GARDEN GROVE – Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), whose district includes parts of Garden Grove, rebuked the White House for hosting a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party on Tuesday.
The congresswoman criticized the meeting between President Barack Obama and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in the Oval Office because of continued human-rights abuses in Vietnam, in a statement released Wednesday morning.
“There continue to be egregious and systemic human rights abuses in Vietnam, including religious and political persecutions,” Sanchez said. “As an advocate for human rights in Vietnam I cannot ignore the dismal state of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”
The nonprofit Human Rights Watch still lists Vietnam as one of the worst countries for human rights, saying the “state suppresses virtually all forms of political dissent” and that “the police routinely use torture and beatings to extract confessions and punish detainees.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), whose district includes Garden Grove and Westminster, also issued a statement, on Tuesday, urging Obama to push harder for Vietnam to improve its human-rights record before opening relationships further with the communist country.
“I hope that Mr. Trong will listen,” he said, “and that the government in Hanoi will finally take serious and immediate action so that it can become a member of the community of civilized nations.”
Sanchez, the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, and Lowenthal together represent Orange County’s Little Saigon, which has the largest concentration of Vietnamese outside of Southeast Asia.
Obama said Tuesday that he discussed various human-rights issues, such as freedom of religion, with Trong.
The president is also hoping to improve diplomatic relations with the Southeast Asian country to push back against China’s increasing aggressiveness in the Pacific, most notably in its efforts to build artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The government in Beijing claims sovereignty over those waters, as well as the Spratly and Paracel Islands, but so do several other Pacific Countries, including Vietnam.
Resolving differences with Vietnam is also crucial if Obama is going to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement that would potentially decrease China’s influence in the region.
Still, Sanchez, Lowenthal and other members of Congress have been pressing the president to not score diplomatic points against China at the expense of human rights.
“We need to send a message that respect for human rights precludes closer economic and security relationships,” Sanchez said in her statement. “There must be continued support for activists and efforts in fighting for the basic freedoms we take for granted in the United States.”
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