Equally revealing were the remarks she made in Vietnam, her next stop after Mongolia. Facing the cameras after her meeting with the Vietnamese foreign minister, she spoke about the importance of "economic growth," and regional security cooperation, and then some more about economics and trade. Finally, near the end of her speech, came this:
Democracy and prosperity go hand in hand, political reform and economic growth are linked, and the United States wants to support progress in both areas.
So I also raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detention of activists, lawyers, and bloggers, for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas. In particular, we are concerned about restrictions on free expression online and the upcoming trial of the founders of the so-called Free Journalists Club. The Foreign Minister and I agreed to keep talking candidly and to keep expanding our partnership.
So she "raised concerns." It's good to hear that somebody is talking candidly about these things in Vietnam -- a country that remains under one-party rule just as onerous as that in China. Yet you can bet that her hosts carefully noted the order of priorities in her speech. As Hillary mentioned, trade between the two countries now amounts to $22 billion a year. Vietnam, with an eye to China's increasingly aggressive play in the South China Sea, is eager to rev up its military cooperation with Washington. With monster deliverables like these in play, surely even the Politburo in Hanoi ought to be ready to endure some serious lectures on human rights.
"We're always complaining that we don't have leverage in these countries," says Bork. "But here's a perfect case of one where we do. It makes sense for us to introduce us some respect for reforms, for human rights, demands for qualitative change, into our negotiations with Vietnam. But I don't see it happening." Human Rights Watch, for its part, has called upon Clinton to make human rights the centerpiece of her discussions at the ASEAN summit that she'll be attending in Phnom Penh beginning on July 11.
So what, in the end, is the United States specifically doing to support democracy in Asia? I can't really point to much that's substantial or concrete. Talk is cheap (particularly when you compare it with the billions, say, that Washington continues to send to the militaries in Pakistan and Egypt every year). How about some large-scale funding for civil society groups in Burma, for example? That's just the kind of thing that could really make a genuine difference in one of Asia's most strategically situated countries. But so far there's no sign of anything comparable in the offing.