Obama Tells Vietnam: U.S. 'Still Striving to Live Up to Our Founding Ideals'

By Patrick Goodenough | May 24, 2016 | 4:15 AM EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech to the Vietnamese people at the National Convention Center in Hanoi on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Pool)

(CNSNews.com) – In an address to the people of communist-ruled Vietnam on Tuesday, President Obama made a case for the importance of upholding human rights, prefacing it by saying that the United States, too, “is still striving to live up to our founding ideals.”

“No nation is perfect,” he said at the National Convention Center in Hanoi. “Two centuries on, the United States is still trying to striving to live up to our founding ideals.”

“We still deal with our shortcomings – too much money in politics, and rising economic inequality,” Obama continued. “Racial bias in our criminal justice system. Women still not being paid as much as men doing the same job. We still have problems and we’re not immune from criticism – I promise you, I hear it every day.”

“But that scrutiny, that open debate, confronting our imperfections and allowing everybody to have their say has helped us grow stronger and more prosperous and more just.”

He assured his audience that he was not singling out Vietnam, and that the U.S. does not seek to impose its form of government on the country. Ultimately Vietnam would decide its own future, he said, noting that Vietnam and the U.S. have different political systems, traditions and cultures.

Obama went on to argue that rights to unrestricted access to the Internet fuel innovation that economies need to thrive.

He also stressed the importance of freedom of religion, assembly and the press.

“When journalists and bloggers are able to shine a light on injustice or abuse, that holds officials accountable and builds public confidence that the system works,” he said.

“When candidates can run for office and campaign freely, and voters can choose their own leaders in free and fair elections, it makes countries more stable because citizens know that their voices count and that peaceful change is possible, and it brings new people into the system.”

Obama was speaking two days after Vietnamese went to the polls to choose legislative representatives from vetted candidates. Their leaders – the president, prime minister and the holder of the top post, that of general secretary of the Communist Party – were appointed at a party congress last January which also selected the most powerful political bodies, the Politburo and Central Committee.

U.S. lawmakers who called on Obama ahead of his visit to raise human rights concerns included in their appeal a list of more than 100 imprisoned activists, journalists and bloggers.

Obama’s audience, included officials and young people, sat in silence during human rights portion of the speech, applauding just once when Obama mentioned the fact that rights are referred to in the Vietnamese constitution.

In contrast, other parts of the address, such as his veiled criticism of the way China is pursuing its territorial claims in the disputed waters and islands of the South China Sea, drew enthusiastic applause.

According to the State Department’s latest human rights report, Vietnam is “an authoritarian state ruled by a single party.”

During the period covered in the report, 2014, the department recorded instances of “arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; police attacks and corporal punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities; continued police mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions; and denial of the right to a fair and expeditious trial.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow