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Obama implores Vietnam to embrace human rights

In a sweeping speech, which harked back to the bloody war that defined both nations but also looked to the future, Obama said that “upholding rights is not a threat to stability”. Vietnam ruthlessly cracks down on protests, jails dissidents, bans trade unions and controls local media.

But the US leader said bolstering rights “actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress”, in his speech to a packed auditorium including Communist Party officials.

The visit is Obama’s first to the country and the third by a sitting president since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Direct US involvement in the conflict ended in 1973. Obama’s visit has formally reset the relationship between the former foes with the lifting of a US arms embargo.

Trade has dominated the trip, with multi-billion-dollar deals unveiled, as well as further endorsement by both sides of the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Immediately after his speech, Obama flew to Vietnam’s boisterous southern commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City, where he will meet tech-startup entrepreneurs later on Tuesday. He has been cautious to avoid hectoring his hosts -- an increasingly important regional ally -- on human rights. “Vietnam will do it differently to the United States,” Obama said.

“But these are basic principles that we all have to try to work on and improve,” he added, referring in particular to the importance of a free media. His speech, punctuated with humorous asides and references to Vietnamese culture and history, was greeted with warm applause and cheers. Earlier Obama met civil society leaders, including some of the country’s long-harassed dissidents. 

Obama calls for peaceful settlement of SCS disputes
US President Barack Obama called on Tuesday for territorial disputes in the South China Sea to be “resolved peacefully” as Vietnam baulks at Chinese actions in the bitterly contested waters.

“Big nations should not bully smaller ones, disputes should be resolved peacefully,” he told an 
audience in Hanoi, referring to the disputed maritime region. His remarks won loud applause from more than 2,000 delegates including top Vietnamese leaders.

Washington and Hanoi have been drawn closer together through their mutual concern at Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the sea.

China claims almost all the South China Sea and has rattled neighbours with a series of reclamation and construction projects - including airstrips - on reefs and islets. Vietnam and four other countries also have claims to parts of the sea.

The United States takes no position on the competing territorial claims but asserts freedom of navigation and flights in the sea and has sent warships near Chinese-held islets.
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