Office of the Press Secretary
NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVISOR GENE SPERLING
since I've been here, and I've been everywhere. I've been in nearly all of the 61 provinces on ground, working with the Vietnamese one-on-one, and I've never anyone come up to me and cuss me out or condemn me or whatever else. And certainly I was here in a time when I was not working on construction, I was working on destruction. So if there was any animosity out there, they had every opportunity to bring it forward to me.
And certainly in the youngsters you probably would find that the average Vietnamese youngster knows exactly as much about the Vietnamese War as one of our high school students somewhere in America, which is probably almost nothing. They're really focused on a future. They're looking at the prospects of improving their quality of life. And I note that in 4,000 years there's never been a generation in Vietnam that has been able to look into the future with pretty strong assurance of peace and prosperity. So we have a whole different look at where we are and where the country is going.
The second part of your question was an apology, I think. I don't necessarily think anyone is looking for an apology. To be honest with you, I don't think an apology is nearly as important as a constructive engagement. My view of it is that we are much better to help build the bridges, do something that's deep, inspiring something good.
And as I note my own experience, I was here tearing down bridges, not building them, and I feel no need to apologize. My works, I think, demonstrate my commitment and I think that through my works America's commitment is also defined. And I think the Vietnamese people appreciate that. They're not allowing the past to obscure the future, and that's what we're all about here.
Q Mr. Ambassador, a couple of quick follow-ups on the questions of investment and on human rights. On investment, I'm struck by your very optimistic assessment of prospects for reform in Vietnam, particularly your assertion that there are so many success stories. I wonder, in investment terms, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the aggregate numbers for foreign direct investment in Vietnam and how are those trending -- are they going up, are they going down, what are the numbers that you look at?
Also, if you could, maybe comment a little bit about how U.S. firms direct investment in Vietnam compares to firms of other countries, and maybe if you could comment about the commercial ties between the U.S. and Vietnam relative to some of our, say, European or Japanese competitors.
And then quickly, just on the human rights question, you mentioned 14,000 and the 8,000 persons of concern, as you put it, that have been recently released. What's the residual there? How many does that leave that you consider to be people of concern that are still in some kind of custody? You can obviously raise human rights objections about any country, as you point out, but I mean relative to, say, China or to Burma, where does Vietnam fit on the human rights spectrum in the U.S. view?
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: Let me take the last questions first, because it's on my mind, and I want to make a correction. The 14,000 and the 8,000 are not just people of concern. There were some people of concern in those numbers. Those gross numbers are what you might refer to as common criminals or individuals that were in jail for whatever, I don't know. But some of them were clearly persons that were placed in custody because of a political act, rather than a criminal act.
And so those folks probably -- we really can't get you a good number, but there's probably somewhere between 30 and 40 people that we would track and then suggest that are still incarcerated. And you can get that from our human rights report because we publish those numbers. And, frankly, I just can't come up with a number that would be valid to you, and I'd ask you to look at our human rights report, which should be on the Internet, for validation.
On a comparative between China and Burma, I think Vietnam comes out a star. Now, I say that because of what's happened only in the last couple years. The individual out here on the street -- and you can test this when you get here -- just walk up to them and ask them how free are they, or do they feel repressed, and you'll get your own answers. But if you'll just watch from the side of the street you can't help but recognize that these folks are pretty free.
I'll give you a cute example, actually. I had a fellow who built a house, literally, in 24 hours in my backyard, using the fence of my compound. And I went out and raised a big fuss and I did everything I could to get this guy's attention and so on. My Vietnamese employee was standing beside me. I said, what gives here, my God, you people just don't obey the rules, you're not following the law. And he smiled and he said, you know, we're more free than you are in the United States -- he meant that, of course, facetiously, but the fact is that there is not a repressive circumstance in the everyday life of the everyday Vietnamese.
And they're not as free as they should be, and they are becoming much more empowered in the sense that they have now acquired assets that when placed into jeopardy they're making noise about it very quickly, and so the government is having to be more attentive to individuals as they speak and as they make proposals for improvements.
But between China and Burma, clearly, in my view, Vietnam is way ahead on adherence to overall human rights.
On the investment question, the U.S. has I think 118, maybe 114 -- 118 projects in Vietnam. There are roughly 400 American companies doing business here in one fashion or another, and their total investment is somewhere between $1.4 billion-$1.5 billion.
We currently, I think, as rating in the amount of money into Vietnam, I think we're probably 8th, something like that. Singapore is the largest investor in Vietnam, followed I think by Taiwan, Korea, Japan; France might be number five now or six, and then you'll have, believe it or not, the British Virgin Islands in there at seven, I think, and I think we're eight or nine.
So our standing is pretty high, surprisingly, and yet we have not really unleashed and have really not placed the full bearing of our capital in here. With the ratification of the bilateral trade agreement, I would anticipate enormous interest on American firms coming in here and looking for sector opportunities. And, in fact, we're already seeing a much higher level of interest shown into our commercial section by American companies looking for opportunities in Vietnam.
So once this is ratified, once the bilateral trade agreement is ratified, I can pretty well predict that there will be renewed interest, and I think you'll see the number of $1.4 billion-$1.5 billion to go up to $2 billion quite quickly.
MS. CHITRE: Ambassador Peterson, thank you very much, and we'll see you tomorrow evening.
AMBASSADOR PETERSON: Okay, have a safe flight, and I enjoyed talking with you. Thank you. Bye-bye.
END 3:50 P.M (L)
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