Viewing cable 04HANOI535

04HANOI5352004-02-25 06:59:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Hanoi
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: 03 Hanoi 3350 
¶1.  (SBU)  Summary: During a recent seminar on Vietnam's 
national security, younger generation officials from a range 
of GVN agencies and the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) 
variously commented that: China and the U.S. both represent 
serious, but completely different threats for Vietnam's 
future; September 11 changed the world's perspective on 
terrorism and international security; the U.S. war on terror 
should be supported as long as it does not become a pretext 
for other unrelated actions; the war in Iraq might have been 
mostly a U.S. oil-grab (although some felt the U.S. action 
was necessary);  drugs and corruption seriously threaten 
Vietnam's internal security; and Burma represents an urgent 
challenge for ASEAN.  The opinions of the participants, 
while not necessarily indicative of official GVN policy, at 
least illustrate the thinking of some up-and-coming figures 
in Vietnam's security and foreign policy agencies.  End 
¶2. (SBU) The Institute for International Relations of the 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) recently organized a six- 
week seminar, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, for thirty 
younger Vietnamese officials to examine various security 
issues; unusually, IIR agreed to invite POL FSN to 
participate as well.  The course was designed to introduce 
the students to the questions that receive attention on the 
international security agenda, and to examine how these 
issues affect regional and national security.  Most of the 
students were in their late twenties, with approximately 
five years of professional experience, and they came from a 
wide range of government ministries and agencies, including 
MFA, Defense (MOD), Trade (MOT), Interior (MOI), the CPV's 
Commission for External Relations and its Ho Chi Minh 
Political Academy, Vietnam News Agency (VNA), the Voice of 
Vietnam, the Office of the National Assembly, the Prime 
Minister's Office, and the North American Studies Center. 
¶3.  (SBU) Participants generally agreed that Vietnam views 
both China and the U.S. as "superpower" threats; the China 
threat is to Vietnam's immediate physical security and 
integrity while the U.S. threat is to Vietnam's political 
system.  An MFA participant noted that China had always 
maintained a "two-sided" policy with Vietnam; Vietnam needs 
to exercise "absolute caution" towards China and work out 
contingency plans for countermeasures in the face of a 
potential action.  He noted the difference between words and 
actions in China's Vietnam policy; despite statements 
encouraging Vietnam's development, China had tried to 
restrain Vietnam's economic and military power out of "fear" 
of Vietnam's increased ability to occupy more islands in the 
Spratlys.  Many agreed that it was "very difficult" for 
Vietnam to speak ill of a big neighbor such as China, and 
that Vietnam should instead "pretend" hat Vietnam and China 
were close friends.  They felt that openly expressing 
Vietnam's distrust of China would be a mistake. 
¶4.  (SBU) China had agreed to resolve issues related to the 
East Sea via peaceful means, one MFA participant further 
noted, while continuing "a policy of "nibbling" or 
"erosion," i.e., steadily occupying small pieces of 
territory in the Spratlys.  China had publicly committed to 
resolve the issue multilaterally, but still acted 
unilaterally, he asserted.  Many participants agreed that 
China was "unpredictable."  Some labeled China's tactics on 
border and territorial issues as an "aim east, hit west" 
policy -- using diversions to convince an opponent to defend 
against attacks in the wrong place, or acting opposite to 
specifically stated intentions.  One example was China's 
military and oil exploration activities in the Tu Chinh and 
Dai Hung areas, despite China's explicit statements of 
preference for joint exploration and the maintenance of the 
status quo.  Military modernization was therefore important 
for Vietnam, a MOD participant said, including a need to 
strengthen Vietnam's military and naval counterattack 
¶5.  (SBU) Several course participants noted that the U.S. 
represented a long-term threat to Vietnam's political 
system, especially via "peaceful evolution," citing the 
Montagnards in the Central Highlands, the Protestants in the 
Northwest, and the possible establishment of an independent 
state by the Cham as alleged tactics supported by the 
Americans.  Fear of "peaceful evolution" led the GVN to levy 
harsher punishment on political activists than on criminals, 
noted an MOI participant, pointing to heavy sentences in 
2003 on Pham Hong Son and Nguyen Vu Binh for "espionage." 
¶6.  (SBU) There was a consensus that 9/11 was a turning 
point not only for U.S. foreign policy but also in creating 
a "profound change" in overall views on terrorism. 
Participants noted that countries in Southeast Asia now pay 
more attention to terrorism, especially after the Bali 
bombing and in light of the presence of terrorists in the 
Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. 
¶7. (SBU) Vietnam supported the U.S.-initiated war against 
terrorism, one MFA participant confirmed, and had cooperated 
with the U.S. in maintaining terrorist watchlists as well as 
in monitoring possible assets and bank accounts of terrorist 
suspects.   Vietnam had also established a counter-terrorism 
department in the Ministry of Public Security, noted one 
participant.  However, Vietnam would not be supportive of 
the war on terrorism if it were a pretext to "wage other 
types of wars" or if the suspects were not "truly" 
terrorists, said a participant from the Prime Minister's 
¶8.  (SBU) Participants asserted that Iraq is now a "rubbish 
bin" or a "fertile land" for other countries to "use 
freely."  However, opinions were varied and heated regarding 
the Iraq war and the U.S. leadership of the war.  Some 
opined that the U.S. went to war based on a "mistake," 
others that the real purpose was to capture Iraqi oil, and a 
few others that the war was justified, based on the cruelty 
of the Saddam regime and the potential threat to other 
states in the region.  One MFA participant said that the 
U.S. and coalition troops should immediately leave Iraq. 
Another participant from VNA claimed that the U.S. had 
"always" wanted to control the oil resources in the Middle 
East and the Gulf, as in the 1991 Gulf War; the U.S. would 
"never" be able to keep its hands off this oil-rich area, he 
¶9.  (SBU) Others were more favorable on the war in Iraq. 
According to an MOI participant, the GVN did not support the 
Iraq war but did not "like" the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, 
either.  The U.S. had assumed a "heavy" duty in resolving 
international issues like Iraq, and should remain in Iraq 
until order, stability, and security were restored and an 
interim government established, another said.  Participants 
commented that if the U.S. did not intervene in the Middle 
East, the world would blame the U.S. for not taking the 
leading role.  No other country but the U.S. was in a 
position to resolve an issue as complicated as Iraq, another 
participant argued. 
¶10. (SBU) All participants agreed that the DPRK's acceptance 
of six-party talks in Beijing was a positive step. 
According to an MOD participant, the role of the U.S. and 
China in moving the talks forward was essential. 
Some participants argued that the U.S. should lift sanctions 
before the DPRK bowed to any further U.S. requests.  Others 
felt the U.S. should pledge an aid package first before 
"demanding" anything from the DPRK.  However, an MFA 
participant argued that the DPRK should allow UN inspectors 
in first before receiving assistance.  He emphasized that 
Vietnam does not support the DPRK's possession of nuclear 
weapons and seeks a peaceful resolution to the issue. 
¶11.  (SBU) Participants agreed that drug trafficking and 
abuse were serious problems that cost Vietnam "tremendously 
in all aspects."   A participant from the Ministry of Labor, 
Invalids, and Social Affairs noted that Vietnam now 
officially has 127,000 registered addicts (while the actual 
figure could be many times higher) and that the GVN spends 
approximately USD 400 per addict per year.  Recidivism is 
found in ninety-nine percent of the addict population, he 
noted.  (Note: these numbers track with those in the 
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for Vietnam 
-- reftel.  End note.)  Most of the participants recommended 
enhancing international cooperation because the narcotics 
problem exceeds Vietnam's ability to confront it alone. 
¶12.  (SBU) An MOI participant called the fight against 
corruption in Vietnam "similar to repairing a collapsing 
house."  In fact, "the entire house now needs replacing," 
and it cannot be done piece by piece, he admitted.  Some 
participants pointed out that officials have low salaries 
and hence low living standards, making corruption 
"unavoidable" in many cases.  According to another MOI 
participant, "many billions" of Vietnamese dong are lost due 
to corruption each year. 
¶13.  (SBU) Many participants agreed that international NGOs 
helped Vietnam's development, functioning as "bridges" 
between central and local authorities, helping the voices of 
the local people be heard, and enhancing grass-roots 
democracy.  However, one participant claimed that some NGOs 
are engaged in long-term efforts to "destabilize" the 
country, using "assistance" to plan anti-government 
¶14.  (SBU)  One MFA participant criticized the 
"ineffectiveness" of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), 
although he faced differing opinions on this from the rest 
of the class.  ASEAN needs another "baby" to replace the 
"malfunctioning" ARF, he stated.  Other participants 
advanced the opinion that ASEAN needed the current ARF 
mechanism for the sake of stability and order.  Some opined 
that ASEAN should expel Burma since it does not abide by the 
basic principles of the organization.  The group agreed that 
China, like the U.S., Russia, and Japan, was now a new 
source of external influence over ASEAN in general, and 
especially on Burma.  This worried ASEAN members, including 
Vietnam, said participants.  Others disagreed with expelling 
Burma, citing fears of the potential problems Burma could 
cause as a non-ASEAN member.  According to an MFA 
participant, Burma was looking to China for assistance, 
which posed a challenge to ASEAN since Burma might act 
unexpectedly and could decide it did not need ASEAN.  ASEAN 
needed to do whatever it could to try to keep Burma away 
from China's influence and help it integrate better into the 
organization, said an MFA participant. 
¶15. (SBU) In the future, the major regional powers in 
Southeast Asia would include Thailand, Indonesia, and 
Vietnam, the participants speculated.  According to a 
participant from Ho Chi Minh Political Academy, any of these 
three countries could have influence over Burma.  This 
participant especially stressed the importance of using 
personal ties between the leaders of Burma and the leaders 
of these three countries.  Vietnam should use its own 
personal channels to persuade Burma to open up and 
democratize if official channels prove ineffective, he 
urged.  An MOI participant warned that, if Burma were 
expelled from ASEAN, a regional arms race could begin and 
China would then play a decisive role in determining Burma's 
future direction.  ASEAN would find that it had "lost" Burma 
to China. 
¶16. (SBU) According to a participant from the CPV's External 
Relations Commission, the U.S. has a vital role to play in 
changing the political regime in Burma.  "Cornering" Burma 
is not a good idea, opined the participant.  Poverty and 
underdevelopment are the root causes of totalitarianism and 
violations of human rights, continued the participant. 
Lifting economic sanctions could be the best way to help 
Burma become more prosperous, democratic, and responsible, 
and improve its human rights record, added the CPV official. 
¶17.  (U) Opinions offered during the course were in general 
cautious, befitting the fact that no expression of political 
opinion would be truly anonymous, but many comments 
nonetheless were surprisingly frank and open.  Conversation 
steered clear of examining the legitimacy of the existing 
power structure in Vietnam or the possibility of "peaceful 
evolution" as a positive development for Vietnam.  The 
participants revealed a range of thinking that in some cases 
varied significantly from the official line.  Their display 
of a degree of critical thinking indicates that the younger 
generation of Vietnamese officials, at least, is looking 
beyond doctrine and propaganda for answers to major 
questions on security.