August 23, 2016 at 8:15 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Ambassador downplays Vietnamese concerns over U.S. election
Ted Osius, Vietnam, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, right, takes part in Viet Pride in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Aug. 21, 2016, with his young son Tabu and Dutch Ambassador to Vietnam Nienke Trooster. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam)

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius on Monday downplayed concerns in the Southeast Asian country over the potential outcome of the U.S. election.

“For 240 years we’ve had a peaceful transition of power,” Osius told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. “That will happen again.”

Osius did not mention Donald Trump by name. He did say that “everyone here” in Vietnam is “focusing on our election.”

He noted Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state is “generally viewed as positive” in the country. Osius also told the Blade that her husband, Bill Clinton, normalized relations between the U.S. and Vietnam in 1995, two decades after the Vietnam War officially ended.

“There’s a lot of affection here for the Clintons,” said Osius.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Osius’ nomination in 2014. The career diplomat who co-founded GLIFAA in 1992 is one of six openly gay ambassadors who represent President Obama’s administration overseas.

Osius said he plans to remain in Vietnam through 2017.

“I’m a career diplomat,” he said. “I work for whoever is the commander-in-chief.”

Osius, husband ‘welcomed warmly’ in Vietnam

Osius and his husband, Clayton Bond, have become two of the most prominent gay people in the country since they arrived in Hanoi.

The two men renewed their wedding vows last August during a ceremony at Osius’ official residence over which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided. Osius and Bond and their two young children, Tabo and Lucy, participated in a bike ride on Sunday that was part of the sixth annual Viet Pride.

“We’re welcomed really warmly wherever we go, whether it’s the two of us or all four,” Osius told the Blade.

Osius said the Vietnamese government has also welcomed him.

“Everywhere we go we get these warm welcomes,” he told the Blade.

Vietnamese lawmakers have extended some rights to LGBT people since Osius became U.S. ambassador.

Trans people are unable to undergo sex-reassignment surgery in Vietnam, but a law that takes effect in 2017 will allow those who underwent the procedure in another country to register under their new gender. A statute that allows same-sex marriages to take place came into force in 2015, even though the Vietnamese government does not recognize them.

Vietnam voted for a resolution the U.N. Human Rights Council approved in June that would create the U.N.’s first-ever position to combat anti-LGBT violence and discrimination around the world. VietJetAir and other Vietnamese companies have also begun to enact what Osius described as “pro-equality policies” for their LGBT employees.

“They are learning from our businesses: Inclusion is good for the bottom line,” he told the Blade.

Osius said the U.S. Embassy has offered support to Vietnamese advocates.

President Obama met with LGBT activists and other members of Vietnamese civil society in May during his trip to the Southeast Asian country. Osius credits them with successfully campaigning for the trans rights law and workplace protections for LGBT employees.

“The change is being driven by Vietnamese young people and Vietnamese NGOs (non-governmental organizations) who mapped out a strategy for rights for transgender persons,” Osius told the Blade.

Osius defends TPP, criticizes China

Vietnam is among the 11 Pacific Rim countries that are part of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Advocates have criticized the TPP over its lack of LGBT-specific provisions and what they say are inadequate protections for workers and labor unions.

Osius told the Blade the U.S. reached an agreement with the Vietnamese government “beyond anything that I thought was possible even a few years ago” because “we were able to hold out the promise of TPP.” He also said the Communist country agreed to allow independent labor unions.

“A capitalist country lectured a Communist country on human rights,” said Osius.

China, which borders Vietnam to the north, is not part of the TPP.

Osius told the Blade the Vietnamese government is increasingly concerned by China’s growing “belligerence” in the region, which includes the construction of man-made islands with military bases in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

He said the Chinese military has also rammed and sunk Vietnamese ships. Osius told the Blade these actions have prompted the Vietnamese government to deepen its ties with the U.S. and other countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“China has very directly bullied and intimidated the Vietnamese,” said Osius.

“The Vietnamese are very tough,” he added. “It’s not wise to mess with the Vietnamese.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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