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Cablegate: Subdued Reaction to Irf Report in Southern Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HO CHI MINH CITY 001204

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PGOV PHUM PREL PROP OPRC VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: SUBDUED REACTION TO IRF REPORT IN SOUTHERN VIETNAM

REF: A) HANOI 2625; B) HCMC 1077

1. (SBU) Summary: Media coverage and official reaction in
Southern Vietnam to the decision to designate Vietnam a Country of
Particular Concern (CPC) has been muted. While the HCMC press
faithfully carried Hanoi-issued editorials on CPC, there was no
"piling on," i.e., no effort to supplement with locally produced
material. CPC coverage was relegated to the papers' inside pages
while the visit of Washington State Governor Locke and the
continuing Agent Orange campaign were front-page news. Similarly,
despite numerous opportunities to focus on CPC in official
meetings, reactions of our interlocutors were either extremely
mild or nonexistent. End summary.

2. (SBU) Media coverage in HCMC of the IRF report and Vietnam's
designation as a CPC has been subdued. Most HCMC papers have
simply provided straight reporting of Vietnam News Agency press
releases. (Note: VNA is directly controlled and operated by GVN
and serves to release statements by government ministries and mass
organizations. End note). To date, only one locally-produced
editorial denouncing the CPC decision has appeared in any HCMC
newspaper, and that came from the Cong An Daily (Police), a paper
that serves as the mouthpiece for the Ministry of Public Security
and which is known to generally level the harshest criticism at
U.S. policy. While Hanoi papers have printed daily interviews
with religious dignitaries defending Vietnam's religious policies
(Ref A - Hanoi 2625), to date only one HCMC paper, Nguoi Lao Dong
(Laborer), has carried a similar interview.

3. (SBU) In contrast to CPC, a trade mission led by Washington
State Governor Gary Locke received broad, positive, front-page
coverage in nearly all of the major dailies and prominent inside
coverage by Saigon Giai Phong, the Communist Party's official
paper in the South. The ongoing GVN-sponsored campaign on Agent
Orange (Ref B - HCMC 1077) also eclipsed CPC here. In recent days
all coverage of the CPC decision has virtually disappeared from
HCMC papers.

4. (SBU) Subdued reaction to CPC was also the norm in ConGen's
official meetings and private conversations. Typical was a
meeting the day of the designation, when the only comment on CPC
by a senior member of the Communist Party in HCMC to PolOff was
that while the decision was regrettable, the bilateral
relationship was still positive on many other fronts. He then
shifted the discussion to internal party politics. Other
officials have opted to avoid the topic altogether. In a meeting
on September 22nd with the Director of the Department of Culture
and Information, the CG provided numerous openings yet absolutely
no mention of CPC was made. Similarly, as PAO met with various
officials in the Mekong Delta last week, the subject was never
broached. This is in stark contrast to the incessant `demarches'
PAS received at all official meetings in Danang following the
House passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Act (HR 1587) in July.

5. (SBU) When our interlocutors sought to discuss CPC, their focus
appeared to be more on damage limitation than on hectoring. One
official at the HCMC External Relations Office told us that he
feared that CPC would be exploited by hardliners in the GVN who
want to obstruct further progress in bilateral ties. He sought
guidance as to what the GVN could do to get its views on issues of
religion out to the U.S. decision makers more effectively and how
the GVN might avoid sanctions. He fretted that hardliners would
particularly benefit were the U.S. to impose sanctions, as the GVN
"would be forced to retaliate."


WINNICK

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