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Cablegate: Patriots and Pundits Sound Off Via Blogs

VZCZCXRO5840
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0235/01 0651158
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051158Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3828
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2555
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 4050

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000235

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI PREL PHUM VM
SUBJECT: PATRIOTS AND PUNDITS SOUND OFF VIA BLOGS

REF: 07 HCMC 1266

HO CHI MIN 00000235 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: As the number of Vietnamese with access to the
Internet skyrockets, personal weblogs (blogs) have rapidly
become an increasingly widespread alternative public news
source. Blogs go well beyond even the feistiest print and
electronic media, airing unprecedented criticism of the
Government of Vietnam's (GVN) performance. Not only do blogs
serve as a rallying point for reformers and dissident political
groups pushing for reform, they also appeal to a broad, well
educated and influential main stream audience. One of the most
surprising aspects of the political blog movement is that
relatively few bloggers have suffered serious repercussions for
their work even though publication of the same sentiments in the
Vietnamese press remains unthinkable. While some of the more
daring blogs, such as those that openly challenge the Communist
Party's leadership role, have prompted the GVN and National
Assembly to consider measures to regulate blogs, the blogs also
have a number of influential followers who agree that little can
be done to turn back the clock now. End summary.

Blog Explosion 2007
-------------------
2. (U) Almost unheard of just a few years ago, blogs moved into
Vietnam's social and political mainstream in 2007, with both
domestic media and GVN agencies estimating that there were 3
million Vietnamese bloggers online by the end of 2007. The blog
explosion began in late 2006 after the introduction of "Yahoo
360" allowed millions of Vietnamese users of Yahoo mail to set
up free blogs and turn their existing Yahoo contacts into blog
"friends" with a few key clicks. Not all blogs are public;
bloggers can choose either to open their blog up to anyone
surfing the net or limit it to only to those people in their
friends list. In addition to Yahoo 360, many Vietnamese also use
other free blog hosting sites such as Google's Blogspot. Still
others keep blogs on systems sponsored by domestic providers
such as "Yobanbe" (colloquial equivalent of Friendster) and
"Timnhanh" (Fast Search). Local experts predict Vietnamese
users will continue to increase their use of community networks
like Mash, Facebook and Friendster since the Internet backbone
capacity in Vietnam "doubles every six months," according to a
prominent online news contact. With Vietnam's international
connectivity set to expand as well, access to blogs continues to
mushroom.

Beginning Of Civic Journalism?
------------------------------
3. (SBU) Blogging is not just for amateurs. Prominent reporters
and editors of at least six national newspapers write very
popular blogs, some of which boast over 600,000 "page views"
("page views" count visits more accurately than "hits") after
being posted only a few months. For many bloggers, blog entries
appear to serve as alternate news and information sources on a
variety of topics, including new laws and policies, crime
reports, major scandals and criticism of GVN performance.
Reflecting an attitude that we believe is typical of many
political bloggers, one prominent journalist/blogger told the CG
that he posts information on his blog that he believes would be
censored out of his newspaper.

4. (SBU) Blogs can energize the public in ways that the GVN
condones as well as in ways it does not. In late September
2007, for example, blogs were flooded with entries with the
latest information and calls for donations after a major bridge
construction accident in the Mekong Delta left 54 people dead.
In addition to organizing assistance, however, many bloggers
also questioned the authorities' management of the crisis and
tried to pinpoint responsibility for the disaster.

5. (SBU) In Vietnam today, bloggers continue to push boundaries
almost daily, including by engaging in unprecedented
finger-pointing at the country's ruling elite. In April 2007,
for example, a popular music composer called on the Deputy Prime
Minister (DPM)/Education Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan to resign
after a public outcry over what was perceived as the overly
harsh treatment of a twelve-year-old primary school pupil who
was accused of theft. Other bloggers jumped into the fray when
Nhan proved to be rather thin-skinned in response to a published
article criticizing new school fees introduced by the DPM.
Bloggers have even targeted State President Nguyen Minh Triet,
heaping on criticism after Triet reportedly pressured newspapers
to print his letter to students on the occasion of the new
school year. Yet other blogs have carried their campaign
straight to security services via a series of stories about the
glamorously opulent lifestyle of the Hanoi Ministry of Public
Security's (MPS) director's son -- stories that include
information on the car he drives, the restaurants he frequents
and the girls he dates.

6. (SBU) Blogs played a major role in stirring up Vietnamese

HO CHI MIN 00000235 002.2 OF 003


public opinion over China's late 2007 decision to establish a
nominal administrative unit in the disputed Spratly and Paracel
islands. In what eventually snowballed into a series of public
protests, bloggers wrapped themselves in the Vietnamese flag and
browbeat their own government for not "standing up to" the
Chinese. Among the more memorable blog entries generated by the
Spratly and Paracels dispute was a piece by the Deputy
Editor-in-Chief of a popular HCMC-based newspaper in which he
not only recalled, for the first time in 30 years, the 1974
battle waged by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) navy
against the Chinese in the Paracels (reftel), but also went on
to laud the South Vietnamese naval officers as "defenders of the
motherland." Another blogger commenting on the same events
decried the perceived timidity of the official GVN response to
the Chinese moves, writing that MFA spokesman Le Dung conveyed
the voice of GVN regarding its claim of sovereignty over the
islands but never conveyed the voice of the people.


A Rallying Point For Reforms...
-------------------------------
7. (SBU) Reform-minded Vietnamese -- including some political
leaders -- use blogs to voice their ideas on how reforms should
move ahead in Vietnam. In his blog, outspoken National Assembly
member Duong Trung Quoc publicized his strong views on reforming
National Assembly sessions in order for the parliament to
discuss constituents' issues "in depth" and spend more time
focusing on "the country's important issues." Le Cong Dinh, a
pro-democracy lawyer in the HCMC Bar Association, told us that
his group of pro-reform young lawyers routinely uses blogs to
exchange information, engaging in discussions of such
politically taboo subjects as constitutional reform and the
establishment of a constitutional court.

... And Also For Political Dissent
----------------------------------
8. (SBU) A sizable and tech-savvy new generation of dissidents
is also using blogs as a primary means of communication. On
January 19, in spite of the GVN's official discouragement, an
anti-China protest focusing on human rights and the Olympics
broke out in downtown HCMC. Despite being dispersed after just
20 minutes with several participants detained for questioning,
photos and articles about the protest immediately appeared in
blogs that reach a world-wide audience. Pictures and entries
about previous anti-China demonstrations also flooded the blog
community. In much the same way that the spread of e-mail and
mobile phone usage improved communications between dissidents in
the past by allowing them to bypass easily monitored phone
lines, blogs are now being used to bypass the censorship that
limits traditional media outlets. While some public blogs
attract staggering numbers of readers, some dissidents' choose
to keep all or part of their blogs "private" by limiting access
to their list of contacts -- in effect creating a virtual
dissident community network.

9. (SBU) There is no question that bloggers are moving into
forbidden territory. Blogger and computer engineer Nguyen Tien
Trung openly advertises his membership in the banned Democratic
Party of Vietnam (DPV) and brazenly criticizes the GVN in his
personal blog which has become a virtual meeting place for
members of Viet Youth for Democracy and the DPV.
"Ykienblog.wordpress.com" (Opinionblog), initially a personal
weblog that carried pro-democracy articles and updates on the
dissident community, has now become a forum for other Vietnamese
users to express their views. In her well-publicized blog,
award-winning movie director Song Chi questioned the rationale
of Article 4 in Vietnam's Constitution -- the article which
gives the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) supreme leadership
over the government. While three members of the dissident
People's Democratic Party were sentenced to jail in 2007 for
"propagandizing against the government" for advocating the
abolition of Article 4, Chi remains free.

Blog Control--Mission Impossible?
----------------------------------
10. (SBU) Not all of the blog activity in Vietnam has been of a
socially responsible or civic-minded nature. In late 2007, a
popular singer in HCMC sued a reporter for a city "security"
newspaper for slander after the reporter published an entry full
of negative comments regarding the singer's latest show on her
blog. Fallout over the personal attacks on the singer even led
the newspaper to distance itself from the reporter. Not
surprisingly, authorities have also uncovered several
pornographic blogs as well as blogs used as a point of contact
for prostitution. Harsh blog entries criticizing Nguyen Cong
Khe, the Editor in Chief of one of Vietnam's leading pro-reform
dailies, for his close ties to HCMC Party Secretary Hai and
President Triet appear to have turned this otherwise pro-reform
figure into a leading anti-blog advocate who has personally

HO CHI MIN 00000235 003.2 OF 003


lobbied the GVN to step up controls on bloggers. Khe is among
those pushing the Ministry of Information and Communication to
speed up drafting a government regulation on blog control. To
date, it's unclear what the regulation will entail and when it
will come into effect.

11. (SBU) In a September 2007 media interview, Deputy Minister
of Information and Communication Do Quy Doan asserted that a
blog is a "double-edged knife" and that blog regulation needs to
have a "preventative effect." Leaving the specifics to law
drafting experts, Mr. Doan suggested that bloggers must not
publish, among other things, "information against the country
[that] divides national unity and infringes upon the dignity and
credibility of individuals and organizations." While Doan
emphasized that blog regulation would not be in the form of
administrative control but would instead serve as a "facilitator
for blog development," the phrases he used are taken almost
verbatim from the laws most frequently used to convict political
dissidents. While members of the blog community as well as
their supporters continue to argue against any attempt to
control blogs, they also contend that such efforts are as
impractical as they are misdirected since regulating blogs --
the majority of which are hosted on overseas servers -- would be
nearly impossible.

Comment
-------
12. (SBU) The fact that many bloggers are now posting exactly
the same things that dissidents went to jail for saying in
public over the past few years shows the role that the Internet
is playing in pushing the envelope on freedom of speech and the
domestic political debate. Rather than attempting to hide their
identities, the bloggers cited by name in this report proudly
sign their blogs and often even post their photos on the main
page. The fact that so many of these politically-charged blogs
are in the "public sphere" (meaning anyone can find and read
them on the Internet) also shows that many bloggers are battling
the system in a surprisingly open manner. It will be interesting
to see how the GVN tries to handle this "double-edged knife."
Intimidation of individual bloggers has been attempted, but to
little effect. Critics say point-of-access control would not
work, since previous GVN attempts to force internet cafes to
register user IDs and store data have not been effectively
enforced. The possibility of a Chinese-style wholesale clampdown
on blogs is also unlikely, given the propensity for a huge
public outcry as well as recognition within other parts of the
national leadership that Vietnam needs the type of rapid
technological advancement that is almost impossible without a
functioning Internet. While the road ahead for bloggers will
almost certainly be quite bumpy and at times dangerous, we
believe that pioneers of the Vietnamese blogosphere have
technology and time on their side. End comment.

13. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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