Cablegate: Final Thoughts From Hanoi

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


Four Fears and One New One

1. An American who knows Vietnam very well related to
me soon after my arrival in Hanoi how he had briefed
President Clinton just before Clinton's November 2000
visit to Vietnam: He had explained that the leadership of
the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) makes its most
important decisions in response to four basic fears:

Fear of China
Fear of the United States
Fear of Globalization
Fear of the Consequences of Economic Development

2. Four years later, the Four Fears Analysis is still a valid
way of understanding the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's
cautious leadership. The current generation of Politburo
members, most of whom studied in the Soviet Union or
its satellites, were traumatized by the collapse of the
U.S.S.R., the end of the COMECON system and the
demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. As one party
loyalist told me, "Our nightmare is Poland, where they
allowed both the labor unions and the Church to become
independent forces, leading to loss of power. We won't
let it happen here."

3. But while Vietnam remains one of the world's last
Leninist systems, determined to resist the forces of
"peaceful evolution," we also can see that there has been
profound change underway in this society and in the
thinking of the leaders during the past four years. A new
fifth fear has reconfigured the influence of the other four:

Fear of falling further behind Vietnam's rapidly
developing neighbors.

4. By mid-2003 Vietnam's aid donors, led by the World
Bank, had convinced the Hanoi leadership that a rapid
increase in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and rapid
development of the domestic private sector were essential
to provide the 1.5-2 million new jobs needed each year.
If employment creation was left to the State-Owned
Enterprises (SOE's), and Government apparatus, the
country would soon face a very serious economic and
social crisis, which the party leadership saw as the
potential prelude to the nightmare scenarios of Eastern
Europe. The leaders still saw danger in globalization and
economic development, but the dominant leadership
group saw greater danger in trying to resist the inevitable
trends of the era.

Seeing the U.S. in a New Light

5. In mid-2003, the CPV leadership's new assessment of
Vietnam's position in the world resulted in a shift of
policy toward the United States. The June 2003 Party
Plenum concluded that Vietnam's national security
strategy had to be re-balanced. Relations with China had
improved rapidly, but so had Vietnam's concern about
Beijing's aggressive pursuit of greater influence in this
part of the world. Relations with the U.S. had soured
somewhat. Hanoi saw the inauguration of the Bush
Administration as an unwelcome development, the
replacement of a "friend" who normalized U.S.-SRV
relations by a group seen as unreconstructed Cold
Warriors. These suspicions were deepened by the
Montagnard demonstrations in the Central Highlands In
Spring 2001, followed by the exodus of 1,000
Montagnards to Cambodia and their resettlement in
America. In the paranoid worldview of the CPV's
headquarters on Ba Dinh Square, the fact that
Montagnard exiles in South Carolina had encouraged the
demonstrations proved that the disturbances were part of
a destabilization plot directed out of the White House.

6. But by June 2003, the leadership was ready to leave
that episode behind. Most party leaders now seemed
willing to give the Bush Administration the benefit of the
doubt. They were delighted by the huge surge in
Vietnamese exports to the U.S. after the Bilateral Trade
Agreement (BTA) went into effect in December 2001.
They wanted to do everything possible to encourage more
U.S. investment. They concluded that Vietnam must join
the WTO, ideally by 2005, and that U.S. support was the
key ticket for WTO accession. They opposed the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, but they were impressed by its quick
victory. The U.S. was the dominant world power and it
would be wise to get along with it. In Hanoi's realpolitik
world review, the U.S. role was essential to keep China in

7. Following the Party Plenum, Vietnamese officials
moved quickly to make clear to us their desire to improve
our relationship. For a government which had treated
strategic dialogue as almost a taboo subject, the new-
found enthusiasm of Vietnamese officials to argue for
"strategic balance" was a striking developing. When the
head of the Public Security Ministry's think tank
announced a conference in Washington in October 2003
that the U.S. had become "naive about China," we knew
that we had entered a new era in our dialogue with
Vietnam. Two months later we would hear Deputy Prime
Minister Vu Khoan tell the Secretary and Doctor Rice
that the U.S. should pay more attention to Southeast Asia,
that Vietnam feared that the U.S., distracted by the war
on terrorism, had created a power vacuum in Southeast
Asia which was being filled by "others." Whether or not
we agreed with all these arguments, it was refreshing
finally to talk about something more edifying that the
catfish anti-dumping case.

8. During the past fifteen months we have rapidly made
progress on a number of long-standing issues. Our
relationship can now be considered more fully

We normalized military ties with the Defense Minister's
visit to Washington in November 2003, followed by the
first two U.S. Navy ship visits to Vietnam since the war.
The Minister told me last week that ship visits could now
be considered something "routine" and volunteered ideas
for the future such as search-and-rescue cooperation.

The new civil aviation agreement should result in the first
U.S. flagged planes landing at Tan Son Nhat in

The counternarcotics agreement finally was signed in
December and training programs have begun.

America-bashing is way down in the official press.

The Embassy and our official visitors now have much
better access to the Vietnamese leadership.

Humanitarian programs have greatly expanded,
especially on HIV/AIDS and educational, and cultural
exchange. Vietnamese counterparts for these programs
have become much easier to work with.

The Year Ahead

9. Next year will be an important one for U.S.-Vietnam
relations. Both countries are already planning events to
commemorate the tenth anniversary of diplomatic
normalization. The most important event could be an
official visit to Washington by Prime Minister Phan Van
Khai, the first to the U.S. by an SRV Chief of State. We
have given the GVN a list of necessary actions to create
the right atmosphere for a successful visit. The list
includes some desired agreements (Article 98, IMET, use
of a salvage ship for MIA searches), but is heavily
weighted toward human rights and religious freedom
issues. 2005 also will be a critical year in Vietnam's
negotiations to enter the WTO. If we conclude a bilateral
accession agreement, we will then go to our Congress to
approve Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for
Vietnam. During the past few months we have regularly
warned Vietnam's leaders that the PNTR vote will
become the occasion for a congressional review of our
overall relationship. Now is the time for Vietnam to
expand its still rather narrow constituency of friends in
the U.S. Now is the time to resolve human rights issues,
open the market, and give U.S. companies some big

10. The Tenth Anniversary Year of our relationship will
be important for Vietnam's leaders for another very
different reason he lead-up to the tenth Party Congress
in early 2006. The jockeying for power, factional
conflicts, and ideological debates have already begun.
Some leaders are trying to give more prominence again to
the old fears. Respected leaders of the revolutionary
generation, including Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, have
circulated letters highlighting the risk to the party of
corruption and use of the military intelligence service to
spy on party leaders. Hardliners in the military and
security service reportedly have reacted by launching a
new wave of paranoia about "peaceful evolution."
Vietnamese tell us that the competing party factions split
along several lines, which only partially coincide and
which all probably exaggerate the differences: Regional
(North, Central and South); rapid economic reform vs.
continued statism; pro-China vs. pro-U.S. All of this
political action "behind the screen" will probably result in
revelations of new "scandals" as competing leaders reveal
the cupidity of their rivals. It also may slow the already
arthiritic decision-making process as consensus becomes
even more difficult.

Our Strategy

11. For the U.S., Vietnam is a rapidly developing mid-
size country which has growing commercial and strategic
value. It will become stronger and wealthier and will
play a more important role in ASEAN and other regional
organizations. This relationship is important to several
American constituencies: The Vietnamese-Americans,
veterans groups, MIA families, refugee advocacy groups,
human rights organizations, and a slowly growing
number of businesses.

12. The long-term trend here complements our interests
and will not be affected by the current period of
leadership competition. The leaders who will prevail
know that change is inevitable and that successful change
requires good relations with Washington. They now
openly state that their goals are integration with the world
and the development of a market economy. We will
continue to see in Vietnam a rapidly growing private
sector, stronger rule of law, increased foreign influence,
the erosion of government control over people's lives,
deepening cynicism or indifference toward the
Communist Party, and the budding of a civil society. We
should continue to encourage these powerful trends. Our
strategic dialogue, economic policy negotiations, military
interaction and humanitarian programs are all now on the
right track. Our law enforcement cooperation is still at a
very basic level and progress toward intelligence sharing
has stalled. The Public Security types still don't trust us.
The Easter 2004 Montagnard demonstrations, followed
by the Giap letter, gave the hardliners new vigor, so we
probably should not expect much progress on the
intel/law enforcement front until after the Party Congress.

13. Our commercial ties are developing well, but
commercial advocacy issues seem to have become almost
invisible in the Washington agenda for Vietnam, which is
dominated by human rights topics. That anomaly should
be corrected some time over the next year. Otherwise,
we hand the Europeans and Japanese avoidable victories
and, even worse, we suggest that this relationship is not
really that important to us. We should maintain our
agenda on human rights issues while recognizing that the
CPV's hardliners in fact are right eaceful evolution is
happening. Meanwhile we could remind ourselves that
Nixon also was right: Peaceful evolution is not a
government policy or strategy: it is the inexorable trend
of history.

© Scoop Media

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