Evidently the US is on the verge of removing Vietnam from its list of violators of religious liberty. (I received this story via email from Voice of the Martyrs but it is also posted here.)
Following an August 15-18 visit to Vietnam by U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom John Hanford, indications are that Vietnam will be taken off the U.S. list of the world's worst religious liberty offenders. With the planned September 2nd release from prison of key Hmong Christian leader Ma Van Bay -- described as "propaganda exercises" by one human rights advocate -- various releases by the Vietnam News Agency signal that Vietnamese officials expected Ambassador Hanford to take good news of religious liberty progress back to Washington. Vietnam's presence on the list of "Countries of Particular Concern" has remained a barrier to its membership in the World Trade Organization. According to representatives of the majority of Protestants in Vietnam -- who remain unregistered and thus illegal -- while there have been some modest and spotty improvements, there is still no clear indication of a breakthrough or even that reform is uniform and systematic. They also note that not one of the many officials who have broken Vietnam's laws in mistreating Christians has yet been charged.[Emphasis mine]
I am not sure how much of an incentive membership in the WTO is for Vietnam. Most likely the theory here is that we can use the carrot of membership to get them to clean up their act. The question is, once they are in, will there be any incentive to maintain even such limited human rights concessions? I think not and it will be difficult to get any other world leaders to make noise since they will all be too busy patting themselves on the back over this success.
But, in the short term, evangelists like Ma Van Bay will be free to do their work which, in turn, will have a much greater impact on the long-term than that of diplomats like Hanford. It is one evidence of God's grace that dictators nearly always underestimate the power of the Gospel. Communist regimes like Vietnam, being blind to all but material causes, can tell that Christianity is dangerous to their pathetic little tyrranies, but they have no idea how dangerous. They are selling their future for a mess of pottage like the WTO, and don't even know it.