As Trump and Kim prepare for summit, bars in Vietnam serve 'Peace Negroniations'

HANOI (REUTERS) – Kim Jong Ale? Rock It, Man? Or how about a glass of Peace Negroniations?

Bars in Vietnam’s capital are cashing in on the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week with special concoctions to mark the high-stakes diplomacy.

“This beer was inspired by the pure streams of Mount Paektu between North Korea and China,” Ms Nguyen Thi Huong Anh, manager of Hanoi’s Standing Bar, said of the “Kim Jong Ale”, brewed especially for the summit.

The mountain is the highest on the Korean peninsula at about 2,750 metres and the official birthplace of the late North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il.

“It’s a volcano so the beer has a hot and spicy flavour with a soft and fresh aftertaste,” Ms Anh said.

Mr Trump and Mr Kim will meet on Feb 27-28, following up on their historic first summit in Singapore in June, when they pledged to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Enterprising businesses hope to cash in on the occasion.

One Hanoi barber is offering free haircuts to anyone wanting to copy Mr Trump and Mr Kim’s distinctive locks.

But as in Singapore, where bars mixed up all kinds of concoctions to mark the event, it’s Hanoi’s bars and pubs where folks are getting creative this time too.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Korea’s favourite soju spirit has emerged as the ingredient of choice in Hanoi.

The Tannin Wine Bar In Hanoi’s old quarter is offering the”Peace Negroniations”, a summit-inspired take on the classic Negroni cocktail, made with pink-grapefruit flavoured soju, vermouth and a drop of Angostura bitters, manager Antoine Ursat told Reuters.

“I hope all the delegations come here and have a cocktail,” Mr Ursat said. “It’ll facilitate the negotiations – after one or two drinks it’s more easy to talk.”

The bitters reminded him of Mr Trump, he said.

The nearby Unicorn Pub is offering a special summit drink named “Rock It, Man”, which includes soju, bourbon and Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, along with pineapple juice, vanilla and grenadine.

“The Fireball is as strong as Trump. It’s sweet but it’s also very fiery,” said the pub’s co-owner, Mr Trinh Xuan Dieu.

“When you drink it, it tastes really hot at first, but it ends with sweetness.”

And the name of the concoction? Before they broke the ice at their Singapore summit, Mr Trump mocked Mr Kim and his efforts to build nuclear missiles by calling him “Rocket Man”.

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Germany aims to reset ties with Vietnam after kidnapping case

BERLIN (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday he would use a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart to discuss resetting ties between the two countries after past differences over the kidnapping of a Vietnamese businessman in Berlin.

Maas said Vietnam was a key partner for Germany in Southeast Asia, and lauded Hanoi for making important progress in opening its economy and enacting other reforms in recent years. Germany is Vietnam’s leading trading partner in Europe.

“In the past there were noticeable differences between Germany and Vietnam, above all over the kidnapping of the Vietnamese citizen Trinh Xuan Thanh in Berlin,” he said in a statement. “Today we want to reach agreement about resetting the strategic partnership between Vietnam and Germany and filling it with new substance.”

Ties between the two countries soured in 2017 after Germany accused Vietnam of breaching international law by kidnapping businessman Trinh Xuan Thanh, who had sought asylum in Germany, from a Berlin street and taking him back to Vietnam, where he was tried and jailed for life.

A German court in July sentenced a Vietnamese man to three years and 10 months in jail after he confessed to helping his country’s secret services kidnap Thanh.

In a statement issued before his meeting in Berlin with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Maas underscored the importance of human rights and common values in any strategic partnership. The two officials did not hold a news conference.

“Vietnam, like Germany, is committed to multilateralism and free trade. It has taken on increasing global responsibility and is engaged in climate protection,” Maas said. “These are all areas in which Germany and Vietnam can work together more closely in the future.”

Maas also said Germany supported a rapid agreement on a free trade agreement between the European Union and Vietnam.

The two countries began diplomatic relations in 1975 and elevated their ties to a strategic partnership in 2011.

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Vietnam foreign minister to visit North Korea from Feb 12 to 14 ahead of Trump-Kim summit

HANOI (REUTERS) – Vietnam’s foreign minister Pham Binh Minh will visit North Korea ahead of this month’s planned summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, a spokesman said on Monday (Feb 11).

Trump said last week he would hold his second meeting with Kim in the Vietnamese capital on Feb 27 and 28.

The Vietnamese foreign minister plans to visit North Korea from Feb 12 to 14, the spokesman said in a statement posted to social network Twitter, without giving further details.

Ahead of the summit, Vietnam’s reform model has been widely touted as the economic path for impoverished and isolated North Korea to follow.

The summit follows an unprecedented first meeting between the leaders in Singapore last June.

But with just weeks to go, the two sides have appeared far from narrowing their differences over US demands for North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons programme that threatens the United States.

The Singapore summit yielded a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, where US troops have been stationed since the Korean War.

While in the US view North Korea has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang complains that Washington has done little to reciprocate for its freezing of nuclear and missile testing and dismantling of some facilities.

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Hammer and pickle: Vietnam-style reform would mean big changes for North Korea

HANOI (Reuters) – Nestled in a leafy park between a rusting Soviet fighter jet and the old East German embassy, a lonely statue of Lenin stands in the center of Hanoi as a symbol of the Russian revolutionary’s inspiration to Communist-ruled Vietnam.

In 1986, one year after the statue was erected, Vietnam embarked on its comprehensive program of “doi moi” reforms which transformed the country from a war-torn agrarian basket case into one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

Today, Hanoi’s “Lenin Park” is popular, not for Vietnamese paying homage to their communist roots but for a dedicated crew of skateboarders aping their Western cohorts.

As Vietnam prepares to host North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump’s second summit later this month, the Vietnamese model of reform is being widely touted as the economic path for impoverished and isolated North Korea to follow.

Vietnamese reforms have seen per capita GDP soar almost five-fold since 1986 and kept Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, which tolerates little dissent, firmly in power.

But it has necessitated political change and levels of individual freedoms that would require major reforms in North Korea, where Kim Jong Un exercises almost total control and is revered by state propaganda as a living deity.

“When all the power is in the hand of a single person, decisions are prone to mistakes,” said Cao Si Kiem, the former governor of Vietnam’s state bank who enacted sweeping reforms of Hanoi’s monetary policy from 1989-1997.

“We had to accept power dilution,” Kiem told Reuters, referring to Vietnam’s era of opening up.

When Vietnamese revolutionary and founding president Ho Chi Minh’s health was failing during the Vietnam War, his right hand man in the Party, Le Duan, took over and ruled as a strongman until his death in 1986.

Duan’s demise ended Vietnam’s “strongman era”, and helped facilitate economic and then political reforms, said Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

“Le Duan was a hardcore communist, an old guard of the Leninist political and economic system,” said Hiep.

“After his demise, no single politician could command such a level of control. Instead, the politburo took over and became the most important decision maker, albeit on a consensus basis”.

GOODBYE, LENIN!

North Korea, by comparison, has only ever known its strongman era. Kim Jong Un officially derives his political legitimacy from his father and former leader, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather and founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

Together, they form the “bloodline of Mount Paektu,” a reference to a legendary volcano on the border of China and North Korea, where the eldest Kim is said to have coordinated his guerrilla war against colonial Japan.

North Korea’s “Juche” ideology of self-sufficiency officially replaced Marxism-Leninism in 1972. While Juche has its roots in the Soviet ideology, references to Marxism-Leninism and communism have been slowly phased out.

The ruling Kims are afforded godlike status in the country. Even the official exchange rate for the Korean People’s Won was, until 2001, pegged at 2.16 won to the dollar, because of Kim Jong Il’s February 16 birthday.

But under Kim Jong Un, who activists say has led a brutal crackdown against dissent and defectors, some progress on economic reforms has been made.

Kim has allowed some markets in North Korea to develop, introduced more Special Economic Zones and called for factories to expand their product ranges to cater for diverse consumer tastes.

“In the North Korean context, this is huge – so much further than under previous leaders,” said Andray Abrahamian, a Korea expert at Stanford University’s Asia Pacific Research Centre.

By 2016, four years after Kim came to power, the rate of economic growth in North Korea hit a 17-year high, according to South Korea’s central bank. That growth contracted last year under pressure from international sanctions over its weapons programs, the bank said.

“North Korea is embracing markets to an unprecedented degree, but there are still some key limitations,” said Abrahamian, citing the need for official systems of property ownership and land use and a loosening of surveillance on visiting foreigners to encourage offshore investment.

COMMUNIST CHIC

So far, economic changes, which have been officially communicated in state propaganda as Kim-led initiatives to improve living standards, have come with little political liberalization.

North Korea is still officially tax-free and, despite the fact many North Koreans rely on the markets instead of the state for food, Pyongyang still professes to have a functioning public distribution system.

In Vietnam, such rationing was abandoned as reforms were embraced.

Today, the Vietnamese economy has become so open the “subsidy era”, when Vietnam went through its most literal iteration of communism, is remembered mainly as a “vintage” design trope in novelty coffee shops and restaurants.

In North Korea, such imagery is sanctified.

“It feels more nostalgic than the more modern coffee shops,” said university student Nguyen Hoang Phuong Ngan as she sipped a coconut latte at Cong Ca Phe, a popular cafe chain which uses communist-era propaganda in its branding.

The road to change in Vietnam hasn’t always been so relaxed, however.

In 1996, 10 years into the reform program, government officials staged the public destruction of foreign video cassettes and pornographic posters at Lenin Park to rid Vietnam of “social evils”.

Now, while the Lenin statue still casts a shadow over the square, skateboarders there are mostly amused or ambivalent about his presence.

“This is a street sport from the West, so the fact I’m doing it right here in front of the Lenin statue is really something,” said 27-year-old jazz pianist and skateboarder Nhat Huy Le.

“It’s fun.”

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Vietnam 'willing' to host Trump-Kim summit: Report

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam’s premier has said his country is willing to host a much-anticipated second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

One of North Korea’s top generals Kim Yong Chol is expected to meet with Trump at the White House on Friday (Jan 18) to hash out details of a second meeting with Kim, including a potential venue.

The second round of talks follow a historic summit in Singapore last year and are aimed at denuclearisation and ending decades of enmity between the two nations.

Vietnam has cropped up in the swirl of rumours and conjecture over a possible site for the meeting, with the capital Hanoi or the coastal city of Danang seemingly the most likely bases for the summit.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said he would be open to hosting it.

“We don’t know the final decision. However, if it happens here we will do our best to facilitate the meeting,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

“Vietnam has cooperated well with the US in developing economic and trade relations, as well as in other areas.”

A Vietnamese government source who wished to remain anonymous told AFP “logistical preparations” were underway for a Trump-Kim summit although “no official decision” had been made.

“There is lots of work to be done, not only for Danang but some other locations for the event. The Vietnamese side is ready to host… but it is not up to us to decide.”

Like several other South-east Asian countries, Vietnam maintains diplomatic ties with both communist-run Pyongyang and Washington and is keen to host major global events as it tries to project a more confident global profile.

Communist Vietnam hosted a major Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the central city of Danang last year attended by global leaders, including Trump.

Hanoi welcomed North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho in November for a visit reportedly aimed at sharing lessons from its economic success story.

The foreign ministry told AFP that Vietnam “supports constructive efforts to solve disputes through peaceful dialogue… on the Korean peninsula in particular,” in a statement earlier this month.

Trump has said he is eager to meet with Kim again after their historic summit in June, the first ever meeting between two sitting leaders from two countries that never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The leaders agreed on a vaguely-worded statement in which Kim pledged to work towards “the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

But progress has since stalled with the two sides disagreeing over what that means.

Kim is hoping for an easing of international sanctions but the United States insists on maintaining maximum pressure until Pyongyang moves forward on giving up its nuclear weapons.

More Trump-Kim summit special reports and analyses here

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Vietnam says Facebook violated controversial cybersecurity law

HANOI (REUTERS) – Facebook has violated Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law by allowing users to post anti-government comments on the platform, state media said on Wednesday (Jan 9), days after the controversial legislation took effect in the communist-ruled country.

Despite economic reforms and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate dissent.

“Facebook had reportedly not responded to a request to remove fanpages provoking activities against the state,” the official Vietnam News Agency said, citing the Ministry of Information and Communication.

In a statement, a Facebook spokeswoman said, “We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all these requests against our terms of service and local law.” She did not elaborate.

The ministry said Facebook also allowed personal accounts to upload posts containing “slanderous” content, anti-government sentiment and defamation of individuals and organisations, the agency added.

“This content had been found to seriously violate Vietnam’s Law on cybersecurity” and government regulations on the management, provision and use of internet services, it quoted the ministry as saying.

Global technology companies and rights groups have earlier said the cybersecurity law, which took effect on Jan 1 and includes requirements for technology firms to set up local offices and store data locally, could undermine development and stifle innovation in Vietnam.

Company officials have privately expressed concerns that the new law could make it easier for the authorities to seize customer data and expose local employees to arrest.

Facebook had refused to provide information on “fraudulent accounts” to Vietnamese security agencies, the agency said in Wednesday’s report.

The information ministry is also considering taxing Facebook for advertising revenue from the platform.

The report cited a market research company as saying US$235 million was spent on advertising on Facebook in Vietnam in 2018, but that Facebook was ignoring its tax obligations there.

In November, Vietnam said it wanted half of social media users on domestic social networks by 2020 and plans to prevent”toxic information” on Facebook and Google.

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Two Vietnamese Tourists Killed in Bombing in Egypt

Two Vietnamese tourists were killed and 12 other people were injured when a bomb blast hit their bus on Friday less than three miles from Egypt’s world famous Giza pyramids, authorities said.

Ten of the injured were Vietnamese tourists and two were Egyptians, the driver and a tour guide, an Interior Ministry statement said.

The bus was hit by an explosion from an improvised device hidden near a wall, the ministry said.

About two hours later, the bus could be seen behind a police cordon with one of its sides badly damaged and the windows blown out, a Reuters reporter said.

Dozens of police officers and firefighters were at the scene, on a narrow sidestreet close to the ring road.

The police are investigating, the ministry said.

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Vietnam country profile

Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, has one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020.

It became a unified country once more in 1975 when the armed forces of the Communist north seized the south.

This followed three decades of bitter wars, in which the Communists fought first against the colonial power France, then against South Vietnam and its US backers. In its latter stages, the conflict held the attention of the world.

The US joined the hostilities in order to stem the “domino effect” of successive countries falling to Communism.

FACTS

Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Capital: Hanoi

Population 92 million

Area 329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles)

Major language Vietnamese

Major religion Buddhism

Life expectancy 73 years (men), 81 years (women)

Currency dong

LEADERS

President (acting): Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh

Tran Dai Quang was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president in January 2016, and died suddenly in September 2018. His vice-president, Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, took over on an acting basis.

She is the first female head of state of the Republic of Vietnam.

Secretary-general of the Communist Party: Nguyen Phu Trong

The Communist Party holds the real power in Vietnam. It appointed Nguyen Phu Trong as its secretary-general in January 2011, replacing Nong Duc Manh, who retired after 10 years in the post.

He took over as Vietnam faced mounting economic problems, including rising inflation, a growing trade deficit and a weakening currency.

Born in 1944, he also previously served the Communist Party’s chief political theorist.

Nguyen Phu Trong is seen as a conservative.

Prime minister: Nguyen Xuan Phuc

Nguyen Xuan Phuc was elected to the post of prime minister by parliament in April 2016, after being picked to succeed outgoing leader Nguyen Tan Dung at the Communist Party’s congress in January.

Mr Phuc, 61, pledged to improve the business climate and crack down on corruption.

Unlike his charismatic predecessor, he is seen as a team player and a technocrat ready to stick to the party line.

MEDIA

The Communist Party has a strong grip on the media.

Media outlets and journalists risk sanctions for broaching sensitive topics and for criticising the government. But some press titles and online outlets do report on corruption in official circles.

There were 64 million internet users by the end of 2017, comprising around 66% of the population (Internetworldstats.com).

TIMELINE

1859-83 – France slowly colonises Indochina.

1940 – Japan takes control of Indochina.

1945 – Ho Chi Minh proclaims independence and establishes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

1946 – French seek to regain control. Anti-French resistance war – or the First Indochina War – spreads across country.

1954 – Vietnam is partitioned between North and South. Conflict between the two rival states rages for the next two decades, in what is known as the Vietnam War or the Second Indochina War. The US is heavily involved in support of the South.

1975 – Southern cities fall one by one until communist forces seize Saigon.

1976 – Vietnam is reunified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands flee abroad, including many “boat people”.

1979 – Vietnam invades Cambodia and ousts the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot.

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Taiwan searches for 152 missing Vietnamese tourists

TAIPEI (AFP) – A search was underway for 152 Vietnamese who arrived in Taiwan on tourist visas, authorities said on Wednesday (Dec 26), as local media reported they may have come to the island to work illegally.

The tourists were issued visas under an initiative launched three years ago to attract more visitors to Taiwan from South and South-east Asia.

A total of 153 Vietnamese arrived in southern Kaohsiung city over the weekend – and only one has been tracked down, according to Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency.

“The agency has set up a taskforce and worked with the police to investigate the tourists who are unaccounted for and the group behind them,” it said in a statement, without elaborating.

Local media speculated that the Vietnamese may have come to Taiwan to work illegally.

They face deportation and a three- to five-year ban from the island, the immigration agency said.

About 150 tourists had previously gone missing under the programme, according to the Tourism Bureau, though it is not clear how many of them were found.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told AFP it had asked Taiwanese authorities for clarification on the case and sought coordination so that tourism and exchange programmes for both sides would not be affected.

The visas of the missing Vietnamese have been revoked and Taiwan’s representative office in Vietnam has suspended issuing tourist visas to another 182 Vietnamese whose applications were approved by the Tourism Bureau, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said.

The tourism programme is part of Taiwan’s “southbound policy”, which targets 16 South and South-east Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, in a bid to boost tourism as arrivals from mainland China decline.

The number of tourists from the Chinese mainland has slid dramatically as cross-strait ties deteriorate, with speculation that the mainland authorities are turning off the taps to pressure the pro-independence government of President Tsai Ing-wen, who came to office in 2016. China views Taiwan as a renegade province.

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US hardens stance on immigration, ramps up efforts to deport Vietnam War refugees

WASHINGTON – The US is stepping up efforts to deport Vietnam War refugees convicted of crimes after arriving in America, deporting on Monday (Dec 17) a flight of 35 to 40 Cambodian immigrants – one of the largest groups to be sent back at one go to date.

Another 9,000 Vietnamese immigrants who fled the Vietnam War for America decades ago may also be at risk of deportation, as US officials met their Vietnamese counterparts this month to discuss reinterpreting an agreement protecting them from deportation.

The moves reflect the hardline stance against immigration of the Trump administration, which has widened the net of deportees beyond recent arrivals to include those who have put down roots in the US over decades.

Many have families in America but threadbare ties to their old homelands – most of the Cambodian refugees had come to the US to escape the Khmer Rouge regime, while the Vietnamese had fled from persecution and death after the Vietnam War.

The 9,000 Vietnamese immigrants at risk of being deported arrived in America before July 1995, when the two countries had not yet established diplomatic relations, and had been protected from deportation under an agreement inked by Washington and Hanoi in 2008.

Upon arrival, they were granted green cards which made them legal permanent residents in the US. But many did not apply for citizenship because they lacked the resources or were intimidated by the naturalisation process, which is expensive and requires proficiency in English, said Ms Phi Nguyen, the litigation director at Advancing Justice, an Asian-American civil rights group.

Neither the US Department of Homeland Security nor Vietnamese officials have publicly discussed the details of their meeting, Ms Nguyen told The Straits Times.

The Trump administration first attempted to reinterpret the 1995 agreement early last year and deported a small number of Vietnamese immigrants before walking back on the policy this August. Its most recent reversal was first reported by US media last week (Dec 12).

The uncertainty is causing tremendous anxiety and fear, said Ms Nguyen. “People constantly feel like their lives hang in balance…Since the most recent news about the US continuing to exert pressure on Vietnam to take pre-1995 people back, I have gotten many phone calls and text messages from impacted individuals who are scared. One of my clients told me he is having a very difficult time sleeping.”

While the Cambodians arrived legally, their past convictions make them eligible for deportation under US law and a 2002 repatriation agreement between the US and Cambodia.

The Trump administration has sought to deport more Cambodians than its predecessors, with about 200 deportations expected this year compared to 74 in 2016, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics. The number dropped to 29 last year because the Cambodian government temporarily stopped accepting repatriations.

The number of Cambodians deported on Monday would have been 46 had it not been for intervention efforts and advocacy, said Advancing Justice and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The Asian-American community and immigration rights activists have hit out against the moves, arguing that many of the convictions were decades-old and that the deportees have paid their debts to society.

“They have completed their criminal sentences and paid for the crimes they’ve committed. Many have been living peacefully in the community for years. Some have US citizen children and spouses. Many have not set foot in Vietnam in years and do not recognise Vietnam as their home. We should not dehumanise people just because they were convicted of crimes,” said Ms Nguyen.

They may also be leaving their only family for a country they barely know. Said Ms Nguyen: “Many no longer have any family or any network in Vietnam to help them start anew. They may face difficulty getting the appropriate paperwork to obtain an identity card and gainfully work. Homelessness is a reality.”

Some of the Vietnamese were also children of American troops or people allied with South Vietnamese forces. Deporting them proved the breaking point for Mr Ted Osius, the immediate past past US ambassador to Vietnam, who resigned in November last year over the Trump administration’s push for deportations.

Mr Osius said in a National Public Radio interview on Sunday: “I thought it was really un-American to be getting rid of people who fought side by side with us or were the children of servicemen. And I objected, and I objected multiple times.”

Former US secretary of state John Kerry called the deportations “despicable” on Twitter last Friday, writing: “After so many – from George H.W. Bush to John McCain and Bill Clinton – worked for years to heal this open wound and put a war behind us – they’re turning their backs on people who fled and many who fought by our side. For what possible gain?”

At least 100 protesters rallied against the deportations over the weekend in California’s Little Saigon, home to the largest Vietnamese community in the US. Community and civil rights groups have also lobbied politicians to oppose the deportations.

Said Ms Nguyen: “The United States’ efforts to deport former Vietnamese refugees is inhumane, shameful, and represents the latest way in which America has failed the same people who were allied with them in the Vietnam War and whom the US felt a moral obligation to take in years ago.”

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