HO CHI MINH CITY - In his first visit to Vietnam as America's top diplomat, John Kerry urged the country's leaders to strengthen their commitment to human rights and allow more freedom of expression, including on the Internet.
More than four decades after he served in the Vietnam War, Kerry has returned as secretary of state to seek closer trade and security ties with a country that helped shape his political thinking as a young naval officer.
Even as he praised Vietnam's economic transformation, Kerry said lasting growth depended on promoting basic human rights and freedoms.
"Vietnam has proven that greater openness is a great catalyst for a stronger and more prosperous society and today Vietnam has a historic opportunity to prove that even further,"Kerry told US and Vietnamese leaders and students.
"A commitment to an open Internet, to a more open society, to the rights of people to be able to exchange their ideas, to a high-quality education, to a business environment that supports innovative companies and to the protection of individual people's human rights and their ability to be able to join together and express their views.
"The United States urges leaders here to embrace that possibility and to protect those rights," he added.
Kerry's four-day trip to the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City - or Saigon as he once knew it - the Mekong Delta and the capital Hanoi will be as much about his past as about promoting stronger ties with a country whose economy is fast transforming itself.
On Sunday, Kerry will return to the Mekong River Delta where he commanded an American swift patrol boat in 1968 and 1969. There he plans to take a riverboat near the waters he once patrolled to inspect farming projects and assess the impact of upstream development and climate change.