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"Subversive Plot" or a Trial of the Regime ?



Condemnation of a 'Subversive Plot'
or a Trial of the Regime ?



Nguyễn Ngọc Giao



Mr. Mark Kent, was correct when he said that the recent sentencing of Messrs. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc (16 years imprisonment), Nguyen Tien Trung (7 years), Le Cong Dinh and Le Thang Long (5 years) harms "the reputation of Viet Nam". He was correct not because he is the Queen's ambassador, and even less because the British lion (a "rather elderly" lion) is an exemplary model of respect for people's rights, democracy and human rights. No Vietnamese has forgotten that 65 years ago, when the British came to Saigon with the mission of disarming the fascist Japanese occupiers south of the 16th parallel, the holds of the Royal Navy's ships also brought troops of General Leclerc's division, who had the mission of restoring the French colonial regime in Viet Nam.

The whole world also knows that the British authorities were never concerned about democracy during their nearly 100 years of domination of Hong Kong until the eve of the territory's "retrocession" to Communist China... Nevertheless, under the red flag with five stars of the People's Republic, the inhabitants of Hong Kong have and use minimal democratic rights which are denied to more than a billion of their compatriots on the continent, and they have no intention of allowing central authorities to deprive them of their rights. It does not matter that these precious rights were bequeathed by the former British authorities 20 years ago, with less than innocent afterthoughts, like playing a trick on Peking. Sometimes History advances by "tricks", as is well known by the Vietnamese, especially the Vietnamese Communists, or at least those who know History. Eighty years ago, without the habeas corpus and the judicial guaranties of the English democratic system, a certain Vietnamese revolutionary would have been turned over to the French Sûreté to be found guilty and executed, or more expeditiously to "disappear" in the SouthEast Asia Sea. On 2 September 1945, this same revolutionary solemnly proclaimed the foundation of the democratic, multiparty state of Viet Nam.

Mr. Kent was correct, because a government which enjoys a "predominant consensus" in the Parliament of a country completely independent for 35 years, at peace without interruption for the last 20 years, having diplomatic relations with almost all states in the world and which proclaims towards all its friendly intentions — such a government cannot "keep its reputation intact" when it imprisons, and then convicts isolated individuals of "conspiring to overthrow the regime", persons whose only weapon was a computer keyboard, whose only means of propaganda, for meeting and organization was intangible : an internet network.

It is unfortunate that Nguyen Tien Trung's youth unthinkingly and naively led him to praise George W. Bush. The lawyer Le Cong Dinh's somewhat original multiparty views are strange, since he alone wants to found several parties at the same time. It is also unfortunate that they place undo confidence in clamorous small groups abroad (how can they be criticized when someone as experienced as Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh is even more gullible ?).

But no one has the right to cast doubt on their love of country, their aspirations to build a developed, democratic and open Viet Nam. That makes the government's repressive policy and the unjust verdict of 20 January by the court of Ho Chi Minh Ville even more unacceptable. This harsh policy is not supported unanimously within the Vietnamese Communist Party. According to reliable sources, the arrest of the four accused had been decided by a minority of three members of the Political Bureau (Nong Duc Manh, Truong Tan Sang and Nguyen Tan Dung), against the views of four others (including the head of state, Mr. Nguyen Minh Triet), while a majority preferred to abstain. For several years the leading team of the CP has been dysfunctional. More than once a vague proposal at the end of a session has been transformed into a resolution of the Political Bureau without any debate. (A symptomatic example is the decision by the secretary general, Mr. Nong Duc Manh, to have the new Parliament building constructed on the site of the ancient royal citadel of Thang Long on the advice of a common geomancer.) But this was the first time that the views of a minority (3 out of 15) was expressed in a resolution of the Political Bureau without being debated or subjected to a second vote. This fact alone is sufficient to show how grave the situation is. The economic, social, cultural and morale crisis enveloping the country is grave. Even more serious is the incompetence of the group in power and its reaction to the crisis. The recent judgment is only one symptom among many and indeed not the gravest (if it is permissible to make a ranking when it is a question of even the political existence of fearless persons of all ages).

The way the authorities have dealt with the Tay Nguyen bauxite affair provides a comprehensive and significant illustration. It is known that the Chinese have obtained the right to exploit bauxite deposits in a strategic region, using primitive methods of extraction which threaten the environment, the way of life and the culture of the indigenous peoples. In the beginning, this authorization was based only an inopportune soporific phrase from the general principles of the Sino-Vietnamese declaration of 2001 (Nong Duc Manh - Jiang Zemin). Then under Peking's brutal and subtle pressure (on the economic, financial, political and perhaps personal levels), it was transformed into a "major project", which Parliament had been instructed to vote for with a "large consensus", despite vigorous protests, from Vo Nguyen Giap to Le Van Cuong, brigadier general of police on active duty, from members of the CP base to students and intellectuals, from official collective organizations such as the Union of Scientific and Technological Associations (VUSTA) to private, independent research organizations such as the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Still more important, since those responsible for official propaganda in this affair reported to the Political Bureau that the opponents have made pertinent and coherent arguments, contrary to supporters of the project (in particular the TKV, Corporation of the Coal and Mineral Industries of Vietnam). The reaction of the persons in power has been no less surprising : forbidding the press to report the debates, forbidding opponents to make public their criticisms (Decision n° 97, which led the the IDS to dissolve itself in protest)... But this censorship has led to unexpected counter effects : state-owned newspapers have lost a large number of readers, while at the same time the independent website "Bauxite VN" received more than 17 million visits in 7 months from internet users wanting to be informed. New reaction of the authorities : while the court of Ho Chi Minh Ville judged and sentenced on an emergency basis the four accused whom we have discussed, at Hanoi, the person responsible for the site "Bauxite VN", Professor Nguyen Hue Chi (specialist in literature of the XI-XIIIth centuries) was summoned to the Security service to "work" from morning to evening. The site itself was definitively pirated at the end of December 2009. It is not yet known whether the "hackers" were from VN or Hong Kong, but it is sure that at the Bat Nha monastery, the hooligans who committed acts of violence against 400 monks and nuns did not come from Hong Kong…

In another affair at Dong Chiem, to pull down a cross erected at the top of a hill (illegally, according to the official version, which is entirely possible), there were impressive security forces with shields with in large letters "CSCD" (Cảnh Sát Cơ Động -- the equivalent of the French CRS), and also POLICE, like in the novel of Vu Trong Phung under the colonial regime or a grade B Hollywood film. The intervention was brutal and maladroit, and especially difficult to understand when it is compared to the dexterity shown in the affair of the former residence of the Apostolic Nuncio, in which the authorities transformed the corruption of officials of the municipality of Hanoi who wanted to build a hotel there (and divide the profits) into a popular "victory", in which in the end the grounds were transformed into a public park for the district's inhabitants, Catholic or not. These examples could be multiplied, showing that in the recent period the incompetence of the authorities faced with the multitude of problems confronting the country (the illegal appropriations of land at Nha Trang, the demonstrations for reasserting Vietnamese sovereignty over the Hoang Sa-Truong Sa Islands, the brutalities and "rackets" perpetrated by the Chinese against Vietnamese fishermen, small and large affairs which blight the educational system, real estate speculation, corruption...). Given the existing situation (and while waiting for the 11th CP Congress at the beginning of 2011), it is certain that these affairs will not cease, every day becoming more numerous and more serious, which even the strictly circumscribed newspapers cannot fail to mention.

The real problem is the regime's ability to deal with this situation.

The repression, censorship of media, control of the internet and the like in recent years has proven that those who are in power clearly see the evolution of the situation and clearly understand that they have lost the confidence of opinion in Vietnamese society. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was already among leaders of the CPVN a questionable tendency to rely on the support of China -- the Sino-Vietnamese conference at Chengdu in 1991, the unbelievable idea of a "rouge" solution to the Cambodian conflict which even though it was not adopted, left some bitter sequels. However, with the continuing economic opening, thanks to a tacit compromise with civil society (liberty for people to work and produce), profiting from a common will of the people and the regime (and also by great powers) to avoid disorder, Viet Nam has turned from a regime that pretended to be socialist to a form of unbridled capitalism linked to the monopolistic power of a single party, undergoing immense positive and negative transformations. The history of the last 20 years shows that the totalitarian regime has maintained its stability and even succeeded in making some noteworthy achievements because, in parallel with a repressive policy, it has been able to create and exploit a degree of social consensus. But this consensus is disappearing, and repression alone can only lead to failure and chaos. Vietnamese society can overcome the present crisis with a new consensus, and the Vietnamese nation will be able to resist at home and abroad, on land and sea, the threat of a Great China which uses both "hard" and "soft" power. Such a consensus has to reconcile the interests of the nation, the long-term well-being of all generations, the autonomy and development of civil and civic society. Its achievement depends on the awareness of society as well as on a reawakening of the regime.

Nguyen Ngoc Giao



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