Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Vietnam and the WTO

Last summer I visited the country of Vietnam. I found it to be a fascinating place. There are many things to like about that country. Food grows everywhere, so if you're one of the lower primates, you're going to have an easy time finding something to eat. The climate is beautiful (yeah, I made my peace with hot and sweaty days). And the people are beautiful (Okay, I love Asian women).

But I think that country needs a lesson in international civics before they can join the World Trade Organization (WTO). They are currently a member of the United Nations, and have been since 1977, but they don't seem to think much of the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

For example, lets look at Article 13 (2):

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Clearly, this is a no-brainer for human rights. But in practice, Vietnam is very strict about who can leave and who can go. It's easy for me to go there since they have a pretty good idea that I have no immediate plans to move there. In fact, they'd really like me to go there to spend my money there. They may even want me to teach English there, you know, the language of commerce.

On the other hand, if someone from Vietnam wants to visit another country, it had better be somewhere like The Philippines, Thailand, Korea or some other developing country. They seem to have a real problem with granting visas to people who just want to visit the United States. Of course, if you have a business, a fat bank account, or you own property in Vietnam, they feel better about letting you leave because you have a compelling interest in returning soon.

Absent those things, you're going to be hard pressed to get a simple travel visa to travel for pleasure. I know after talking with people from that country. It's very hard to bring a friend from Vietnam to the US. Of course, they don't state this explicitly in their rules governing visa applications, but there is some helpful if not interesting language here.

"Any information helpful in showing your ties to Vietnam, such as information about your employment, education, social or family relationships, and possessions, that you wish the consular officer to consider."

Ok, call me stupid if you want, but I don't see how possessions should have any bearing on a visa application. We're talking traveling for pleasure, right? All of the items above relate to status. Wait. Vietnam is a communist country. And communists just love the idea of a classless society. Yet, right here, they are making status a condition of travel. That means someone else couldn't buy a Vietnamese citizen a ticket to fly here unless she's loaded at a bank somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City.

I don't know. I'd have to say that based on the evidence I see, Vietnam is clearly in violation of Article 13, subsection 2. Lets have a look at another section:

Article 7.

    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Hmmm. So unless you're rich, you can't leave the country. But that would be in violation of Article 7 to deprive the right of travel based on status, right?

With me so far?

With admission to the WTO, Vietnam is bracing itself for a nice surge in tourism. Oh, wait. That's only if you want to visit Vietnam. If you want to leave, forget it. They're really worried you might not want to come back. It must have something to do with the 5,000+ political prisoners there. Ooops. They were released in September of this year. How nice. Or maybe they just don't treat their people fairly and quite a few of them would like to leave. It's nice to see Bush actually trying to help here.

So if you think I'm wrong, I'd really love to hear from you. I want to hear good news that says it's easy to get a travel visa for someone I might know.

Scott Dunn
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