Vietnam, Human Rights, and Isolationism; How do you Change Things Without Dialogue?

Vietnamese rallying for democracy, human rights in Vietnam and protesting the Vietnamese communist government's human rights abuses, on April 30, 2012 in commemoration of the Fall of Saigon.

Vietnamese rallying for democracy, human rights in Vietnam and protesting the Vietnamese communist government’s human rights abuses, on April 30, 2012 in commemoration of the Fall of Saigon.

This week, the Orange County Vietnamese community came out to protest a proposal by Council member Larry Agran to add a city from Vietnam as a Friendship City.  Agran withdrew the proposal prior to the council meeting after receiving what I’m sure were a number of “are you crazy” phone calls.  The fact remains Agran’s efforts to add three new friendship cities dates back 25 years to what the LA Times described then as “city-based foreign policy.”  The end result, Irvine will no longer offer Friendship City status to any city pending a rewrite of city policy by city staff.

Agran and Council member Beth Krom offered up this commentary on their Irvine Matters blog. From the site:

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, what could have been a thoughtfully discussed proposal to establish three new Friendship Cities — Baoji, China; Karachi, Pakistan; and Nha Trang, Vietnam — was instead turned into a political rally designed to assail the credibility of anyone who might imagine that building bridges with cities around the world is a productive endeavor.

With three members of our City Council more invested in division than dialogue, the once inspiring profile of Irvine as a City where people live side-by-side in peace and harmony is at risk. Those who dared to speak in favor of the proposals for Friendship City relationships with Karachi and Baoji were booed and hissed. Those who supported the concept of a Friendship City relationship with Nha Trang did not dare speak.

Instead of honesty, there were misrepresentations. Instead of open dialogue, there was intimidation. Instead of civil engagement, they chose finger-pointing and agitation. At night’s end, Choi, Shea and Lalloway voted not to approve the citizen-recommended Friendship City proposals for Baoji, China and Karachi, Pakistan. Councilmember Lalloway went further, saying we should stop thinking globally and ignore international affairs altogether. It was as if we had been put in a time machine and transported back to the fear-based “Cold War” thinking of the 1950s.”

I’m all for building bridges and I’m certainly for human rights. From this Tuesday night’s effort, I’ll note three distinct themes here from those “freedom loving” Republicans:

  1. Some of the biggest critics of the Friendship city idea with any city in Vietnam have associations with organizations that do business in Vietnam; we wrote about this back in 2008 during the height of bickering between County Supervisor Janet Nguyen and then-Assemblyman Van Tran.
  2. The notion that Council member Christina Shea is a champion of human rights is laughable; 25 years ago, she rose to political power in Irvine on a foundation of defeating a Human Rights Ordinance in the city (more on this in a minute).
  3. Council member Lalloway’s notion that the city shouldn’t be involved in international affairs ignores his own vote to send Mayor Steve Choi to South Korea to visit a new “Sister” city to Irvine and another sister city at taxpayer expense.
Van Tran (photo: Wikipedia)

Van Tran (photo: Wikipedia)

Van Tran made a big deal of the insult to the Vietnamese community a friendship city posed.  About six years ago, we wrote about his alleged associations between Little Saigon and Vietnam.

At this Press Conference, Supervisor Nguyen presented evidence that Van Tran was, in fact, connected to an organization, the Vietnamese American Entrepreneurs Association (VAEA), which was responsible for sponsoring Vietnamese Chairman Nguyen Minh Triet to the U.S.A.  The evidence includes the following:

  1. VAEA is recognized and heavily promoted within Vietnam as an organization, formed in Northern California solely for the purpose of promoting business between the U.S. and Vietnam;
  2. As recently as April, 2008, VAEA has sponsored events here in the U.S. on behalf of the Vietnamese Consulate Office;
  3. Four members of the Board of Directors and Advisors for VAEA have contributed thousands of dollars to Van Tran, dating back to as far as 2003.  The General Secretary for VAEA is a lawyer, Vu Ngoc Truc,  that Van Tran’s wife, Cyndi Tran (aka Cyndi Xinh Nguyen), worked for up to the time she quit in the past couple of years.  One of these contributors, with Van Tran’s help, landed the waste management contract for the City of San Jose in 2007.  This, no doubt, was made possible because Van Tran actively campaigned for San Jose Councilwoman Madison Nguyen.  Therefore, despite the tenuous nature of his connection between Supervisor Nguyen and Eric Le, Van Tran tried to deceive the community by trying to divert attention away from his complicity in courting support from businesses close to the Vietnamese Government;
  4. Even though former Westminster Councilman Tony Lam was a strong supporter of Van Tran, Ta Duc Tri, Andy Quach, and others, Van Tran and Dina Nguyen accuses him, now that he supports Supervisor Janet Nguyen, of being a communist sympathizer.  Supervisor Nguyen produced a picture of Tony Lam at a reception with Van Tran; this picture was posted in Van Tran’s official Assembly website as of the date of the Press Conference.  This raises the question of how sincere Van Tran is in making this accusation of Tony Lam and Supervisor Nguyen;
  5. In order to impute guilt to Supervisor Nguyen, Van Tran accuses Orange County of actively hiding Chairman Nguyen Minh Triet’s visit to the Dana Point, Van Tran did this by claiming that a person in a picture of the reception was Joanne Sokolski from the Office of Protocol.  This is patently untrue.  First, the Office of Protocol is a private office and not under the control of the Board of Supervisors.  Secondly, the person in the photograph was Jackie Ellis of Irvine Chamber of Commerce.  Van Tran’s and Dina Nguyen’s accusation was either reckless or malicious.

We’ll note a few things: In 2013 trade between the US and Vietnam amounted to more than $24.6 billion in imports to the US and $5 billion in exports to Vietnam. It’s hard to believe that none of this activity is happening between Vietnam and business operatives in Little Saigon.  Clearing, somebody is trading with Vietnam.  In fact, the United States is Vietnam’s 29th largest trading partner.  So 28 other nations seem to have little problem doing business with Vietnam.

From a February story in RollCall:  “Before his recent visit, Secretary of State Kerry said that he used to dream of the day when, “Someone would say the word Vietnam, and we would think of the country, not the war.” Now, Americans and Vietnamese speak more about expanding trade, building businesses, creating jobs, exchanging students, trading products and services, and catering to tourists. Every year, 1,800 containers loaded with U.S.-grown apples, pears, oranges, grapes, cherries and other produce travel to Vietnam. Together with pork, beef, soy, poultry and dairy products, these American exports are helping to stock the shelves of supermarkets in Vietnam.

America’s manufacturing products are also ubiquitous in Vietnam. In 2013 alone, Vietnamese companies signed contracts totaling $2.6 billion to buy American-made airplane engines and wind turbines, helping to support tens of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Vietnam is currently the United States’ 29th largest trading partner. U.S. exports to Vietnam have doubled in just five years, amounting to $5.2 billion in 2013. Bilateral trade between the two nations now totals $30 billion a year — a 134-fold increase from 1994.

With direct investment amounting to $10.6 billion in December, the United States ranks seventh among foreign investors in Vietnam. American companies are gaining new customers and contracts while contributing to Vietnam’s development.

Those numbers will continue to grow. With a population of 90 million people and a gross domestic product growing by an average annual rate of 7 percent for the past 25 years, Vietnam is regarded by U.S. businesses as one of the most promising markets in Southeast Asia. Vietnam and the United States are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership to establish a free-trade area constituting 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of world trade. This agreement would create more quality jobs and accelerate economic growth in the U.S., Vietnam and other TPP countries.”

Now, there’s no way to get people on the record on this, but there is certainly a perception that there are significant business interactions between Vietnam and individuals based in Little Saigon regardless of the protestations of the lack of Democracy or poor Human Rights there from those who rode buses from Westminster to Irvine last Tuesday.

Moving to Human Rights, and its appropriate that this is #2 on our list; Christina Shea wrote this on her blog“Our Vietnamese American community is very angry with Larry Agran! Hundreds of  Vietnamese- Americans showed up at last night’s City Council meeting to express their anger and voice their opposition to Larry’s agenda item to establish a Friendship City with Nha Trang, Vietnam.   They came  equipped with banners stating ‘No human rights no friendship’.  I would like to thank my colleagues Mayor Steven Choi and Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway who voted with me.  In addition to not pursuing Friendship status with any of the proposed cities, we directed staff to craft new language for the program that would exclude any city from a country that sponsors or participates in human rights violations.”

Christina Shea

Christina Shea

How odd that human rights in Vietnam are so important to Ms. Shea when in 1989, she led an effort to overturn a Human Rights Ordinance that was groundbreaking at the time in Irvine — extending human rights to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender city employees. Perhaps she should add the United States of America to her list of countries that practice human rights violations and confess her own role in this practice.

From the LA Times story on her efforts:

“Christina was campaign manager for the Irvine Values Coalition, the 350-member group that successfully removed protection for homosexuals from the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

Christina did most of the work and took most of the flak in the bitter 18-month campaign that produced smear charges from both sides and ended in a narrow 6% margin. She also is emerging as the most likely of the three to use the current momentum as a political springboard in what most observers predict will be a continuing debate.

Shea acknowledged that the divisive campaign “was a real bad thing for our community, in a way.” But she and Michael, evangelical Christians who have a homosexual relative, said it was worth it in the long run. “We have chaos in our society if you don’t judge people on their behavior,” Shea said. “It bothers me when people don’t take stands.”

I’ve been told she’s not the anti-gay bigot she once was, but I’ll just judge her on her behavior.  Irvine was half the size then than it is now and many newer Irvine residents really have no clue what an anti-gay bigot Ms. Shea was then.  I really see no evidence that she’s changed.  Want more of Christina’s anti-gay chattering?  I really don’t, but people need to know.  Here’s something she wrote for the LA Times in 1989:

“In July of 1988 the mayor and the Irvine City Council enacted a human rights ordinance that has imbedded within its structure a clause referring to “sexual orientation.” This Human Rights Ordinance, because of the inclusion of this clause, gives special legislative protection to the homosexual, bisexual and lesbian communities.”

“Granting special protection for any particular behavior-based life style will eventually undermine the very core of the judicial system by removing its ability to evaluate a person’s character based on his or her conduct.”

“Before we insulate any special interest group for special legislation we need to take into account its behavior. Recent studies generated by the AIDS epidemic reveal that homosexuality is characterized by a wide range of sexual perversions, varying degrees of promiscuity and a disproportionate percentage of sexually transmitted diseases.

The Orange County Health Department disclosed that more than 86% of all reported cases of AIDS in Orange County have as their origin the homosexual and bisexual communities. The reason that these statistics are so high is that the average homosexual who has been tested for and found to have AIDS has had approximately 100 different sexual partners per year before testing positive to the HIV virus.

Many homosexual groups lobby for political prominence by playing the “victim role.” In the Oct. 9 issue of U.S. News & World Report, John Leo states, “More and more aggrieved groups want to magnify their victim status.” Homosexuals seem to understand this clearly; that is why many homosexual activists have turned “gay bashing” into a media campaign.”

Contrary to what the homosexuals want us to believe, they have gained more acceptance in the last 20 years in the United States than ever before. A Washington Post article (April, 1979) confirmed this point by indicating that “the homosexuals in our country have become a new ‘power block,’ a block that has both power and money.”

As the homosexual community is quite aware, portraying itself as a victim can gain political and social recognition. This stance, however, can be deceptive and destructive to society.”

If you do an Internet search on “Christina Shea”+Irvine+”Gay rights” you will find nothing that changes the perception that she doesn’t have the same bigoted point of view she had in 1989.  So when Christina Shea starts preaching about human rights, it only calls out her own hypocrisy. Start practicing human rights right here in Irvine, Ms. Shea. At the very least, apologize for your previous bigoted stances.

Choi7

mehLalloway’s comment that we should stop thinking globally and ignore international affairs altogether is interesting.  He was the sole vote no to spend taxpayer dollars to send Mayor Choi and some city staffers to a trip to South Korea to formalize a new sister city relationship there and visit an existing sister city in South Korea. The cost to taxpayers to send Choi to Korea was under $10,000 and I’d argue it’s money well spent for city delegations to make personal connections abroad. So which is it Jeff? If Irvine becomes isolationist, we’re going to miss out on partnerships with established and emerging economies and the companies who are based there. (editor’s note: our original reporting said this was a 5-0 vote; we correct the record on the vote but stand by the contention that every elected official should care about international relations). 

Vietnam has a terrible record on freedom, Democracy and human rights.  There is no question about it. 

Other countries who have sister city and friendship city status with Irvine also have less than stellar records on human rights as well  China has a terrible record, for example, but it doesn’t stop our government from tapping Chinese banks to fund things dating back to both Republican and Democratic administrations.  And when you get right down to it, one of my biggest criticisms of the Obama administration is that they have done little to change the situation at Gitmo where prisoners have been held without charges or without trial since 2002.  What about the record number of deportations at our Southern border?  The separation of families of undocumented immigrants with their children?  The continued discrimination against LGBTQ communities in different states still exists right next door in Arizona which is dominated by Republicans.

But one thing is clear.  You cannot affect change in human rights with Vietnam without some sort of dialogue. Complaining about Vietnam’s lack of human rights won’t change a thing unless we’re talking with them and encouraging their government to change.  Perhaps we should try building bridges instead of burning them down.

  14 comments for “Vietnam, Human Rights, and Isolationism; How do you Change Things Without Dialogue?

  1. Josh Moore
    April 12, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Finally, some sanity on this subject. Isn’t it plainly obvious that isolation from free societies is a tool of oppressive regimes, not a penalty for them? How else do you explain the Hermit Kingdom?

    Councilmember Agran’s explanation of his thought process in entertaining the Nha Trang proposal was perfectly reasonable. The only shame was that he felt compelled to retreat from it in the face of, what might as well be called, McCarthyist hysteria.

    For over five decades we’ve allowed similar sentiment to dictate our Cuba policy, and for over five decades that policy has done nothing but play into Castro’s hand.

    And how shameful was the display of every last conservative OC politician showing up to earn brownie points with the mob? Thank you for demonstrating just how limber their contortions were in doing so.

  2. junior
    April 13, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I think that these “friendship city” resolutions are excuses for taxpayer paid vacation junkets for council members.

  3. Jeff Lalloway
    April 13, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    As usual, your blog is factually incorrect and misleading. In fact, your entire thesis is wrong. I voted no on Mayor Choi’s taxpayer funded trip.

    • April 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      I’ll check the agenda from the vote again but I am pretty sure that was a 5-0 vote. Even if you voted no, the other two fiscal conservatives did vote for it and have done their share of international travel on the taxpayers dime. Not money poorly spent at all but just how do you propose we change things in Vietnam Jeff? Walmart sells quite a few products made there and you were all for them expanding in Irvine. If there is a premise wrong with my human rights argument, take it up with Shea. Those are her words. If you want more examples og human right abuses cheered on by conservatives, I can link to photos of how our soldiers treated prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

    • April 14, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Correction on the vote is updated but we stand by the point made.

  4. junior
    April 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Dan – I challenge you to provide instances of conservatives “cheering” the depraved incidents at Abu Ghraib – I don’t think conservatives of any note would cheer those types of things.

  5. Jim Smith
    April 14, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Councilman Lalloway, I think it’s really admirable that you make your self available to public forums like this to help clear up matters. I think a lot of us found it really surprising that Mr. Agran would propose something like this.

    I was curious, why was he even looking for cities for potential sister status in the first place? Is it normal for councilmen and women who aren’t even in the majority to just propose something like this out of the blue? Why would he think the rest of you would go along with something like this?

    • April 14, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Jim, Councilman Lalloway rarely makes himself available for public forums like this. The only thing “cleared up” here was a single vote on a friendship city taxpayer funded trip that we don’t have a problem with.

  6. Jim Smith
    April 14, 2014 at 1:35 am

    Haha… “out of the blue”… No pun intended : )

  7. April 14, 2014 at 9:15 am

    from Human Rights Watch 2013 report, this gem: “The relationship between Vietnam and the US continues to grow. The US is Vietnam’s largest export market, and the June visit of US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta symbolized the growing ties between the two countries’ militaries.

    The US and Vietnam are also negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. However, during a July visit to Vietnam, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly raised serious concerns about Vietnam’s poor human rights record, and US policy makers indicated that failure to improve human rights could impose limits on the closeness of the relationship between the two governments.”

  8. junior
    April 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

    Some wounds are not healed by commerce.

  9. RHackett
    April 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    We’ve been trading partners with Vietnam for 20 years.

    This is nothing more than the usual idiot political posturing by the blowhards named Fleischman and Bartlett within Irvine.

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