GARDEN GROVE — One of President Bush's key Orange County-based Vietnamese-American supporters said Thursday that he would resign from the President's reelection campaign if Bush proceeds with plans to normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam before Inauguration Day.
"It would be wrong for us to recognize a country that still oppresses the Vietnamese people," said Ky Ngo, a co-chairman of the Bush/Quayle campaign in Orange County. "I oppose that and I think the majority of Vietnamese (Americans) oppose it."
Besides co-chairing the campaign, Ngo, of Garden Grove, is chairman of the 200-member Vietnamese-American Political Action Committee, which has endorsed Bush, co-chairman of Vietnamese for Bush/Quayle in Southern California, and a member of the Bush campaign's steering committee for Asian-Americans. In addition, he served as a delegate for Bush at both the 1988 and 1992 Republican national conventions.
By normalizing relations with Vietnam without that country's guarantees of democracy and human rights, Ngo said, Bush would be "turning his back on the Vietnamese community in the United States" in order to curry the favor of a communist regime. "I would be very upset to see that happen," he said. "It would be a bad mistake. This is not the right time."
The President on Thursday described as a "major breakthrough" Hanoi's decision earlier in the week to release hundreds of photographs providing new information on the fates of U.S. servicemen missing in Southeast Asia, a move many in Washington interpreted as a prelude to normalized relations. His comments came only one day after Washington-based diplomats and unnamed White House officials predicted that relations would be normalized, and economic sanctions eased, by Inauguration Day. Bush said he might have more to say on the subject today after a briefing by retired Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., who visited Hanoi last weekend.
In Orange County, however, many other members of the county's large Vietnamese-American community, which has traditionally voted Republican, echoed Ngo's shock and displeasure at the apparent move.
"This is rather bad news for us," said Quynh N. Nguyen, a member of the Vietnamese navy veterans association who has been active in the movement for democratization of Vietnam. "The best way to promote dictatorship and prolong the suffering of the Vietnamese people is to normalize relations with them. That will help the country economically, but many other communist countries have used it to reinforce their dictatorships rather than help the people."
Said the Rev. Hong Nguyen (no relation to Quynh), pastor of Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, a Vietnamese-American church in Garden Grove: "(Normalization) is likely to encourage authoritarianism. The majority of us think it's not time."
Not every Vietnamese-American agrees, however.
Yen Do, editor of Nguoi Viet Daily News, Orange County's largest Vietnamese newspaper, said he viewed the move toward normalization as a "positive step" enabling Vietnamese-Americans to exert more influence in their native country by working for reform from within.
"Vietnamese have been waiting for this for a long time," Do said, adding that he expects several thousand, mostly elderly, Vietnamese-Americans now living in Orange County to return to Vietnam for extended visits--and in some cases even permanent residence--once normalization is achieved. "Now we will have more influence in doing business, keeping our cultural heritage and working for human relations."
Dr. Co D.L. Pham, president of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, said that while he views the move as premature, he believes that it will eventually be good for business.
And Frank Jao, president of Bridgecreek Development, the biggest development company in Little Saigon, echoed that sentiment, saying that American interests should take precedence over Vietnamese.
"I think we all can agree that in the recession we are in right now we can use all the help we can get," Jao said. For American companies wishing to invest in Vietnam, he said, "this is a positive sign. It will be hard for a number of Vietnamese-Americans (to accept normalization) but I feel that the interests of the U.S. should be above everything."
Greg Haskin, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County, said that while he couldn't comment on the Bush Administration's plans for Vietnam, he expected support for the Republican ticket from the local Vietnamese-American community to remain as "strong" and "consistent" as it has been throughout the campaign.