Critics Pile on Vietnam Government in Rare Debate
By CHRIS BRUMMITT Associated Press Mar 1, 2013, 1:51 AM


Vietnam’s leaders sought to boost their flagging legitimacy by asking the public for suggestions on constitutional reform. What they got instead was rare open criticism of one-party rule, a fired journalist turned poster boy for dissent, and another lesson on how the Internet has changed the rules of governance.

The flurry of criticism has put Communist Party chiefs on the defensive, upping the pressure on them amid widespread discontent over high-level corruption and a stuttering economy. Those behind the outpouring — a grouping of intellectuals and former officials — say they have no intention of shutting up.

“Many of our fellow countrymen and soldiers have sacrificed themselves to build this current regime,” said Le Hieu Dang, former vice chairman of a Communist Party-run organization in Ho Chi Minh City. “Going against the rights of the people can’t be tolerated after the blood that has been shed.”

Dang and 71 others released their own proposed constitution on the Internet in response to the government’s request for public comments on its draft. They also handed a copy to the committee in charge of revising the constitution, which is being amended for the first time in 20 years.

Their version removes Article 4 — which stipulates that the Communist Party is the sole political force in the country — and calls for other things anathema to ruling officials such as free elections and free media. It spread quickly on blogs in a country where more than one-third of the 87 million people are online, sparking more debate.

The head of the committee revising the constitution said they had gone too far.

“Abusing the garnering of ideas on the revised constitution to propagandize and lobby for the people to oppose the party and the government … must be resolutely prevented,” Nguyen Sinh Hung said in a meeting shown on state-owned television Wednesday night.

The government asked for suggestions on the proposed constitution revision in January, saying people would have three months to do so and opening up a comments page on its website. The 72 petitioners used the opportunity to test the limits of the government’s willingness to debate. More than 6,000 people have since stated their support for the group’s version online.

“We need to have open discussions. Why are their ideas published in the state media, but not ours?” Dang said by telephone from Ho Chi Minh City. “We use the Internet.”

Vietnam opened up its economy in the 1990s, but retains a closed political system that rarely allows dissent. Long prison sentences are common for dissidents. The Internet has opened up new avenues for those who oppose the government, or discuss alternative ways of governance. Within the party there are also tensions between the old guard and progressives. They too find their way onto blogs.

On Tuesday, journalist Nguyen Dac Kien was fired by his state-run newspaper after he blogged about an attack by the Communist Party chief on those calling for greater constitutional reforms. It’s made Kien into something of a hero for those who oppose the government.

While the government’s grip on power is secure for now, the flowering of open political discussion could deepen a sense of crisis within the ruling elite.

“The party leadership has lost control over the discussion. Like it or not, there is in Vietnam a debate on the constitution, with even longtime party members weighing,” said Jonathan D. London, a Vietnam expert at the City University of Hong Kong. “Bottling it up at this point will be no easy task.”

The government is revising the constitution for the first time since 1992, citing the need to speed up the country’s development.

The most significant change in the draft on the government’s website is the removal of a stipulation that the state sector “plays the leading” role in the national economy. That suggests that the government may dismantle corruption-riddled and unproductive state-owned enterprises that eat up much of the national budget and have been blamed for the current economic difficulties.

ABC News


Washington Post – Opinions

The Post’s View

In Vietnam, muzzled voices

VIETNAM HAS become a rapidly growing Asian economy, but on human rights and political freedom it remains a backwater of repression. On Wednesday, a court convicted 14 democracy activists, many of them bloggers, on flimsy charges of subversion. Thirteen got prison sentences from three to 13 years, and one got a suspended sentence. But the trial’s larger verdict was this: Vietnam’s rulers are guilty of irrational fear of free expression, pluralism and the digital revolution.The 14 defendants, detained more than a year ago, were charged after attending a training course in Bangkok held by the Viet Tan organization, which led a resistance movement against the Vietnamese Communist government in the 1980s but in recent years has worked for peaceful political reform, democracy and human rights. Viet Tan, based in the United States, is outlawed in Vietnam. Association with Viet Tan may not be the only thing that got the bloggers in trouble. Twelve of those charged are Catholics, and, according to Human Rights Watch, many of them are affiliated with two Redemptorist churches known for strongly backing dissidents, bloggers, and other religious and rights activists. The Redemptorists are a Catholic missionary organization, active worldwide.What did these bloggers and activists do? They participated in building civil society: encouraging women not to have abortions, helping the poor, aiding the disabled, protecting the environment and standing up for workers’ rights. Some were also involved in peaceful protests about Vietnam’s territorial disputes with China over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which the government considers extremely sensitive. Some bloggers also called for freedom of expression and spoke out for creation of a multiparty political system.In a separate case, Vietnamese authorities have lodged charges against prominent dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who has often spoken out on a blog about rule of law and human rights issues. On Dec. 18 he published a piece that questioned the wisdom of an article in a new draft constitution that enshrines the leading role of the Communist Party. He was arrested Dec. 27.

They are all victims of a one-party state that ruthlessly stamps out dissent. The trial and conviction of the bloggers was the largest single crackdown in recent years but not the first. In the past decade, Human Rights Watch reported, hundreds of peaceful activists have been imprisoned. The government exerts strict control over the Internet and media. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung declared in a New Year’s message that “we are regularly challenged by conspiracies to spark sociopolitical instability and violate our national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” These are words of paranoia and insecurity.

In recent years, the United States and Vietnam have been growing closer in economic and other ties, but human rights remains a stumbling block. The United States deplored the latest arrests as “deeply troubling” and “inconsistent” with Vietnam’s international obligations. But it will take more than that to persuade Vietnam’s leaders to change their repressive practices.

By ,

Jan 12, 2013 11:09 PM EST


Washington Post – Opinions

The U.S. shouldn’t sell out human rights in Vietnam 

By Allen S. Weiner, Published: August 26The Washington Post

Allen S. Weiner is a senior lecturer in law at Stanford Law School, where he serves as director of the Program in International and Comparative Law. He has filed a petition with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention challenging the legality of the arrest and detention of 17 Vietnamese activists last year.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Hanoi last month that the United States would sign a new regional trade agreement, the ­Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Vietnam by year’s end. Vietnam’s desire to promote economic development through expanded trade is understandable, and U.S. interest in supporting Vietnam’s economic advancement is commendable. But even as Vietnam seeks to move forward economically, its political system remains mired in a repressive and authoritarian past. Indeed, Clinton’s announcement came shortly before the one-year anniversary of the first stage of the Vietnamese government’s detention of activists whose “crime” has been to advocate governmental action on a broad range of human rights and social justice issues, including environmental, health, legal, political, land and corruption-based concerns. More than a year later, almost all remain in detention; one is under house arrest. Real progress in Vietnam will come only when political reform and respect for the rule of law accompany economic progress.

Over the past year, the Vietnamese government has arrested members of an informal network of social and political activists. The detainees are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Redemptorist Church in Vietnam — a reflection of the pattern of discrimination against religious minorities in that country. Eleven of the petitioners are accused of being members of Viet Tan, a Vietnamese pro-democracy party. The detainees have endured a range of human rights abuses, including violations of their fundamental rights of expression, assembly and association. In addition, the arrests and detentions of these activists violate their rights to due process and fair trials guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international legal agreements; violations of international standards include warrantless arrests and lengthy pretrial detentions without the filing of charges. After their arrest, the detainees were held incommunicado for months. Some were even convicted through “trials” at which they were not allowed a lawyer. Today, most of these petitioners are languishing in jail without outside contact or basic knowledge as to why they were arrested and are being held. They have had limited access to family members, or in some cases, no contact with relatives at all.

In keeping with a growing pattern of such human rights abuses by the Vietnamese government, these activists were arrested for violating criminal laws that ban “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” the “undermining of national unity” and participating in “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

The detainees are all online journalists, bloggers or others who have participated in training activities related to citizen journalism. They have written blog posts, signed petitions and joined nonviolent protests related to a range of issues, including calls for multiparty democracy and opposition to large-scale bauxite mining projects that would cause irreparable environmental damage and displace local residents. In short, they are engaged in legitimate forms of political expression.

Such political expression is protected under international human rights law and under Vietnam’s Constitution, which provides in Article 53 that citizens “have the right to take part in managing the State and society, in debating on general issues of the whole country or of the locality.” Article 69 of the Vietnamese Constitution holds that citizens “are entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of the press” and have “the right of assembly, association and demonstration in accordance with the law.” Instead of protecting these rights, however, the Vietnamese government has been using the law to prohibit basic freedom of speech, assembly and association.

To her credit, Clinton raised concerns about Vietnam’s human rights record during her recent trip, including the detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers whose only crime is the peaceful expression of ideas. “I know there are some who argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first and worry about political reform and democracy later, but that is a short-sided bargain,” she said.

The United States must go beyond a rhetorical defense of human rights in Vietnam. Our country should not contribute to the “short-sided bargain” Clinton warned of by promoting deeper commercial ties without simultaneously insisting that Vietnam honor its international human rights obligations. U.S. officials should demand that Vietnam can start by releasing the activists arrested last year and others who have been detained solely for seeking a voice in their country’s future. The United States should not reward Vietnam by including it in the Trans-Pacific Partnership while the government in Hanoi uses its legal systems to stifle dissent and perpetrate human rights abuses.

Vietnam looking to play pivotal role with both China and US
Global Times | July 24, 2012 20:00 By Carlyle A. Thayer
Illustration: Sun Ying
Illustration: Sun Ying

No analyst residing in a country that has gone to war with Vietnam can doubt Hanoi’s commitment to maintaining its own independence. Vietnam has also learned from history that too much reliance on a major power can have negative consequences.

This historical backdrop is a necessary reminder to readers that Vietnam is not aligning with the US to oppose China. Since 1991 Vietnam has pursued a foreign policy to diversify and multilateralize its relations and become a reliable partner to all countries. This has been a success. Vietnam was the Asia’s bloc unanimous choice as its representative for a seat on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member and it has entered into strategic partnerships with Russia, Japan, India, China, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and Germany.

Vietnam seeks to be the pivot in relations with China and the US. In other words, Vietnam seeks to develop comprehensive ties with each and make each bilateral relationship important in its own right. As pivot, Vietnam wants China and the US to accept Vietnam as a reliable partner. Vietnam wants to shape its relations with both so it does not have to ally with one side against the other.

In 2003, Vietnam’s Communist Party adopted the terms “to cooperate” and “to struggle” to guide its relations with both China and the US. This formulation overcame an apparent contradiction in Vietnamese ideological thinking: how to explain friction and conflict with socialist China and how to explain areas of common interests with the “imperialist” US. Vietnam decided to cooperate with both but to struggle when Vietnam’s core interests are challenged.

The US has announced a policy of rebalancing its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Some Chinese and regional analysts have concluded that the US is attempting to contain China. As part of its rebalancing policy, the US has sought to upgrade its defense relations with Vietnam. Vietnam has been receptive but only up to a point. For example, for the past three years Vietnam and the US have conducted joint naval activities, but these are not military exercises involving the exchange of combat skills.

The best way to view US-Vietnam defense relations is to compare them with China’s defense relations with Vietnam. Vietnam exchanges high-level visits with both countries. Vietnam conducts strategic dialogues with both countries and recently raised the level to that of deputy defense minister with both countries. Vietnam permits all countries to make naval port visits, but restricts this to one visit a year, including the US. In 2010, for example, the USS John S. McCain destroyer visited the Da Nang Port, several months later one of China’s most modern guided missile frigates also called in.

The US would like greater access to Vietnam. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made that clear during his recent visit to Cam Ranh Bay. But it is highly unlikely that US warships will visit that port soon. Vietnam has opened the commercial repair facilities at Cam Ranh to all navies. The US is the first to take up this offer by sending three military sealift command ships for minor repairs. These ships are logistic vessels, not warships, and are crewed by civilians.

Vietnam’s 2009 white paper on national defense outlines its policy of maintaining independence. I have dubbed this policy “the three no’s:” no foreign bases on Vietnamese territory, no military alliances, and no use of a third country to oppose another country. The US may want to increase navy access to Vietnam but Hanoi will resist a US naval presence to protect its independence.

In 2009, tensions rose in the South China Sea, Vietnam responded by signaling that they supported a US navy presence to counterbalance China. Vietnam demonstrated this in a symbolic way by flying out to US aircraft carriers to observe flight operations. In other words, Vietnam was playing the role of a pivot. It enhanced its cooperation with the US, but did not align with the US to confront China.

Finally, there is another reason why Vietnam will impose limits on its defense relations with the US. An editorial by the Global Times on July 11 captures this point nicely. It states, “Hanoi is counting on China to vindicate its political choices [following the path of China, realizing rapid development by taking the road of gradual reform], but also wants to counter China by leveraging US power.” The commentary notes that Vietnam has to strike a balance between its external relations and domestic political forces.

There are many political leaders in Vietnam who fear that the US has the ultimate objective of regime change through peaceful evolution. Vietnamese leaders are not of one mind on this issue and Vietnam often pursues contradictory policies. For example, Vietnam lobbies the US to remove restrictions on arms sales while repressing bloggers at the same time even though the US has set human rights pre-conditions on arms sales.

In conclusion, the solution to Vietnam’s dilemma, is not, as the Global Times’ editorial advocates, “to coordinate with China to limit the US pivot to Asia,” but to maintain Vietnam’s independence by acting as the pivot between China and the US.

The author is an emeritus professor with the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.


China fishing boats, warships drop anchor off Pag-Asa


8:54 pm | Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 <!

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—At least 10 Chinese fishing vessels escorted by warships have anchored off the Philippine-occupied island of Pag-Asa in the contested Spratlys area, according to a highly placed source in the military.

The source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter, said the military has identified at least two frigates of the People’s Liberation Army  and several armed maritime vessels among the large flotilla of Chinese vessels has crowded the waters separating the eastern side of Pag-Asa Island and the Vietnamese-occupied island Southwest Cay.

The Western Command has declined to officially comment on the report, with spokesman Lt. Col. Neil Estrella stating that only the Department of Foreign Affairs may confirm or deny it.

The armed fishing fleet, according to the source, arrived in the area on Tuesday and was estimated to be some five nautical miles away from Pag-Asa and was clearly observed from the Philippine-occupied island, which is guarded by a small contingent of naval personnel.

Pag-Asa Island, with a land area of 32.7 hectares, has been occupied by the Philippines since the early 70s and is the seat of government of the country’s smallest municipality of Kalayaan.

Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bitoonon confirmed the Chinese presence near the island but denied that the fishing boats were escorted by armed frigates.

“Our staff have been observing their movements since last week. What we know is that those Chinese armed vessels were merely passing through on their way to Subi Reef. I don’t think they are staying put there,” Bitoonon told the Inquirer by phone on Wednesday.

Bitoonon said the municipal government of Kalayaan was more concerned about the “illegal fishing” activities of the Chinese fleet.

“They are there not primarily to fish. We think they are mainly engaged in coral mining, which is a more lucrative business in Hainan,” Bitoonon said.

He said that the corals are used by the Chinese as main ingredient for some type of marine glue used in shipbuilding. He said in the last two weeks, they have counted at least 12 Chinese “sampans” gathering corals in the area.

Bitoonon also noted that the Chinese fishing fleet was  nearer Pag-Asa and was keeping away from the Vietnamese occupied Southwest Cay because the Vietnamese have a cannon fortification on their side of the island.

“They (Chinese) prefer to anchor near Pag-Asa because they are not safe on the other side where the Vietnamese have large cannons pointed toward the sea,” he said.


China dubs tiny island new city in sea claim bid

Associated PressBy ALEXA OLESEN | Associated Press

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, representatives cast their votes in the first session of the first Sansha Municipal People's Congress held on Yongxing Island, the government seat of Sansha City in south China's Hainan province Monday, July 23, 2012. China has rolled out the red carpet for its newest city, on a small, remote island in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Vietnam. Beijing on Tuesday, July 24, formally established the city of Sansha to bolster its claim on the sea's oil and gas-rich waters. The move is likely to anger China's neighbors and competing claimants in a dispute that has at times led to maritime standoffs. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Hou Jiansen) NO SALES

In this photo released by China’s …

In this Monday, July 23, 2012 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Xiao Jie, the first mayor of the newly established Sansha city, speaks in the first session of the first Sansha Municipal People's Congress held on Yongxing Island in south China's Hainan province. China has rolled out the red carpet for its newest city, on a small, remote island in the South China Sea that is also claimed by Vietnam. Beijing on Tuesday, July 24, formally established the city of Sansha to bolster its claim on the sea's oil and gas-rich waters. The move is likely to anger China's neighbors and competing claimants in a dispute that has at times led to maritime standoffs. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Hou Jiansen) NO SALES

In this Monday, July 23, 2012 photo …

BEIJING (AP) — China’s newest city is a tiny and remote island in the South China Sea, barely large enough to host a single airstrip. There is a post office, bank, supermarket and a hospital, but little else. Fresh water comes by freighter on a 13-hour journey from China’s southernmost province.

Welcome to Sansha, China’s expanding toehold in the world’s most disputed waters, portions of which are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbors. On Tuesday, as blustery island winds buffeted palm trees, a new mayor declared Sansha with a population of just 1,000 China’s newest municipality.

Beijing has created the city administration to oversee not only the rugged outpost but hundreds of thousands of square kilometers (miles) of water, aiming to strengthen its control over disputed — and potentially oil-rich — islands.

A spokesman for the Philippines Foreign Ministry said Manila did not recognize the city or its jurisdiction. Vietnam said China’s actions violated international law.

The city administration is on tiny Yongxing island, 350 kilometers (220 miles) southeast from China’s tropical Hainan Island. The Cabinet approved Sansha last month to “consolidate administration” over the Paracel and Spratly island chains and the Macclesfield Bank, a large, completely submerged atoll that boasts rich fishing grounds that is also claimed by Taiwan and the Philippines.

Vietnam and China both claim the Paracels, of which Yongxing, little more than half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, is part. The two countries along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim all or parts of the Spratlys.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and its island groups, and its disputes occasionally erupt into open confrontation. The islands, many of them occupied by garrisons from the various claimants, sit amid some of the world’s busiest commercial sea lanes, along with rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits. China has approved the formal establishment of a military garrison for Sansha, though specific details have yet to be released.

Official broadcaster China Central Television aired Tuesday morning’s formal establishment ceremony live from Sansha, with speeches from the city’s new mayor and other officials.

The Chinese flag was raised and national anthem played before plaques for the Sansha Municipal Government and the Sansha Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China were unveiled on a white-columned government building.

Mayor Xiao Jie trumpeted Sansha’s important role in protecting China’s sovereignty. He said the designation of Sansha as a new city was “a wise decision made by the party and the government of China to protect the sovereign rights of China, and to strengthen the protection and the development of natural resources.”

The official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier that Sansha’s jurisdiction covers just 13 sq. kilometers (5 sq. miles) of land, including other islands and atolls in the South China Sea around Yongxing, but 2 million sq. kilometers (770,000 sq. miles) of surrounding waters.

Sansha means “three sandbanks” in Mandarin and appears to refer to the Chinese names for the disputed island chains and atoll, known in Chinese as the West, South and Middle Banks, or Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha.

A description from a former People’s Liberation Army officer who was among the officials overseeing the island before Sansha was established paints a picture of a harsh and isolated post where officials took turns staffing for a month at a time. Though, he said fishermen live there all year round.

“The living conditions are pretty simple,” Tan Xiankun, director of the office in Hainan overseeing Xisha and other South China Sea territories, told The Associated Press in 2010. “It’s very humid and hot, more than 30 degrees, and there’s salt everywhere. There’s no fresh water, except for what’s shipped in and what’s collected from rain water.”

Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said Manila has expressed its concern and registered a strong protest with Beijing over the decision to set up a military garrison on Sansha.

“The Philippines does not recognize the Sansha city and the extent of its jurisdiction and considers recent measures taken by China as unacceptable,” Hernandez told a news conference.

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said in a statement that Vietnam had protested to the Chinese foreign ministry.

“China’s establishment of the so-called ‘Sansha City’ … violated international law, seriously violating Vietnam sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes,” Nghi said.

A report released Tuesday by the International Crisis Group think tank said that although China’s large claim to the South China Sea and its assertive approach has rattled other claimants, Beijing is “not stoking tensions on its own.”

“South East Asian claimants, with Vietnam and the Philippines in the forefront, are now more forcefully defending their claims — and enlisting outside allies — with considerable energy,” it said, a reference to Washington’s move to influence the Asian balance of power by supporting China’s neighbors.

The report also warned that the risk of escalation was high and urged claimants to find ways to jointly manage energy resources and fishing areas while also agreeing on a mechanism for handling incidents.

“In the absence of such a mechanism, tensions in the South China Sea could all too easily be driven to irreversible levels,” it said.


Associated Press writer Charles Hutzler in Beijing, Jim Gomez in Manila and Tran Van Minh in Hanoi contributed to this report.


25 Most Influential Asian Americans in Georgia Honored with Awards Banquet

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