Los Angeles Times: The specter of a disastrous war that tore this country apart appeared again this week in the form of a White House visit by Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. His meeting with President Bush signaled the great distance traveled since the conflict that killed more than 58,000 Americans and more than 1 million Vietnamese.
Khai became the first Vietnamese prime minister to travel to the White House since the war ended in 1975. His trip also marked the 10th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations. Like China, Vietnam's leadership has strayed from communist orthodoxy to embrace some free enterprise -- to great effect -- while keeping a firm grip on political power. Increased economic ties with the United States, a greater influx of foreign tourists and Internet-age expanded communication with the outside world should keep pushing the country toward greater liberalization.
In his public comments, Bush avoided pointing out Vietnam's continued lack of freedom of assembly, speech and press, although a joint statement after the meeting noted U.S. concerns about human rights and mistreatment of ethnic minorities. Fortunately, numerous protesters outside the White House gates carried banners and placards to deplore the Hanoi regime's record.
Bush chose to emphasize an agreement on religious liberty negotiated in April and signed Tuesday. If Khai lives up to the agreement and expands political liberties in the next year, Bush could extend his trip beyond the APEC meeting. If Hanoi falters, a quick in-and-out visit would be the better course.