(CNSNews.com) – On the eve of what the White House is calling a “historic” meeting between President Obama and Vietnam’s communist party chief, 82 percent of respondents in a Vietnamese-language survey conducted by a U.S.-based Vietnamese pro-democracy group said that the visiting official does not legitimately represent the country.
The unscientific poll conducted by Viet Tan, which is outlawed in Vietnam and regarded as a terrorist group by Hanoi, also found that fewer than three in ten respondents believe that the two decade-old relationship since diplomatic relations between the former foes were normalized has been positive.
Other responses suggested that that feeling of disappointment is attributed not to the U.S. but to Vietnam’s unelected leaders.
When asked whether Vietnam should favor the U.S. or fellow communist China as an ally, an overwhelming 92 percent chose the U.S., and just one percent said China. (Seven percent said neither.)
Nguyen Phu Trong, the 71 year-old general-secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, is due to meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday.
Vietnamese presidents (incumbent Truong Tan Sang and his predecessor, Nguyen Minh Triet) and prime ministers (incumbent Nguyen Tan Dung and his predecessor, Phan Van Khai) have visited over the past decade, but the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of ties is being marked by a first-ever visit by the Communist Party boss.
“That will be an historic meeting, where the president will meet with the general-secretary in the context of the 20th anniversary of normalizing our bilateral relations,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Monday.
“The two men will discuss how we can further advance our cooperation as envisioned by the Comprehensive Partnership that was signed in 2013,” he said.
“The president will also raise issues of mutual interest such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and regional security, and areas where our differences require continued attention, like human rights.”
The U.S. is negotiating with Vietnam and 10 other countries in the Asia-Pacific to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement which the administration views as a high priority. Apart from the small sultanate of Brunei, Vietnam is the only TPP negotiating partner that is not a democracy.
Forty percent of respondents in the Viet Tan poll thought advancing the TPP was the likeliest achievement that would come out of Trong’s visit, but almost the same proportion said they did not expect any concrete results. Twenty-two percent said the likeliest achievement would be a prestige boost for Trong and the Communist Party.
The poll was conducted on Viet Tan’s Facebook page over a ten-day period. The group says that more than 90 percent of the site’s users are located in Vietnam.
Analyzing the results, Viet Tan representatives Duy Hoang and Don Le concluded that “Vietnamese would like to enjoy closer ties with the United States but they are ambivalent on whether the Hanoi leadership can achieve that goal.”
“The dichotomy between the perceived benefits of normalization thus far and what the future could hold seems to reflect two concurrent sentiments among Vietnamese: positive feelings toward America and lack of confidence in the present Hanoi leadership,” they said.
“Hence, the challenge for the Obama administration is figuring out how to deepen the current diplomatic relationship – with an unelected regime – while pursuing an agenda that’s in the long term interests of both the American and Vietnamese people.”
President Clinton normalized diplomatic relations with Hanoi in 1995 and five years later became the first American president to visit since the end of the Vietnam War.
The relationship developed under the Bush administration, which in 2006 awarded Vietnam permanent normal trade relations and removed it from the list of “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) for religious freedom violations.
In its most recent report, the commission said “the Vietnamese government continues to control all religious activities through law and administrative oversight, restrict severely independent religious practice, and repress individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority …”