Playing the Trump Card in Vietnam

The White House has confirmed that President Donald Trump will be attending the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Da Nang, Vietnam on November 11-12.  Most of APEC's key activities will be held at the InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort.  The resort is owned by the Vietnam Sun Group, which, in collusion with the corrupt and unelected government of Da Nang City, stole the land on which it is built from the 142-year-old Catholic parish of Con Dau and the surrounding Catholic community.

On May 4, 2010, the Da Nang City government sent hundreds of police troops, including paramilitary "anti-riot" units, to assault parishioners and their families with tear gas, metal batons, electric rods, and rubber bullets as they attended the funeral of a 93-year-old church member.  The city police stole the casket and the corpse; beat up more than 100 mourners, including children, pregnant women, and the elderly; and desecrated hundreds of their ancestors' tombs.  Sixty-two Catholic parishioners were arrested and tortured, and six were later sentenced to prison.  One man who escaped the onslaught was later arrested, and died the following day from torture-induced injuries.  Many of the Con Dau parishioners were left homeless and penniless, with no means to sustain their lives and those of their families.

On June 19, this year, under threat of further violence, the Da Nang City government issued an ultimatum ordering all of the remaining members of the Catholic Con Dau Parish to surrender their remaining residential and farm lands – some of which are the property of American citizens – to the city. 

The expropriated lands, worth an estimated U.S. $1.2 billion, will be turned over to the Vietnam Sun Group to sell to high-end investors.  The Sun Group is a holding company partnered with a number of corporations, including InterContinental, a British multinational hotel company with multiple holdings in the U.S.; the Accor management group; and Falcon's Treehouse LLC of Orlando, Florida.

Since 2005, the Vietnamese regime has expropriated vast amounts of land and real property without just compensation, much of it rightfully owned by Americans.  If it were ever paid, this compensation would total tens of billions of U.S. dollars. 


Thousands of religious refugees, including parishioners from Con Dau, have fled the brutal regime for Thailand and other countries, where they remain in limbo, unable to support themselves or their families, and largely ignored by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR).  These refugees represent a wide variety of ethnicities, including Montagnards, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Khmer Krom, and religions, including Christians, Buddhists, and members of the Cao Dai faith, some with relatives in the United States.  Unfortunately, the State Department has yet to express to UNHCR the willingness to accept these refugees.

On May 31, President Trump welcomed Vietnam's prime minister to the White House, after which the two leaders announced a number of trade deals.  Yet the Vietnamese government disregards core human rights values dear to all Americans and directly violates our national interests.  Religious persecution; police brutality; torture; extra-judicial killings; and imprisonment of political dissidents, bloggers, human rights defenders, and people of faith have significantly increased in recent months.  The communist regime even retaliates against the families of dissidents. 

In an open letter sent to President Donald Trump on June 30, 2017, eighteen representatives of various victim and religious groups asked the president to refrain from dignifying the Sun Group venue of the upcoming APEC Summit with his presence.  The letter summarized the theft of land by the Da Nang City mafia and the brutal police attack on Catholics in the Con Dau Parish and concluded:

The appearance of the President of the United States and his high-visibility entourage in Da Nang City and your stay at the Sun Group-owned facility would send exactly the wrong message: that America not only tolerates but also gives its blessing to acts of religious persecution against an entire Catholic community and expropriation of the properties of U.S. Citizens.

President Trump should speak out against the wrongs inflicted upon the peoples of Vietnam and the Con Dau Parish.  If boycotting the Sun Group-owned facility is deemed politically awkward, an alternative would be for the president to acknowledge the Con Dau parishioners by meeting with them on their remaining, contested lands to show America's support for their basic human rights.

Michael Benge spent eleven years in Vietnam as a Foreign Service officer and is a student of Southeast Asian politics.  He is active in advocating for human rights, religious freedom, and democracy for the peoples of the region and has written extensively on these subjects.