07/08/2015, 00.00
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Washington: historic meeting between Obama and Vietnamese Communist leader (to counter China)

The US president welcomed Nguyen Phu Trong to the White House. The talks focused on bilateral trade and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Strengthening of axis between Washington and Hanoi to oppose Beijing’s expansion. Activists and US lawmakers protest over Vietnam’s violations of human rights and religious freedom.

Washington (AsiaNews / Agencies) - US President Barack Obama yesterday received the Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong at the White House, in a historic meeting between the two countries, once rivals and protagonists of a bloody war at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s.

It is the first such high-level meeting between Hanoi and Washington since the normalization of relations between their respective governments, 20 years ago. This gradual rapprochement between Vietnam and the US masks the common goal to stop Beijing’s "imperialist" policy, particularly in Asia-Pacific seas.

Addressing the Vietnamese communist leader, President Obama emphasized that in spite of the different "political philosophies", the two countries are strengthening strategic cooperation and partnership. There were "difficulties" in the past, added the head of the White House, and significant "differences" in philosophy and in governance persist.

However, Obama concluded, there has been growth in "constructive relations" recently based on "mutual respect" and "benefits" for both nations.

In response Nguyen Phu Trong spoke of  "cordial, constructive, positive and frank", discussions even if positions on the subject of human rights, religious freedom and even the signature on  trade in the Pacific region remain distant.

At the same time the leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam invited Obama to visit the country and said he was grateful that the US president has accepted; even if a date has not yet been fixed, the White House chief said he was "looking forward" to visiting Hanoi.

During the meeting there was also talk of disputes in the South China Sea, which the two leaders said should be settled in accordance with international law. The common goal is to ensure the safety of navigation and to foster the development of trade relations.

Without mentioning China directly, Trong said he shared Vietnamese concerns over tensions in the seas and that "recent activity" [Beijing working on the disputed islands, ed] "are not in accordance with International laws and complicate the situation. "

If the summit satisfied the expectations of the two leaders and their governments, not everyone was equally pleased. Also yesterday outside the White House a large group of activists protested the violations of human rights and religious freedom taking place even today in Vietnam. A group of US lawmakers sent a letter to President Obama, expressing disappointment at this invitation.

Moreover, for some time now, Hanoi has been cracking down on internal dissent, even targeting religious leaders, Buddhists and Catholics, or entire communities as was the case with the diocese of Vinh, where the media and government led  a smear campaign and targeted attacks against the bishop and the faithful. The repression also affects individuals, guilty of claiming the right to religious freedom and to respect the civil rights of citizens.

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