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Cablegate: Covering the Spratlys; Silence Is Officially Golden

VZCZCXRO9299
RR RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #0133/01 0360020
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050020Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7117
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4245

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000133

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/PA

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OEXC SCUL PHUM PREL PGOV VM
SUBJECT: COVERING THE SPRATLYS; SILENCE IS OFFICIALLY GOLDEN

REF: HANOI 86

1. (SBU) Summary: While international media widely covered the visit
of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to one of the disputed Spratly
Islands over the weekend, Vietnamese media were largely silent. The
Vietnam News Agency, the Government wire service, carried a story in
which the Foreign Ministry Spokesman strongly criticized Taiwanese
claims that the islands were "an intrinsic part" of their territory.
But major newspapers, Vietnam's National Television, and online
news outlets failed to pick up the story. This limited coverage of
a significant policy topic reflects the restrictions the government
imposes on editors and journalists on issues it deems sensitive. At
least one prominent editor has paid professionally for pressing
those boundaries a month earlier with his reporting on public
protests regarding China's claims to the Spratlys. End Summary.

ISLANDS OF DISPUTE:
-------------------

2. (U) Over the weekend on Saturday, February 2, Taiwanese President
Chen Shui-bian inaugurated a runway on one of the disputed Spratly
Islands and insisted the archipelago belongs to Taiwan.
Disregarding the claims of other countries, he declared the island
he visited, Taiping Dao - known as Ba Binh Island to the Vietnamese
- "an intrinsic part of our territory." The visit and comments drew
sharp and immediate criticism from Foreign Ministry Spokesman Le
Dzung, who insisted the Taiwanese leader's visit was a violation of
Vietnam's territorial sovereignty.

3. (U) Vietnam News Agency - Vietnam's national wire service -
reported that Le Dzung said of the visit, "Vietnam considers the
action a serious escalation that violated Vietnam's territorial
sovereignty in regard to Truong Sa archipelago and increased tension
as well as complication in the region." He went on to say that,
"Vietnam demands Taiwan put an immediate end to such violations in
the region."

4.(SBU) For an issue of such political importance, which also
elicits strong public response, Vietnamese media provided only
limited coverage of both the Taiwanese visit and GVN response.
Virtually none of the major newspapers or online outlets picked up
the Vietnam News Agency story. According to Embassy contacts in the
media, the Spratlys dispute is an extremely sensitive one for the
GVN who prefers it stay out of the headlines. The GVN also wants to
avoid what happened in early January when Chinese - Vietnamese
confrontations in the archipelago led to large protests in front of
the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi (Reftel). Media sources tell us that,
while the government authorities tolerated and perhaps even
initiated the initial protests, they changed their attitude after
Vietnamese students quickly used cell phones and text-messaging to
spread word or the gathering. Crowds around the Chinese Embassy
grew far more quickly than officials had imagined possible and by
the third day, GVN authorities stepped in to disband the protests.


YOU'RE (NOT) FIRED
------------------

5. (SBU) Again according to PAS contacts, at the same time, GVN
officials cautioned editors and journalists not to cover the
protests, or carry stories related to the Spratlys. In defiance of
the Government's directive, Nguyen Anh Tuan, Editor in Chief of
VietnamNet - the country's major online news service - ran a story
on the protests, including background on the sovereignty dispute.
Almost immediately the Ministry of Information and Communication
notified Mr. Tuan that it was firing him and fining him the
equivalent of $2000.

6. (SBU) Our contact told us that readers flooded the online
service, as well as other outlets, with messages of protest
demanding Tuan's return. Shortly after a very senior Vietnamese
official (there are conflicting versions of whether or not this was
the Prime Minister) contacted Tuan, who was in the United States at
the time, and told him that he could ignore the fine and return to
Hanoi where he would be reinstated as Editor in Chief as long as he
agreed to the presence of a co-editor assigned to VietnamNet from
the Ministry. Tuan did return to Hanoi to resume his editorial
duties, with his new Ministry minder in place. He did, however,
insist on paying the fine.

7. (SBU) Comment: As the weekend and January Spratlys stories and
the official reactions to them highlight, the GVN remains anxious
about maintaining its ability to control discussion of sensitive
issues whose history might open it to public criticism. They also
illustrate that the GVN is still apprehensive about public protests
- particularly ones that grow and spread as rapidly as those at the
Chinese Embassy. The Government's concern is to maintain control.
Challenging this penchant, however, the Vietnamese public is clearly
developing a taste for individual expression, albeit slowly and
cautiously. Even as the Government works to limit certain stories,

HANOI 00000133 002 OF 002


there are those in the media who continue to seek the very edge of
official boundaries.

MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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