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Clinton reaches out to south-east Asia

The United States will deepen its engagement with Southeast Asia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday in Hanoi.  She reminded ministers from the ten-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) that in Thailand last year, the US had "recommitted" to the region.


"Today we will discuss our progress and the concrete steps we are taking to make good on this promise, including new investments in shared priorities and new avenues for cooperation," she said.

The region of nearly 600 million people is America's sixth-largest export market and hosts more US business investment than China, she said.

"Our partnership is rooted in common interests," Clinton told her counterparts.

"We are committed to assisting the nations of south-east Asia to remain strong and independent and [ensuring] that each nation enjoys peace, stability, prosperity and access to universal human rights," she said.

The human rights issue remains a contentious one between Vietnam and the US, despite 15 years of normalising relations following the Vietnam War.

The independent watchdog Human Rights Watch issued a strong statement on Thursday, saying "Vietnam is driving Asean in reverse on human rights by blithely locking up peaceful critics, anti-corruption campaigners, independent church activists, Internet writers and others."

The US embassy has also commented on rights issues in the country.

"We have consistently moved in the direction of engagement and cooperation,
even on those issues where we disagree," Clinton said in Hanoi.

At a press conference after meeting her Vietnamese counterpart Pham Gia
Khiem, Clinton said Vietnam "is on the path to becoming a great nation" with
unlimited potential.

"And that is among the reasons why we express concern about arrest and
conviction of people of peaceful dissent, attacks on religious groups and curbs
on Internet freedom," she said.

Pham said that although the two sides have differences over rights, dialogue is the best way to enhance their mutual understanding.


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