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US Accused of Downplaying Vietnam’s Human Trafficking Record to Win New Ally Against China

Daniel Kritenbrink (US Department of State/Released)
June 25, 2024

The U.S. State Department upgraded Vietnam’s status on combatting human trafficking in a new report on Monday, despite recent allegations government leaders within the country have engaged in and covered up human trafficking. Vietnam’s rise in the TIP reporting system has sparked questions about whether the U.S. government has politicized its annual human trafficking review to curry favor with a potential partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

The State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report on June 24, rating 188 countries and territories around the world for their compliance with the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The annual TIP report places countries in one of four tiers, based on their compliance with TVPA.

Tier 1 countries are those whose governments the State Department assesses to meet the minimum TVPA standards for combatting human trafficking.

Tier 2 countries fall short of the TVPA minimum standards, but whose governments the department assesses to be making significant efforts towards compliance. Along with Tier 2 are Tier 2 Watch List countries, which are those trying to meet the TVPA minimum standards, as in Tier 2, but with significant trafficking concerns or poor evidence to demonstrate the anti-trafficking efforts.

Tier 3 countries are on the lowest rung, falling short of the TVPA minimum standards and deemed to be making no efforts at improvement.

This year’s report saw Vietnam elevated from a Tier 2 Watch List country to a Tier 2 country. It marks the second consecutive year Vietnam’s watchlist rating has improved after rising from Tier 3 in 2022 to Tier 2 Watch List in 2023.

Days before the TIP report’s release, a Vietnamese human rights advocacy organization called Project 88 raised claims Vietnamese government officials facilitated a forced labor exchange that sent Vietnamese nationals to work in Saudi Arabia in 2021.

Cindy Dyer, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, faced questions about Project 88’s claims as she highlighted the 2024 TIP report’s release during a Monday press briefing.

Dyer said she was aware of Project 88’s allegations, but said Vietnam could not remain in the Tier 2 Watch List and either had to be upgraded or downgraded.

“In the case of Vietnam, we determined that it was more appropriate for them to go to Tier 2,” Dyer said.

She then credited Vietnam’s government with increasing identification and support for trafficking victims, as well as investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of suspected traffickers.

Nevertheless, Project 88 claimed last week that the TIP report is susceptible to politicization and suggested the U.S. government sees Vietnam as a partner to win over as it attempts to gather support to counter China’s influence in the region.

“The United States appears to be ignoring Hanoi’s deceit in order to surpass China as Vietnam’s main partner on the world stage. The conventional wisdom in America is that Vietnam is ‘in play’. From this perspective, America, with the right strategy, can win Vietnam over to a U.S.-led anti-China alliance,” Project 88 wrote last week.

Project 88 went on to cite past allegations of the TIP report team upgraded the tier status of countries considered to be strategically important to the United States, including a 2019 report by Reuters, alleging then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose not to include Saudi Arabia in a TIP report child soldiers watchlist, over the objections of some members on the TIP report team.

Reuters reporter Simon Lewis echoed Project 88’s concerns about the TIP report being politicized during Dyer’s Monday press conference.

“Some of the criticism is that Vietnam is seen as a country that’s really important to the U.S. because of its position with regards to China or the broader Asia Pacific, Indo-Pacific strategy. Is that something that’s playing a role here?” Lewis asked.

Dyer said she and TIP report team do “our very best to make an objective assessment” based on the TVPA standards while trying to avoid “over-emphasis on just one” aspect of a country’s human trafficking record.

The U.S. government has made recent efforts to grow its ties with Vietnam. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink traveled to Vietnam last week and met with Vietnamese officials. Kritenbrink reportedly used the visit as an opportunity to express concerns to Vietnam about China’s “irresponsible, aggressive, dangerous, deeply destabilizing” behavior in the Indo-Pacific region. Kritenbrink’s visit also came just days after Vietnam hosted a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin, an increasing geopolitical partner of China and an opponent of the United States.

This article was originally published by FreeBase News and is reprinted with permission.