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Cablegate: Younger Gvn Officials On National Security

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


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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.

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