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Ask the Ambassador: U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, Michael W. Marine

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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Marine, discussed recent developments in U.S.-Vietnam relations.

Michael W. Marine, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam
Michael W. Marine
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam

Event Date: 7/30/2007

Maria from Pennsylvania writes:

Please discuss commercial media in Vietnam, such as internet, television, and music. What is the climate for expansion of US and Western media in Vietnam at large, not just large cities?

Ambassador Marine:

Thanks for your question, Maria. Vietnam is a country with a very high literacy rate, so the citizenry is quite well informed by print media and internet news outlets, as well as by television and radio. All media outlets are controlled by the government, so they differ from what we might consider a traditional commercial news organization. However, information sharing is certainly evolving, and improving.

The numbers are impressive - 20 million people are estimated to watch Vietnam Television's 7 p.m. prime time newscast. The largest online news service, VietnamNet, is said to receive 50 million page hits per day. Today, you find cyber cafés throughout the major cities, and internet access is increasing in even the most remote areas of the country.

While a number of international journalists live and work in Vietnam, larger news outlets have yet to expand their operations here. But my colleagues at the U.S. Mission and I continue to urge a free and open exchange of ideas in the press and beyond, and investment of international news outlets in Vietnam could certainly contribute positively to greater levels of interaction.

Commercially available music is a different issue, and a challenge that Vietnam is working hard to address. Intellectual property rights have not received the attention from the authorities here they should have in the past, and piracy - of music CDs, DVDs, and myriad name-brand products - is still widespread. However, the Unites States, through our U.S. Mission in Vietnam and officials from Washington, work closely with the Government of Vietnam to implement these important safeguards to protecting intellectual property rights.

James from Texas writes:

Vietnam still is oppressing its people on issues like freedom of religion, the press, and assemble\expressing peacefully as the government tries to control everything centrally; Vietnam recently became the WTO member but will need to improve more on the above issues and show some actions to the world and the US. What could the US do more to make sure that Vietnam will not ignore these basic human rights issues?

Ambassador Marine:

Thanks for the question, James. The issues you bring up - freedom of religion, press and expression - are central to our values as Americans and through my tenure as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam I have frequently and frankly discussed them with my counterparts at the highest level of the Vietnamese government.

During the past year, Vietnam has made significant progress on advancing religious freedom. The Government instituted a new law on religion, including a ban on forced renunciations, registered hundreds of places of worship, allowed the majority of closed places of worship to reopen, began educating central, provincial and local officials on how to implement the new law and, in some cases, disciplined officials responsible for violations of religious freedom. So, while we are encouraged by the progress that has been made, there remains work ahead to ensure full religious freedom and human rights for all Vietnamese.

We hope and expect that Vietnam will move to give its citizens greater space to express ideas, practice their religious beliefs and participate in more open systems to ensure accountability, including the right to select their leaders and representatives. While Vietnam has done very well so far in achieving significant socio-economic development gains, taking the next step up in the world marketplace will require it to harness fully the energy and creativity of its people. And in no society is this possible without an open political system, a system that allows individuals to peacefully and freely express their views, both political and otherwise.

For the sake of Vietnam's further international integration and development, I continue to urge the Government to take the steps necessary to ensure that the peaceful expression of one's views is not viewed as breaking the law.

Martin from Germany writes:

How do you judge the development of Vietnam with regard to democracy and the rule of law? Are there still serious deficits and do you see any relevant progress?

Ambassador Marine:

Good question, Martin, and I'm pleased to see we're attracting a German audience as well! I think most people are aware of the dramatic steps forward Vietnam's economy has made in the last year or two. Vietnam has joined the World Trade Organization, has been granted permanent normal trade relations status with the United States, and is quickly becoming the next Asian Tiger.

In order to optimize the competitiveness of its economy, the Vietnamese government needs to continue to take the necessary reform measures, to include more transparency at all levels. Proper governance and rule of law is absolutely critical to achieving this transparency. The United States, through the Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Support for Trade Acceleration Program, or STAR, is working very closely with the Vietnamese government to put in place effective and laws addressing the broadest range of civil society. Our cooperation on creating these new codes is unprecedented, and we are confident that these efforts will be of enormous benefit to the people of Vietnam.

Vietnamese citizens are freer than ever to pursue their own family, economic and career choices; however, basic human rights deficiencies remain. These include: the inability of citizens to choose their own government; detentions of persons for the peaceful expressions of their political views; denial of the right of fair and expeditious trials; restrictions on freedom of the press, speech, and assembly; restrictions on the use of the internet; and the prohibition on the establishment of human rights NGOs.

There remains much to do to promoting human rights in Vietnam, but the United States is committed to making the case for these rights at every opportunity. And we remain hopeful that the Vietnamese people themselves will recognize the importance of these basic rights as well. While Vietnam's political evolution is likely to lag well behind the legal and economic changes currently underway, change is in the offing. As they are increasingly exposed to global trends and ideas, accountability for government actions and policies will become an increasing priority for this country's next generation of leaders.

Brian from California writes:

I'm hoping that you could comment on the current political development in Vietnam. Obviously there is significant economic growth in the country and also some degree of improvement in social programs (poverty reduction, etc.). Many economic and political theorists believe that the advancements in the opening of the economy to market forces necessarily precede a similar movement to openness in the political sphere. Obviously this hasn't happened yet. Do you see any signs as to this progression currently? Do you believe it will happen at all?

Ambassador Marine:

Thanks Brian, and another great question that follows on from the previous one. Because of the improved economic climate, major international companies are actively seeking to invest in significant projects in Vietnam. U.S. and Vietnamese two-way trade alone is expected to top $10 billion this year. With this rapid growth have come myriad social benefits, including dramatic achievements in advancing health issues and reducing poverty. According to the World Bank, poverty has fallen by two-thirds, from a rate of 59 percent in 1993 to just 19 percent according to the latest figures available. The mortality rate for children under five has been cut in half, from 38 per 1,000 children in 1990 to just 19 in 2003.

However, there remains much that can be done. A truly successful society is one in which everyone has the right to freely express different viewpoints. Vietnam would only grower stronger were it to allow a system in which there was more space for free expression and an open process of discussion on any issue. As the economic opportunities and benefits expand, it is my hope, and indeed my expectation, that a more open society overall will follow. As the people of Vietnam understand more fully the world of possibilities opening to them, I believe they will move forward towards fulfilling that potential.

Elfriede from Germany writes:

Is Vietnam a part of President Bush's "freedom agenda"?
Does the U.S. support the civil society in Vietnam to help strengthen democracy in Vietnam? What measures do you think ought to be taken to improve the participation of the average people in the political process of Vietnam?

Ambassador Marine:

Thanks for the question, Elfriede; it's an important one. As I mentioned in another response, the freedoms we enjoy - of expression, of religion, of association and of the press - lay at the very heart of what Americans value. It should not come as a surprise to officials of any country that does not share these values that the American Ambassador and his or her staff will bring them up with great frequency.

This is an exciting time in Vietnam. Since we reestablished diplomatic relations with the Government here in 1995, we have seen dramatic changes and the country has moved forward and opened itself to new influences in ways many could not have predicted. But there is still much to do. For example, in addition to allowing for a more open society in which anyone can discuss divergent views, Vietnam must also work to address the scourge of corruption. This scourge affects the citizenry here at all levels. The Government has recognized it is a serious problem that must be addressed quickly. The Prime Minister has publicly committed himself and his government to fighting corruption, and the United States certainly welcomes the efforts we have seen to date.

James from Washington, DC writes:

Mr. Ambassador: Based on your experience in Vietnam, interacting with the common people, how often, if at all, is the Vietnam War referenced? More specifically, have you encountered much anti-American sentiment from Vietnamese people? I've done market analysis on the country for my firm, but haven't had the opportunity to interact with the people and learn how they themselves feel about the warming of U.S.-Vietnam relations. Thank you kindly for your comments.

Ambassador Marine:

Thank you, James, and I sincerely hope you do have the opportunity in the future to come to Vietnam and interact with its people for yourself.

I am nearing the end of three years as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. It has been an extraordinary experience during extraordinary times. One thing that has made a strong impression on me is the remarkable pragmatism of the people of Vietnam. This country has witnessed great tragedy in its recent history. Even before the terrible war that took such a toll on both our countries, Vietnam had experienced remarkable trials and tribulations.

One of the first things you notice today is that the people you meet here look forward - not backward. They do not ignore our shared history, and that very history is a particular bond that connects us. They simply acknowledge the past and then look to the future. That pragmatism will be enormously beneficial to them (and to us) as their influence grows in the region and around the world.

Janina from Texas writes:

Since 1995, the United States and Vietnam have been continually working towards strengthening diplomatic ties through areas such as economic development and international trade. What do you propose are other key areas of interest in regards to strengthening diplomatic relations?

Ambassador Marine:

Good question, Janina. You're absolutely right that our ties to Vietnam have grown deeper and broader since we reestablished ties in 1995. Twelve years later, the relationship is maturing as evidence by President Bush's visit to Vietnam during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Summit last November, followed by the visit of President Nguyen Minh Triet to the United States this past June.

One of the ways that our two countries are expanding our cooperation is in the area of education. During his visit to the States, President Triet visited and spoke at The New School in New York. In his comments, he discussed the challenges facing Vietnam's educational system, and then ways in which he hoped our two countries might more actively engage on this issue.

The United States is honored to be a partner with Vietnam in its efforts to improve and expand its educational system. We are already doing so in many ways, not the least of which is our Fulbright Program. This prestigious educational exchange program opened in Vietnam in 1992, and today it receives one of the largest financial contributions from the U.S. Government of all Fulbright Program worldwide.

But there is more we would like to do. We would like more Vietnamese students to study in the United States and enjoy the benefits of the greatest educational system in the world. We are working with the Ministry of Education and Training in placing a Senior English Language Fellow there to work with a special team to develop a whole new English language curriculum. We support the Vietnam Education Foundation and other flagship education exchange programs, and we hope to provide any assistance we can as this country works to build stronger universities, educate more PhDs, and raise the overall level of academics at all levels.

Oliver from Washington, DC writes:

As the son of two Vietnamese refugees, I was wondering what is the level of interest of the Vietnamese government concerning connecting or engaging the Vietnamese populations of the United States?

Ambassador Marine:

I appreciate your question, Oliver. It is an important one on both sides of the Pacific.

The relationship between the people and Government with those Vietnamese living in the United States is steadily growing and improving in my view. The Vietnamese government has recently announced plans to make changes in its laws to allow for easier entry to this country for overseas Vietnamese, and greater flexibility in owning businesses or buying property. There is a broad recognition here that a positive relationship with the Vietnamese community abroad is mutually beneficial, so changes are being made to encourage its growth.

Of course, there is no substitute for the face to face exchange, and I would urge you to visit Vietnam if possible. Each time I return to the United States, I make a point of meeting with the Vietnamese American communities in the cities I visit, and I am encouraged by the increasing level of understanding that each side has with the other. I hope that one day you might be able to visit Vietnam, and have the opportunity to make your own assessment of the Vietnam of today.

James from Hawaii writes:

Does the U.S. still offer any immigration preferences for Vietnamese citizens who were employed by U.S. agencies during the war?

Ambassador Marine:

Thanks for the question, James. Some former employees may be eligible for "resettlement" in the U.S. under the Humanitarian Resettlement process. Humanitarian Resettlement is a temporary reopening of three old refugee categories, including U-11 for former U.S. government personnel. There are several criteria that have to be met to qualify for U-11. The applicant must have worked directly and verifiably for the U.S. Government for at least five years cumulatively between January 1, 1963 and April 30, 1975 and they must have suffered persecution because of their link to the U.S. Government. If an individual applied under the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), they are no longer eligible for this program unless they were not able to complete the ODP application process for reasons beyond their control.

All applications under the current process must be received by June 25, 2008. You can get an application either by contacting the Humanitarian Resettlement Section at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City or at any Vietnamese provincial passport office from Quang Tri Province south.

Other immigration to the United States is possible through family or employment based petitions, as well as a few other categories. Immigration is of course a complex decision and a complex process. However, the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs maintains an excellent website that can guide you through any questions you might have. I urge you to visit Travel.State.Gov and go to the section on Immigrant Visas. The web site will also guide you to important links at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, as well as each of our consular sections overseas.

Nguyen from Minnesota writes:

Hi! How are you doing? :) I came from Vietnam 5 years ago and right now I'm in the Army Reserve. I just submit my N400 application to apply for citizenship. I'm in college now and my major is law enforcement. My question is that I want to apply a job at The Department of State when I graduated from college and I really want to go back to Vietnam and work for the U.S Ambassador in Vietnam. Can you tell me how can I do that please? Thank you very much.

Ambassador Marine:

Hello, Nguyen, and thank you for your service in the Army Reserve. I applaud your interest in working for the Department of State and wish you all the very best as you pursue your goals.

A career in the State Department has certainly been a positive experience for me, and I have been honored to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam. Much has changed since I took the Foreign Service Exam some 33 years ago, but there are a number of opportunities available to you and others interested in working overseas. I would recommend that you visit the Department's excellent website - Careers.State.Gov and check out the link to "Career Options." There you will find the most up to date information on the whole range of job opportunities. Given your law enforcement background, you might be interested in more information on the State Department's prestigious Diplomatic Security Service.

Good luck!

Tino from Virginia writes:

What specific steps is the U.S. mission in Vietnam taking to foster democratic governance in Vietnam? What role do you envision overseas Vietnamese playing? Can you mention any notable activities? In my opinion, Hanoi needs to initiate systemic political reform to advance transparent and accountable governance. Without this reform, it will never achieve its economic goals. This is the sticking point which prevents more overseas Vietnamese from investing their talent and resources. How can people constructively critique the Party's performance without being called traitors?

Ambassador Marine:

Thanks for the question, Tino. The United States has conducted both formal dialogues with the Vietnamese on human rights as well as regular discussions on the issue in the context of our overall bilateral relationship. Human rights are a topic of conversation at the very highest level of our governments, as they were during President Bush's meeting with Vietnamese President Triet in June at the White House. In addition, U.S. officials at all levels maintain close contact with Vietnam's political activists and religious groups in order to identify and investigate abuses throughout the country, and to advocate on behalf of human rights and legal reform during bilateral and multilateral meetings. This was certainly the case during the visit of President Bush to Vietnam to attend the APEC Leaders' Summit in November. The United States will continue its commitment to making improvements in both the near and long terms by raising these issues in our diplomatic discussions at all levels and on all appropriate occasions; supporting Vietnamese NGOs and other organizations involved in reform efforts as appropriate; using public diplomacy efforts to educate key decision makers and the general public; and engaging in formal dialogue with the Vietnamese government on human rights and labor issues.

Promoting human rights in Vietnam remains a challenge because the tenets enshrined in the goal - greater freedom and pluralism - are seen as threatening to the continuation of one-party rule. While the Vietnamese government's concern for regime stability slows the pace of political and social change, Vietnam's leaders also understand that they must confront corruption and the lack of government accountability if they are to maintain their legitimacy. With no grassroots political movement demanding change from below, and few signs that change will be engineered from above, Vietnam's political evolution lags well behind the legal and economic changes currently underway. But change is coming; Vietnam is a young nation, and its citizens are increasingly knowledgeable about and open to global trends and ideas. For example, Vietnam's leaders are explicitly calling for the rule of law to replace administrative dictum. The U.S. Government is redoubling our efforts to strengthen Vietnam's rule of law through support for legal and institutional reforms and for capacity building.

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