HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam —
"A commitment to an open Internet, to a more open society, to the rights of people to be able to exchange their ideas, to 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 ideas, all of these things create a more vibrant and a more powerful economy, as well as a society," Kerry said.
"It strengthens a country, it doesn't weaken it," Kerry said. "The United States urges leaders here to embrace that possibility and to protect those rights."
He made the comments after attending Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, built in the 1880s and 1890s under French colonial rule, in a bid to show support for the tenuous freedom of worship in Vietnam. Vietnamese authorities have been criticized for harassing, prosecuting and jailing Catholic clergy.
On Sunday, he planned to go to the Mekong River delta region, where he commanded a swift patrol boat in 1968 and 1969. Kerry's schedule included a riverboat cruise along waters that were his old haunts. He intended to inspect agriculture projects that are a mainstay of southern Vietnam's economy and assess the impact of upstream development and climate change.
In later talks with Vietnamese officials in Hanoi, Kerry was expected to make the case that respect for human rights, particularly freedom of speech and religion, is essential to improved relations with the United States. He also was expected to raise the issue of political prisoners whom the United States would like to see released.
The chief focus of the discussions, however, was expected to maritime security and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Vietnam and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are deeply concerned about China's growing assertiveness. They are looking to the United States to serve as a counterbalance by stepping up its traditional role as a guarantor of security in the Asia-Pacific.