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The Latest Fake News on Vietnam

What a stupid story. Just more wishful thinking by Vietnam haters living in the US.

– Bao D Nguyen

It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that fake news was the first term that popped into my head when I read the title and teaser of a July 2018 Asia Times (AT) article that a troll posted on a scholarly listserv because it was music to his revisionist ears, namely, that US-style “freedom and democracy” were right around the corner in Viet Nam, and that the US would finally win a war it had originally lost over 43 years ago.

Think of this impending “victory” in the minds of the deluded as a geopolitical version of playing the long game, not unlike the view expressed in a nationally televised interview by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese-American writer and professor that the US “won” because Viet Nam made the very pragmatic and, dare I say, visionary decision to shift from a centrally-planned to a free market economy in 1986.  The rest, as they say, is history, and an impressive and transformational one at that.

The AT op-ed masquerading as news was entitled A democratic revolution has just begun in Vietnam,followed by Massive but orderly protests across the country hint at the beginning of the end of Communist Party rule, if the reader wasn’t already intrigued enough by the title.  That’s called clickbait grounded in sociopolitical fantasy. One well-known Viet Nam observer didn’t mince words:  “a story credited to ‘Khai Nguyen’ appears to be Việt Tân propaganda swallowed wholesale by Asia Times.”

If you don’t know very much about Viet Nam or you hate its government, you might be inclined to believe this 1700-word rant.  That was certainly the case with Chieu T. Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American who lives in Texas, who falls into the latter category and therefore sees his ancestral homeland through three red-striped glasses. As if on cue, “This is an amazingly accurate, good report,” he gushed in the comments section.

Those Who Stood on the Wrong Side of History

No background information about the author of this  exercise in wishful thinking was provided.  “Khai Nguyen” (KN) is probably the nom de guerre of an embittered Việt kiều (overseas Vietnamese) who was doing his duty and toeing the party line. No, not THAT party but that of the loose affiliation of overseas Vietnamese who will never accept the fact that their onetime client state, the former Republic of Viet Nam (“South Viet Nam”), was wiped from the geopolitical face of the Earth at the hands of those who stood on the right side of history.

Many of these refugees are obsessed with avenging that loss and carry within their black hearts a bitterness and hatred they will take with them to their graves.  They are persistent, if nothing else, inhabiting a “what if” dream world and looking for every opportunity from within the safe yet fragile confines of their glass houses to throw stones at the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, always finding fault, never giving credit where credit’s due, and seeing what is only in their overactive and wicked imaginations.

A number of readers recognized the article for what it was and added some insights into the target of “Khai Nguyen’s” critique, the demonstrations.

Another colour protest organized and funded by CIA and the NED. CIA and the NED failed in their attempt to organise similar protest in Hong Kong and Thailand. Now, they are trying Vietnam. They will fail again. – Michael Chan

Those who in the lead of the protests were mostly with criminal records, plans of bombing attacks, …terrorists aiming at crowded places. This is just the beginning of the end to those who try to destroy the peaceful daily life of TRUE Vietnamese. – Huy Đức

And last but not least,

This is clearly sponsored fake news.

– Badri Subedi

Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t After You (with a Nod of Gratitude to Joseph Heller)

One reason for official concern is that not all of the demonstrators are Vietnamese nationals who are concerned about long-term Chinese influence in their country and related sovereignty issues as a result of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which offer land leases for up to 99 years.  Some are outsiders, including overseas Vietnamese, or locals with ties to the same, who are anti-government.  One of their goals is to destabilize Viet Nam and foment some kind of color revolution.

While the majority of demonstrators are peaceful, some are terrorists, a word that is often used in quotes in the Western media, as if it’s a label the government is unjustly trying to attach to nonviolent demonstrators.  If you use the dictionary definition of terrorist, a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims, that is exactly what some of them are.

Seven people were arrested in early July, including three on terrorism charges, for bombing a police station in Ho Chi Minh City in June in an attack that injured three people, including two officers and a cook. The bomb was placed on a motorbike and destroyed the windows of a building near the site of protests over the proposed SEZ law.

If history is any guide, it’s not a stretch to believe that maybe even a foreign government is involved.  This is right out of the US government playbook (think CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED) in a long list of countries over the past century.  It reflects the spirit, if not the letter, of what has been expressed in various diplomatic cables courtesy of Wikileaks.

Tellingly, some protestors carried US flags, a country whose policies and actions were directly responsible for the deaths of nearly 4 million Vietnamese, over half of whom were civilians, during the US War in Viet Nam. Others had signs with anti-communist slogans such as “Down with communists” and “Down with traitors.”  I have to wonder who the traitors are in this scenario.

If you know anything about Vietnamese history, you understand why the government is sensitive to outside interference in Viet Nam’s internal affairs, having had to dispense with the French and then the US Americans in two consecutive wars in the 20th century.  After unification in 1976, there were also attempts to strangle the unified “socialist” baby in its cradle by the US and embittered expat groups.

Unsourced Conjecture and Groundless Conclusions

This anti-Viet Nam diatribe was riddled with assertions backed up by nothing.  For example, this statement:  This suggests that Vietnam’s communist regime has lost the support of the majority of the country’s 95 million-strong population, except those on the government payroll, including five million Communist Party members.  Based on what, a scientifically valid national survey or one of the author’s political wet dreams?

Or this statement, apparently pulled out of thin air:  The government now spends about 82.1% of the national budget to pay salaries to government officials, military, police, 205 public security generals and five million Party members. The remaining 17.9% is earmarked for development investments. Where is KN’s source?  In fact, party members are not paid by the national budget unless they are government staff or employees of party institutions.

As Raymond Mallon, a freelance economist with more than two decades of experience working on development and regulatory reform issues in Asia and the Pacific, pointed out in a post to the Vietnam Studies Group listserv, Viet Nam’s share of public expenditure on employment is high by regional standards but nothing like that suggested in the article in question. According to IMF data, public sector wages account for about 35% of public expenditure.  (If you’re interested in more information, check out this July 2018 International Monetary Fund report.)

Here’s another gem:  Still, the SEZ law, cybersecurity law and a fear of China have united people against the Communist Party-led government. A growing number of Vietnamese see government officials and Party leaders as traitors, particularly since they have consistently failed to protect the country’s sovereignty and fishermen from China in the contested South China Sea. This is the author’s incendiary personal opinion to which he is entitled, right or wrong, but it hardly belongs in a news piece.

Now to the heart of the matter:  The protests were widely welcomed by the Vietnamese diaspora, seen in parallel demonstrations by Vietnamese in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Germany, France, Poland, Norway, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  Another wild assertion stated as fact, as if all overseas Vietnamese were on the same political and historical page, one big, happy family.  KN neglects to distinguish between overseas Vietnamese who are living as refugees in their global diaspora with little to no contact with their homeland and those who are in touch and engaged with contemporary Viet Nam.

Set Thine House in Order

An article about a supposed “revolution” in Viet Nam wouldn’t be complete without references to some of Viet Nam’s trading partners and allies: Now, the US, Japan and Australia seem eager to help Vietnam with its economic development, national defense and South China Sea disputes with China. However, Vietnam’s poor human rights and religious freedom records have restrained more robust ties at a crucial time of Chinese expansionism.  Here KN shows his true colors.  The US, arguably the world’s greatest human rights violator in the last half century, criticizing Viet Nam for human rights violations is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black, a fact that the author refuses to recognize because it runs counter to his biased perspective.

Last but not least, the pièce de résistance, the proverbial icing on the democratic revolutionary cake:  Many Vietnamese now believe that a long-awaited true revolution has just begun.  How many? Which Vietnamese?  The author’s refugee buddies back home who still fly the flag of a country that was tossed into the trash bin of history with the liberation of Saigon on 30 April 1975?  The millions of Vietnamese who are among the most optimistic people in the world, economically and otherwise, according to annual surveys?

If change is on the horizon, it will occur gradually, incrementally, and in a nonviolent and homegrown fashion – without outside interference.  The notion that “a long-awaited true revolution has just begun” is so much pie in the sky.

This particular example of wishful political thinking, in vogue with many overseas Vietnamese communities, this poorly written and argued tirade, this journalistic hack job, should never have been published as a news story.  The editor either dropped the ball or grinds the same political ax as the faux author. Shame on Asia Times, which bills itself as “among the most credible names in news in the world’s most populous region,” for publishing this tripe.

More articles by:

Mark A. Ashwill is an international educator who has lived and worked in Vietnam since 2005.  He blogs at An International Educator in Viet Nam

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