(Trich Bao Houston Chronicle June 26th, 2008)
(Courtesy Of The Chron.com)
June 26, 2008, 10:47PM
Vietnam wants a Houston consulate
Prime minister, local leaders discuss ways to expand business
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Vietnam's ambassador to the U.S. said his nation hopes to open a consul general's office in Houston soon.
"We have agreed in principle," said Ambassador Le Cong Phung during a break in Thursday's meeting between Vietnam's prime minister and Texas business leaders at the Westin Oaks hotel. "We have got one office in the East, the embassy, and one in the West in San Francisco. The United States is a huge country. We cannot cover it all."
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his delegation of more than 100 officials met with Texas cotton producers, energy company officials and other business leaders to discuss ways to expand trade between the two nations.
"I strongly believe that trade and investment between our two countries will be accelerated and strengthened for years to come," Dung said in Vietnamese. "The government of Vietnam is resolved to keep improving the business environment in order to attract more and more investors in Vietnam."
His visit comes amid protests from members of the local Vietnamese community who claim Dung's government has one of the world's worst records on human rights.
Surrounded by mounted police officers, hundreds of protesters, many of whom fled the nation after the Vietnam War, gathered in front of the Galleria Thursday to protest Dung's visit and the government's plans to open a consulate here.
"We don't want to have a consulate until there is democracy in Vietnam," said Al Hoang, who came to Houston in 1975.
He said Houston's Vietnamese community, which numbers nearly 85,000, will continue to protest against the consulate. Many local Vietnamese oppose doing business with the communist government.
"The Vietnamese government doesn't respect even basic human rights," said Kim Nguyen, who fled Vietnam in 1976.
Local business representatives said a consulate would facilitate business between the southeast Asian nation and Houston, which now has 88 consulates.
"With more trade and more tourism, it's good to have a local consulate to help expedite our visas for our people," said Roger Haldenby, vice president of operations for Lubbock-based Plains Cotton Growers.
Texas Cotton Producers signed an agreement Thursday with the Vietnamese textile industry to offer more cotton to the nation.
Other business representatives agreed a local consulate would facilitate trade with Vietnam. "There's nothing in the world that replaces a handshake and eye contact," said Don Hartsell, managing director of Houston's World Air League. "It serves as an introductory means of opening up the entire country."
He is organizing the World Sky Race, a 150-day race of skyships similar to blimps whose route includes a stop in Vietnam. Hartsell met with Vietnamese officials to negotiate a celebration that would take place in Vietnam during a 2010 race around the globe.
In addition to talking trade and investment, Dung and Phung also received white cowboy hats Thursday.
"You can't leave Texas without having a genuine Texas hat," said Joe Knierien, president of International Trade Expo, the organizer of the Discover Vietnam U.S. & Vietnam Business Forum.

Joe Knierien, left, of the International Trade Expo, gives Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung a Stetson cowboy hat during the Discover Vietnam business forum luncheon in Houston Hoc Nguyen speaks into the megaphone as members of the Vietnamese community protest in front of the Galleria-area Westin Oak Hotel. The demonstrators opposed increasing U.S. business dealings with the communist government.
Huong Nguyen sits in the shade as members of the Vietnamese community protest in front of the Westin Oak Hotel . Protesters chant slogans outside the Galleria, near the site of the business forum.
A protester drives past the Westin Oaks Hotel where other protesters on foot chant slogans. 6) Houston police officer barricade protesters into sidewalks as they chant slogans outside the Galleria
7) Form left, Tan Nguyen, of Houston, Xuyan Dang, of Fort-Worth, and Thu Van, of Houston, protest in front of the Stanford Financial Group Building outside at the Galleria. 8) Dhau Huynh protects him self from the rain with a protest sign after rain forced an ending to the Vietnamese community protest in front of the Westin Oak Hotel.
9) Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung sits with entourage of security and advisors as he's being introduced to speak during the business forum at Westin Oaks Hotel. 10) Fong Bau, 75, cheers for speakers at the Vietnamese American community rally to protest Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung a day before the leader arrives in Houston.
11) Trung Nguyen, of Houston, listens to speakers at the Vietnamese American community rally to protest Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. 12) From left, Tony Vu, 9, and Buddhist Monk Minh Van Nguyen listen to speakers at the Vietnamese American community rally.
13) "We don't need their help, we run away from them many years ago. Now they show up here" said Nancy Nhung Do, right. 14) I remember Vietnam and all the people less fortunate" says Kim Anh Vo, 48, as she weeps during the Vietnamese National Anthem at the rally.
15) Lan Nguyen, of Houston, attends the rally. People from Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, California and some public officials and lawmakers attended. 16) Hoc Thai Nguyen, a community activist, cheers with the US flag as Xuan Tin burns a Vietnamese Communist flag while the South Vietnam Flag is the background on the stage.
17) Thuong T. Ton was the flag bearer for a protest against the policies of Nguyen Tan Dung. 18) Pauline Hyugen joined others in protest.
19) Protesters chanted and held up signs throughout the rally. 20) Truong Nhu Phung, left, and Sanh Van Le , both of Houston and veterans of the Vietnam conflict, protest Dung's planned visit at the Vietnam American Memorial in Houston.

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Last revised: June 26, 2008