During his 1992 presidential campaign, then Governor Clinton promised to receive a "full accounting" of our POW/MIAs (Prisoners of War/Missing in Action) from Vietnam. At the time, the United States did not have normalized trade relations with Vietnam; they were still under sanctions.1 Then Governor Clinton assured Americans that he would remain firm against our former enemies, until such time as they answered the questions of families who had "never forgotten" their lost loved ones.
Riady was interested in increasing his business holdings in Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. His desire to expand his empire in Vietnam was reflected in a March 9, 1993 four-page letter to President Clinton.2
On April 19, 1993, while the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas was under siege, the President held his fifth meeting that week with Riady and John Huang, then a senior executive with the Lippo Group. Reportedly, they discussed foreign policy.3 Riady continued to visit the White House, bring foreign dignitaries to meet the President, and arrange trips for White House and Administration personnel abroad.4
In September of 1993, Riady led a trade mission of Asian bankers to Vietnam, later establishing offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.5 The only thing standing in his way was the status of U.S. trade relations with Vietnam.
On February 4, 1994, Mr. Clinton lifted the 30-year embargo on Vietnam, but did not normalize trading.6 Nevertheless, Riady enjoyed significant windfalls because of his early involvement.7
According to Commerce Department records, from the moment of his arrival at Commerce, John Huang launched a vigorous internal campaign to influence foreign trade policies with Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. On July 19, 1994, he scheduled a 9 a.m. meeting on "U.S.-Vietnam policy."8 "According to his personal appointment calendars Huang met several times with White House officials, key friends and associates of Mr. Clinton, international bankers, and corporate executives to discuss an expansion of trade ties with Vietnam ."9
Congress eventually "sought clarification on Vietnam policy meetings called by Mr. Huang" and "on Lippo efforts to end the embargo at a time when it was moving its $6.9 billion real estate and investment empire into Vietnam."10
Meanwhile, Riady set up a business deal potentially worth several million dollars; however, he still needed trade relations normalized. "By early 1995, the firm had put together a joint marketing venture with First Union Corp. of North Carolina to finance trade efforts in Southeast Asia."11
In July of 1995, President Clinton fully normalized relations with Vietnam.12 Riady, his partners, and his Chinese connections enjoyed huge financial rewards.
The POW/MIAs still remain unaccounted for and Clintons "promise" was forgotten.