IGE President Testifies on Religious Freedom in Vietnam before Senate Finance Committee
Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) President Chris Seiple testified before the Senate Finance Committee on 12 July regarding religious freedom in Vietnam and the possible establishment of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) between the United States and Vietnam through bill S. 3945. (Seiple's video testimony begins at 1:59:00 on this video link on the Finance Committee website.) Seiple's full statement for the record is available in PDF format.
“In the last two years . . . a strategic shift has begun to take place [that provides] for the religious freedom of all Vietnamese citizens,” said Seiple. However, he noted that “implementation of these procedures is uneven and there are too many examples of people of faith . . . being harassed because of their belief system.”
Seiple's presentation outlined three key steps to improved relations with Vietnam. First, the U.S. needs a roadmap based on the rule of law to move ahead on religious freedom. Such a plan should include detailed arrangements to eliminate all identification card issues and register at least 600 churches among Vietnam’s Hmong ethnic minority. “Through regional diplomacy . . . it is possible to develop solutions that are sustainable,” said Seiple.
Second, discrepancies among ordinances and guidelines on religious freedom must be clarified in order to train officials comprehensively. Progress made in educating and training government and church officials about last year's guidelines on religious affairs separately is not as effective as joint classes at district and commune levels, where church and government officials would train together on implementation of national legislation.
Third, Seiple contended that removing the CPC designation, then establishing PNTR status, sends the message that the United States is willing to work with Vietnam’s leaders, and leaves open the possibility of re-imposing “country of particular concern” status—with potential sanctions—if Vietnam does not abide by its trade and human rights obligations.
Other panelists who testified before the committee included: Karan K. Bhatia, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative; Eric John, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Jon Caspers, former President of the National Pork Producers Council; Christian Schlect, President of the Northwest Horticultural Council; Jeffrey R. Shafer, Vice Chairman of Citigroup Global Markets; Augustine D. Tantillo, Executive Director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition; T. Kumar, Amnesty International Advocacy Director for Asia; and Virginia B. Foote, President of the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council.