During the first trip to the United States by a senior Vietnamese leader in more than 30 years, Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Khai met yesterday with Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates in Seattle. The combination of men is somewhat incongruous. Gates, the world's richest man, is the leader of Microsoft, an icon of capitalism. Khai, meanwhile, controls one of the world's few communist countries.
After the meeting, the two men announced that Microsoft and Vietnam had agreed to two "memoranda of understanding." Under the terms of the agreements, Vietnam will work to prevent intellectual property theft (more than 90 percent of software used in Vietnam is pirated) and remove barriers that prevent donations of used computers to Vietnamese schools. For its part, Microsoft has agreed to help train Vietnamese technology companies and teachers.
"Our success in the future will be a tribute to you, Mr. Bill Gates," Khai said. "We'll be able to reach new highs in information technology and software development." Khai invited Gates to visit Vietnam, and Gates said that Microsoft will "rededicate" its commitment to Vietnam, a country in which the company currently employees just 10 people.
Khai is visiting the United States as part of a bid for Vietnam's admittance into the World Trade Organization (WTO). But hundreds of protesters rallied in Seattle yesterday to draw attention to Vietnam's dubious human rights record. After Seattle, Khai will visit Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., where he plans to meet with President George W. Bush. He's expected to be greeted by protesters in each city.