Scoop has an Ethical Paywall
License needed for work use Register



Cablegate: Vietnam's Agent Orange Campaign Continues to Grow

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

221051Z Mar 05





E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: A) 04 HCMC 1077, B) HCMC 55

This is a joint Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh City reporting cable.

1. (SBU) Summary and Action Request: The GVN's Agent Orange
(AO) propaganda campaign reached fever pitch in the lead up
to, and now wake of, the March 10 dismissal of the U.S.
lawsuit by alleged Vietnamese victims of AO against chemical
companies that produced the defoliant. Before the hearing,
newspapers ran daily accounts of the suffering of alleged
victims of AO and printed calls for justice. After the
dismissal, the campaign has continued unabated, with claims
of USG political manipulation of the courts and hypocrisy
and racism leveled at the court's decision. The media blitz
has had some effect: there is some popular concern about
the issue and sentiment that the United States should aid
the alleged victims. The GVN has not raised the issue
directly with us, but officials have suggested that the
campaign has reached such a level that it cannot be easily
turned off. We recommend the Department develop a public
diplomacy strategy both for Vietnam and for a broader
international audience to mitigate the impact of these
biased and negative reports. End Summary and Action

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

Press Campaign Revs Up Again

2. (SBU) The Vietnamese press campaign on AO began in August
2004 as the discovery period of the case drew to a close
(Ref. A). The press effort died down slightly as the
initial hearings were delayed, but picked up again as the
February 28 court hearing approached. After the March 10
dismissal of the case, the press has continued to be
inundated with reports, with many newspapers running
multiple AO articles each day.

3. (SBU) The government-controlled media's reports generally
focus on allegations that AO caused irreversible damage to
the environment and adversely affected the health of
civilians. The articles also demand compensation from the
U.S. government or the chemical companies or both. Many of
the articles turn on statistics about the amount of AO and
toxic chemicals sprayed during the war; allegations of high
dioxin residue levels in the soil of sprayed areas and high
dioxin residue levels found in people living in sprayed
areas; and research results by foreign scientists concluding
that AO/dioxins cause certain severe illnesses. Detailed
accounts of spraying that began in 1961 and "escalated to
chemical warfare" through July 1971 are common features.
Media reports also claim there are currently "three to four
million AO victims" still alive in Vietnam.

4. (SBU) Some stories have raised the question of why the
USG presses Vietnam on human rights issues but ignores the
plight of people affected by AO. These reports further
question why AO is not considered a human rights issue as
well. Some papers have called for "moral and spiritual
responsibility" from the USG and the "legal responsibility"
from the companies in question. In a media environment
where the lines between factual news stories and editorials
are blurred, the overall tone has been extremely negative
towards the United States.

5. (SBU) The press has often focused on international
support to the Vietnamese cause. Interviews with American
veterans groups, scientists and social activists who have
supported the Vietnamese demands for compensation, including
the Vietnam Friendship Village Committee, the British and
French-Vietnam Friendship Associations, Red Cross, Ford
Foundation, the Paris-based Association for Dioxin-infected
Children in Viet Nam (ADCV), Veterans for Peace and Action
Aid Vietnam have offered support in the press for the
Vietnam plaintiffs' case. In addition, the U.S. Fund for
Reconciliation and Development is organizing at the Hanoi
Opera House an Agent Orange fundraising concert event next
week with 1960's folksinger Peter Yarrow.

6. (SBU) The March 10 dismissal ruling triggered a series of
articles expressing outrage. For example, police-run
newspaper An Ninh The Gioi ("World Security") denounced the
ruling as "erroneous" and a "crime." A number of articles
noted the USG's amicus brief and interpreted this as a
political intervention to control the decision. While some
papers had muted headlines such as Hanoi Moi's ("New Hanoi")
"The U.S. Department of Justice is worrying," others like
Quan Doi Nhan Dan ("People's Military") were more blunt with
"They try everything to avoid responsibility" or Tien
Phong's ("Vanguard") "The Weinstein ruling stains the face
of the U.S." Lao Dong ("Labor") Daily, among other papers,
have special segments on their websites about AO ( These articles continue unabated, most
recently focusing on the U.S. National Institute of
Environmental Health Studies' cancellation of funding for
research on AO in Vietnam.

View from the South

7. (SBU) Journalists from Ho Chi Minh City's leading dailies
Thanh Nien ("Young People") and Tuoi Tre ("Youth") told
ConGenOff that the heavy focus on AO came from Hanoi. The
Thanh Nien reporter said that the GVN finds it is
politically and financially expedient to try and link as
many medical ailments as possible to AO and to deflect
responsibility for their treatment. Tuoi Tre has assigned
investigative journalist Lan Anh, who is facing prosecution
for breaking a story on drug price gouging to favor GVN
cronies (Ref. B), to cover the AO beat. (Comment: Tuoi Tre
management knows the importance of the AO story to Hanoi's
political elite and wants Lan Anh to curry favor with
hardliners prior to her indictment. End Comment.)

8. (SBU) Both of these Ho Chi Minh City press contacts said
that they had read the court ruling and understood why the
case was dismissed. They also noted the reports that the
White House intervened in the case, but attributed these to
ignorance of the U.S. legal system and a propensity to cite
anti-U.S. stories from third parties without analyzing their
credibility. The two said that they believed the Vietnamese
media would fairly and accurately report on USG assistance
to Vietnam or information on the U.S. legal system and
separation of powers, even if such information were not
linked directly to AO.

Message Sinks In?

9. (SBU) It is difficult to quantify with any precision the
effectiveness of the campaign. In Ho Chi Minh City, media
contacts report that the AO story has resonance with the
"man on the street." For example, an on-line petition in
support of the plaintiffs had over 500,000 endorsements.
During an event at the Hanoi University of Foreign Studies,
an Embassy officer was repeatedly questioned by students
about AO. Most people realize that the story is being
pushed by the GVN, but it attracts attention and there is a
general belief that the United States is responsible for
environmental damage across large swaths of Vietnam and has
a moral responsibility to compensate AO victims. The AO
issue is not at the top of most peoples' agendas, but the
dismissal of the lawsuit is generally seen as unfair, even
by people who are favorably inclined toward the United

No Official Contact on AO

10. (SBU) The GVN has made no official representation to the
Mission about AO, though the MFA's spokesman commented in
the wake of the dismissal that "the Vietnamese people were
disappointed" and that chemical companies should take
responsibility for all victims of AO, both American and
Vietnamese. After news came out of the USG's cancellation
of funding for research on AO in Vietnam, the MFA spokesman
highlighted the funding cut, and said the GVN is "always
ready to cooperate with international scientists" for
research in this area. (Note: To date, there has been
little information in public media on USG funding for people
with disabilities, and none on the lack of GVN cooperation
to get dioxin-related bilateral studies underway. End

11. (SBU) In a March 18 discussion with Poloff, Nguyen Ba
Hung, Deputy Director of the MFA's Americas Desk, showed
initial reluctance to engage on the issue, but then made a
passionate explanation of his views on AO. "The United
States tells us that this should be a scientific research
issue to be handled by specialists and doctors and asks for
more research. But the USG intervened in the lawsuit by
Vietnamese victims, so clearly it believes there is a
political dimension to the problem. The U.S. was willing to
compensate its own veterans according to a detailed schedule
of diseases and compensation amounts, so clearly there is a
link between Agent Orange and health problems. Why is the
U.S. so hypocritical that it pays compensation to U.S.
veterans at the same time that it challenges the validity of
the suffering of Vietnamese victims?" Furthermore, DDG Hung
explained domestic political elements to the issue.
"Technically it is in within the Prime Minister's power to
instruct the Ministry of Culture and Information to reduce
the profile of these stories in the Vietnamese press. But
practically speaking, this would be received with outrage,
and would be a political disaster for the Government. The
PM would be seen as putting the bilateral U.S.-Vietnam
relationship ahead of the welfare of Vietnamese victims....
His opponents would destroy him."


12. (SBU) We recommend the Department develop a public
diplomacy strategy both for Vietnam and for a broader
international audience on the facts regarding Agent Orange,
U.S. support for people with disabilities in Vietnam and,
perhaps, the key elements of the Judge Weinstein's decision.
The AO issue appears to have been seized upon by
conservatives as a way to criticize the United States with
impunity. Given the ongoing jockeying for positions in
advance of the 2006 Party Congress, the USG can expect the
media drumbeat to continue and no allies in trying to calm
this issue. Nonetheless, even while the AO story runs, the
Vietnamese media has reported on positives in our bilateral
relationship. We should be prepared to debunk the most
spurious and inflammatory assertions on AO, such as that the
White House intervened to fix the court case, and to
highlight the significant and growing humanitarian and
technical assistance that we have provided Vietnam since
reestablishment of relations.


© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
World Headlines

UN News: Aid Access Is Key Priority

Among the key issues facing diplomats is securing the release of a reported 199 Israeli hostages, seized during the Hamas raid. “History is watching,” says Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths. “This war was started by taking those hostages. Of course, there's a history between Palestinian people and the Israeli people, and I'm not denying any of that. But that act alone lit a fire, which can only be put out with the release of those hostages.” More

Save The Children: Four Earthquakes In a Week Leave Thousands Homeless

Families in western Afghanistan are reeling after a fourth earthquake hit Herat Province, crumbling buildings and forcing people to flee once again, with thousands now living in tents exposed to fierce winds and dust storms. The latest 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit 30 km outside of Herat on Sunday, shattering communities still reeling from strong and shallow aftershocks. More


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.