HANOI — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Vietnam where she is promoting U.S. investment and raising human rights concerns.
Secretary Clinton says the Obama administration is looking for ways to expand trade and investment with Vietnam, which was up 17 percent between 2010 and 2011 to nearly $22 billion.
has two new deals: a $36 million steam turbine project and a $50 million capacitor project to increase efficiency and allow Vietnam to better regulate its national energy grid.
Clinton says a new regional trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership will lower trade barriers between Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Chile, and the United States.
Economists say Vietnam would be one of the countries to benefit most from the deal, which partners hope to conclude by the end of the year.
Vietnamese Foreign Minister Phan Binh Minh says the agreement will further accelerate trade with the United States.
The foreign minister says trade between the United States and Vietnam is increasing every day - important investments that include some of the world's largest companies such as Microsoft
, and ExxonMobil
. This is the potential to develop a better economic future for both countries, he says, and open opportunities for everyone in Vietnam.
Speaking to reporters in Hanoi after her meeting with Foreign Minister Minh, Clinton said the Trans-Pacific Partnership will also raise standards for labor conditions, environmental protections, and intellectual property.
"Higher standards are important because if Vietnam is going to continue developing and transition to an innovative, entrepreneurial economy for the 21st century, there will have to be more space created for the free exchange of ideas to strengthen the rule of law and respect the universal rights of all workers, including the right to unionize," said Clinton.
The latest State Department human rights report says Vietnamese political rights are severely restricted, that national assembly elections are neither free nor fair, and that the justice system is strongly distorted by political influence and endemic corruption.
"So I also raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas," said Clinton. "In particular, we are concerned about restrictions on free expression online and the upcoming trial of the founders of the so-called Free Journalist Club."
Those bloggers are charged with conducting propaganda against the state through the Club for Free Journalists, which was established in 2007 to promote independent journalism and freedom of expression.
Vietnam says the State Department human rights report makes regrettable conclusions and "partial remarks based on inaccurate information."
Clinton says single-party states kill innovation and discourage entrepreneurship, which are vital for sustainable growth.
"I know there are some who argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first and worry about political reform and democracy later," she said. "But that is a short-sighted bargain. Democracy and prosperity go hand-in-hand. Political reform and economic growth are linked."
During her talks with Vietnamese leaders, Secretary Clinton pledged continued help in cleaning up the dioxin defoliant Agent Orange used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
The two countries are also working to identify the remains of missing U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers from the conflict. The bodies of nearly 700 Americans have been identified and repatriated since 1995. Nearly 1,300 military personnel remain missing in action.
Secretary Clinton is using this trip to reinforce Washington's so-called "Asia pivot" after more than a decade of focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan.