Confronted with nearly 600 protesters upset over a proposal to join Irvine in "friendship" with city of Nha Trang in Vietnam, Irvine City Council members Tuesday night voted to revise their rules for choosing cities to be friends with.
After more than five hours of debate, the council voted 3 to 2 to draw up new criteria for forming "friendship city" ties. The new rules would exclude municipalities in countries that do not respect human rights or democratic values.
They also chose not to enter into "friendship city" relationships with Karachi, Pakistan, or Baoji, China.
The proposal to join with Nha Trang, on the coast of Vietnam, was withdrawn by Councilman Larry Agran this month after an uproar from many in the Vietnamese community who viewed the idea as an insult.
Despite Agran's withdrawal, hundreds of protesters rode buses from Westminster and Garden Grove, home to the largest Vietnamese community in the U.S., to show their opposition to the idea.
"Shame on you, Mr. Agran, for not thinking twice," said Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen. She cited data from the United Nations Children's Fund identifying Vietnam as one of the worst violators of human rights - and Nha Trang as a hot spot for human trafficking and child labor violations.
"Please do not suggest Vietnamese cities until Vietnam is a democracy," added Lana Tran, a 13-year Irvine resident.
For those who don't grasp how oppressive the government of Vietnam is, think of North Korea, said Lan Q. Nguyen, board member of the Garden Grove Unified School District. In North Korea, as in his homeland, he said, "if anyone speaks, like I am here, I would spend the rest of my life in prison."
Agran listened silently, later defending himself. At his own expense, he said, he went to Vietnam in the late 1980s, carrying information from five immigrant families separated from their loved ones,. He and his delegation met with many officials, seeking help. Fourteen months after his mission, all five families were reunited.
He said he wondered if reunification might have happened sooner if he had better Vietnam contacts. "Little efforts are worth pursuing toward incremental movement to try and bring about democracy," he added.
City Council members could revisit their friendship city program as early as June.
Do writes for the Los Angeles Times.