Prominent Vietnamese-American chief executives in Silicon Valley engaged a Vietnamese delegation of government officials at a rare gathering Monday, a further sign of the thawing relationship between the communist government and the Vietnamese community in the United States.
The private conference, organized by the business group Vietnamese Silicon Valley Network, included an unusually frank conversation with entrepreneurs over their concerns about setting up shop in Vietnam. The executives also offered advice to the delegation, which included Vietnam's Vice Minister of Science and Technology, about how the country can develop its high-tech industry.
``It helped for the Vietnamese delegation to hear our concerns,'' said Thanh Nguyen, founder of Paramit, an electronics manufacturing services company with nearly 300 employees. ``I think we all want to help Vietnam. But we also have reservations.''
The delegation, which toured a Silicon Valley incubator and met with venture capitalists before the event, is part of the entourage accompanying Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai's historic visit to the United States. Khai's entourage includes some 200 delegates, some of which have peeled off for road shows to entice more investment in Vietnam, particularly by overseas Vietnamese.
Monday's group flew to Silicon Valley from Boston expressly for the event, hoping to glean lessons from Silicon Valley that can be implemented in Vietnam.
``We are here to listen and learn,'' said Thang Q. Tran, the vice minister of science and technology in an interview with the Mercury News. ``We want to learn from the examples of Silicon Valley as well as listen to the suggestions and concerns of Vietnamese-Americans in the high tech arena.''
The entrepreneurs expressed concern over the lack of a legal framework in Vietnam to protect businesses and intellectual property rights, and to enforce the central government's policies at the local level. They also suggested the government could boost the high-tech sector by offering more training and entrepreneurship programs.
The country is constructing two high-tech parks and pitched them to the group of 20 Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The government has stepped up its embrace of overseas Vietnamese and their investment dollars in the last few years, against the backdrop of the United States and Vietnam signing a bilateral trade agreement in 2000. The United States is now Vietnam's largest trading partner, with $6.1 billion of trade between the two nations last year.
``We'd like the help and cooperation of Vietnamese living in the United States and overseas, especially those in Silicon Valley, to help develop the country's economy,'' said Tran, adding that the country would like to see more knowledge transfer from overseas Vietnamese in the high-tech, sciences, biotechnology and manufacturing sectors.
Khai's trip has been met with protests by Vietnamese-Americans, mostly an older generation that opposes U.S. cooperation with Vietnam until the communist country is transformed into a democratic state. More than 100 Vietnamese-Americans, some dressed in military fatigues and waving the flag of the former South Vietnamese government, protested at a Friday conference in San Francisco with a group of Vietnamese delegates hosted by California-Asia Business Council.
On Monday, the conversation was strictly business -- and free of protests. Most of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs present were establishing ventures in Vietnam or scoping out opportunities.
Hien Duc Cung, chief executive of Advantek in Palo Alto, wants to set up a high-tech training program in Vietnam. He was looking forward to meeting the ``brain trust of the Vietnamese scientific community,'' and seeing what they could offer.
Quinn Tran, founder of software firm KnowledgeTek, was part of President Bill Clinton's delegation to Vietnam five years ago. There was a marked difference in the delegation's willingness to listen to the entrepreneurs' concerns than in other interactions she's had with the government, she said.
The delegation ended the gathering with an open invitation to the group as well as other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to a guided business exploratory tour of Vietnam by the Ministry.
Added Tran: ``I certainly feel there's more of an openness and willingness and embrace of Viet-Americans by the government.''