OBSERVED Suggested parallel less a Murphy than a furphy

EDITORIAL Obama rewards Vietnam: a particularly nasty regime

ENVIRONMENT Land sinkage, not rising sea levels, the real threat

LIFE ISSUES Who am I? Baby's first memoir

SOCIETY Haircuts and tattoos: new rebels get funky

LIFE POLICY Queensland abortion bill is out of step with voters

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay 'marriage' and the given in human procreative behaviour (part 1)

RURAL LIFE Some of the reasons why farmers need a new bank

It's a queer theory that says kids can transgender (Part Two of two)

MUSIC Digital sonics by no means free of glitches

CINEMA Action movie lacks punch: X-Men: Apocalypse

BOOK REVIEW Tragic betrayal

BOOK REVIEW Great reformer or great dictator?

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Obama rewards Vietnam: a particularly nasty regime

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 4, 2016

On his recent three-day visit to Vietnam, U.S. President Barack Obama unilaterally lifted the 30-year trade embargo on Vietnam, maintained because of the communist regime’s long history of political and religious repression, which continues down to the present day.

According to the President of Vietnam, Tran Dai Quang, the lifting of the arms embargo signified that “both countries have completely normalised relations”.

Few people outside Vietnam will know anything of him. A Google search almost invariably shows a person wearing a police uniform, and, in fact, his employment over the past 40 years – his entire adult life – has been as an official in the repressive Ministry of Public Security and the Orwellian Ministry of the Interior, in the Vietnamese communist government in Hanoi.

It is well to recall that Obama stood for election as U.S. President as a man who would put human rights at the top of his agenda, instead of the realpolitik of George W. Bush, his predecessor, who took the United States into Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden, and later, into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As President-elect Obama said on Human Rights Day in 2008: “When the United States stands up for human rights, by example at home and by effort abroad, we align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

“We also strengthen our security and wellbeing, because the abuse of human rights can feed many of the global dangers that we confront – from armed conflict and humanitarian crises, to corruption and the spread of ideologies that promote hatred and violence.

“So on this Human Rights Day, let us rededicate ourselves to the advancement of human rights and freedoms for all, and pledge always to live by the ideals we promote to the world.”


If these words mean anything, Obama should be standing alongside those who are being persecuted.

Human Rights Watch, a non-government organisation which documents human rights issues around the world, summarised the situation in these words: “Vietnam’s human-rights record remains dire in all areas.

“The Communist Party maintains a monopoly on political power and allows no challenge to its leadership. Basic rights, including freedom of speech, opinion, press, association, and religion, are restricted.

“Rights activists and bloggers face harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and imprisonment. Farmers continue to lose land to development projects without adequate compensation, and workers are not allowed to form independent unions.

“The police use torture and beatings to extract confessions. The criminal justice system lacks independence.”

One journalist covering Obama’s visit noted that it occurred at the same time that five-yearly national elections were held in Vietnam.

Edward-Isaac Dovere said: “Obama stood in front of the Vietnamese flags, alongside the Vietnamese President, and the closest he came to criticising elections where candidates could be kicked off state-approved lists for offences such as claims they didn’t pay their sanitation fees was saying, ‘I made it clear that the United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam or any nation … at the same time, we will continue to speak out on human rights’.”

Dovere added: “All across the city, red-and-yellow posters and signs promoted voting, but little activity was evident at over 10 polling places spotted during the day Sunday.

“Some had busts of Ho Chi Minh looming in the background. Some had men drinking tea and playing games outside. Most had a few soldiers getting comfortable in their plastic chairs. One had a coin-operated children’s ride inside. All of them featured big white boards with approved candidates for the voters who did show up to choose between.

“This year’s elections were more open than previous ones, given that most non-Party candidates weren’t arrested or discovered their Facebook pages shut down and there were even protests here [in Hanoi] and in Ho Chi Minh City [Saigon]. But in the end, none of those people got through, cut off by government technicalities and bureaucratic hold-ups that were used as excuses.”

Widely reported claims that the trade embargo was lifted to counter China’s thrust into the South China Sea do not hold water. Nor do Obama’s claim that it “removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War”. The embargo was introduced in response to Vietnam’s human-rights abuses, not its alignment with the USSR and China during the Cold War era.

Vietnam gets all the arms it wants from countries like Russia, and China does not need the end of the arms embargo to know where Vietnam and the U.S. stand on its militarisation of the South China Sea.

By kowtowing to Vietnam, Obama shows that he has no respect for human rights, regardless of what he says.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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