President Bill Clinton preached a parable of personal freedom and open trade Sunday, warning "no one should deny Vietnam the opportunity to grow," hours after the country's official media leapt to the defense of communism.
On the final day of his mission of reconciliation with America's former wartime foe, Clinton rammed home his message that Vietnam would only fulfill its potential if the authorities loosened their iron grip on dissent.
Despite its ancient history, Vietnam remained a very young nation: "your best days clearly lie ahead as you continue to find the means to release the skill and ingenuity of your people," Clinton said.
Praising Vietnam's drive so far to modernize its economy, he held up the modern container port where he gave his speech to Vietnamese business leaders as a metaphor for the future to which the country could aspire.
"You should be very proud of what you have built here, I can tell you any nation in the world would be happy to have a facility like this.
"It should cause you to imagine just how much more you can achieve ... imagine how much more you will achieve as even more young people gain the freedom to shape the decisions that will effect their lives."
Clinton said the more money that was invested to help workers raise their skills and preserve their rights in the global economy, the better Vietnam would be able to grow.
"No one can deny the importance of these issues as we work together for a better future, but no one should deny Vietnam the opportunity to grow -- that is the meaning of our trade agreement, that is the meaning of this port."
The landmark trade deal was signed in July giving Vietnamese exporters access to US markets in return for an opening of Vietnam's economy to American businesses.
Clinton's address came hours after the official Vietnamese media parried his repeated calls for a freer society, hailing the guerrilla resistance against the United States in the Vietnam War as the cradle of determined socialism.
In the regime's first response both to Clinton's live address to the nation Friday and the unprecedented cheering crowds of tens of thousands that greeted his In a tone that contrasted markedly with Clinton's pleas to bury the past on his landmark reconciliation visit, the first since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Phieu banged the drum of communist North Vietnam's victory over the US-backed South.
"The resistance wars brought the Vietnamese people national independence and reunification to advance the country toward socialism so for the Vietnamese people the war was not ultimately a story of darkness, sadness and unhappiness," the official Vietnam News Agency quoted Phieu as saying -- HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)