January 3, 2003
McCain Reflects on
(Associated Press) - U.S.-Vietnam relations can only strengthen in the future
as Hanoi continues along its path of economic reform, Sen. John McCain said
McCain, a former prisoner of war who is one of the most outspoken advocates of
reconciliation between the former enemies, said Vietnamese leaders realize that
the United States can be a major ally in the country's efforts to join the world
"They recognize their future lies in a strong, vibrant free market economy. The
United States can be extremely helpful in that," the Republican senator from
Arizona said at the end of a weeklong trip _ his first visit to Vietnam in two
years. "When you look at our relationship 15 years ago, it's like night and
A landmark bilateral trade pact enacted last year has made some noticeable
changes, with "signs of modernization" already appearing in the country's major
cities, McCain said.
The trade deal capped a lengthy, sometimes rocky, normalization process that
formally began in 1994 with the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo.
Hanoi's strong desire to join the international community means its economic
reforms will continue, said McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam
from 1967 to 1973. But he added that Vietnam needs to improve efforts in other
areas, notably human rights, minority rights and corruption, as well as
copyright and investment protections.
"They will never attract the kind of foreign investment they need to build
infrastructure in a country that has a dynamic population growth unless they
create a climate that is conducive to it. They know that," he said during an
hour-long interview at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
Political reform will come much more slowly, aided by young Vietnamese who are
educated abroad and return home to work, McCain said.
"I think there will be a more free and open society, but by no means a free and
democratic society. I think democratization of China and Vietnam is a process
that will take a long time," he said.
McCain and his family arrived last Friday for a vacation with stops in Hanoi,
Danang, the Central Highlands capital of Buon Ma Thuot, and Ho Chi Minh City. He
was returning to the United States later Thursday.
During his first visit, which marked the 25th anniversary of the end of the
Vietnam War, McCain caused a minor flap when he declared the "wrong guys" had
won the war. An irritated Hanoi bristled that Americans who committed
"horrendous crimes" in Vietnam had no right to be critical.
But McCain said Vietnam also realizes that his Congressional record on
reconciliation speaks for itself.
"There will be times when we have significant disagreements. But Vietnam also
views me as one of their strongest advocates in the U.S. on normalization of
relations between our countries," he said.
Comments by senior Vietnamese officials indicate that Hanoi views McCain as a
major ally. State-run media quoted Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who
praised McCain's "effective efforts" in promoting the implementation of last
year's trade pact, which lowered tariffs and opened Vietnam's market wider to
McCain also redeemed himself in Vietnam's eyes by condemning a move by the
American catfish industry to levy prohibitive tariffs on the import of