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Cablegate: Communist Party Reformers Push for Change

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: A) 04 HCMC 1383; B) HANOI 2063


1. (SBU): Former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, senior statesman of
the Party in southern Vietnam, has reportedly emerged in recent
months as the de facto spokesman of the Party's reformist wing.
According to a Party insider close to Kiet, his critique of the
draft political report of the 10th party Congress is circulating
widely among Vietnam's intelligentsia and represents the position
of reformists, who are calling for the next year's Party Congress
to endorse comprehensive economic, social and political reform.
Kiet called for rationalization and reform of the state-owned
sector, "democratization" of the Party and reevaluation of the
Party's ideology. He accused conservatives of fostering a climate
of cronyism and venality that undermines the Party's legitimacy
and stifles economic growth. Kiet argues that "peaceful
evolution," the foil conservatives have used to impede ties with
the United States, is no longer relevant to Vietnam.

2. (SBU) Kiet has become the darling of the reform-oriented HCMC
press, which has given his public statements headline coverage.
Although Kiet's suggested reforms are perhaps the most extensive
and far reaching that we have seen from a Party leader, he is no
dissident. His proscriptions are evolutionary not revolutionary
and argue for continued Party control over the pace and scope of
Vietnam's economic and social reform. End Summary.

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A Public Shot Across the Bow...

3. (SBU) In an August 2005 open letter given headline coverage in
HCMC's reform-oriented Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien newspapers, former
Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet chides the Party for failing to follow
the example of Ho Chi Minh to "unite the people," for creating
"class-based antagonisms" and for ignoring the contributions of
non-Party members to the development of the country. He warned
that elitism, corruption and mismanagement are "eroding the
people's trust in the Party." Kiet added that the Party's
penchant for placing those who are politically safe, instead of
the technically qualified, in key positions is impeding Vietnam's
development. Calling the Party's 1956 land reform in the North
and post-1975 collectivization in the South mistakes that set
Vietnam back by generations, Kiet drew parallels to the current
debate within the Party over the scope and pace of economic and
political reform. HCMC media also widely covered Kiet's
"impromptu" October 18 press conference on the margins of the
opening of the October 2005 session of the National Assembly, in
which Kiet prodded the Party, the GVN and the National Assembly to
intensify and coordinate its anti-corruption efforts.

...And A Private Broadside

4. (SBU) In May and again in July, Kiet reportedly submitted
policy documents to the Politburo and Central Committee. The
first was a 27-page critique of the draft political report of the
10th Party Congress -- the Congress' policy centerpiece. The
second was entitled "suggestions to amend CPV regulations."
According to a contact in HCMC, both documents have been
circulated widely among Party officials. The two documents cover
a wide range of issues ranging from the Party's ideological
underpinnings, political reform and "democratization" and economic
reform. Key themes that Kiet lays out in these documents,
reported also in Ref B following the 12th Party Plenum in July,

-- Ideological change: Kiet questions the sustainability of the
Party's adherence to Marxism-Leninism and suggests that the Party,
at a minimum, triage M&L dogma to determine what elements remain
appropriate for Vietnam and discard the rest. Kiet raises the
prospect of substituting "Ho Chi Minh Thought" as an alternative,
a proposal that that other sources tell us is under discussion
within the Party (Ref B). However, Kiet stops short of
recommending that the Party "reconsider socialism" or completely
abandon Marxism-Leninism.

-- Economic Reform: Kiet notes that Vietnam's economic
competitiveness is low and that Vietnam will have trouble
competing in an increasingly integrated world market. He
criticizes GVN and Party economic managers, taking specific aim at
conservatives -- such as former Party Secretary Do Muoi -- who
delayed Vietnam's signing of the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade
Agreement and who continue to support a strong State-Owned sector.
Calling State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) the "weakest and most
problematic sector in the country," Kiet calls for establishing a
truly "level playing field" between SOEs and the private sector.
Echoing themes he raised with the Consul General last year (Ref
A), Kiet also calls for immediate and comprehensive reform of
Vietnam's banking and financial sector.

-- Foreign Policy: Kiet emphasizes that Vietnam needs to move
away from the "us versus them" mentality that still pervades Party
thinking. In this context, "peaceful evolution" (the alleged
American strategy to force the Party to change through civil
society development and economic growth) "needs to be soberly
reconsidered." He notes that even China uses its economic
relationship with the United States for its own political benefit.
According to Kiet, Vietnam must avoid a situation where it relies
only on one international power, but must be able to play all
sides for its own advantage. Kiet also argues that the GVN must
do more to woo Western multinational companies to Vietnam. He
notes that these corporations could become key allies in Vietnam's
efforts to lobby Western governments.

-- Internal political reform: Asking, "whom does the Party
represent now?" Kiet warns that the Party is cut off from
Vietnam's "working class," which has no input into the decisions
of its representatives. Kiet calls for a series of reforms to
"democratize" the Party, including reasserting the power of the
150-person Central Committee over the Politburo, clearly defining
-- and limiting -- the responsibilities of the Party General
Secretary and demanding that Central Committee and Politburo

members not hold government office concurrently. Kiet calls on
the Party to open the leadership of the Fatherland Front and other
mass mobilization organizations to non-Party members. Singling
out former President Le Duc Anh and Party Secretary Do Muoi (and
himself by inference), Kiet demands that the Party eliminate the
influence of former Party leaders on the decision-making process.
Kiet also pressed the Party to "familiarize Vietnamese society
with the habits of democracy and democratic way of life," by
expanding freedom of the press, speech and independent scholarly

A Party Insider Says...

5. (SBU) A senior official based in HCMC who reports directly to
the Prime Minister confirmed to us on October 20 that the points
Kiet articulated in his letters reflect the sentiments of many
within the Party. Some believe that Kiet's proposals did not go
far enough, but "not everything needed to or could be raised."
The official, a protegee of Kiet's, confirmed the existence of
serious debate between reformists and Marxist-Leninist
"dogmatists" in advance of the 10th Party Congress. The contact
maintained that a majority of Party members now recognize that the
Party must make an ideological shift, but was torn over how and
when to make the move. There is deep angst within the Party that
publicly acknowledging that tenets of Communist dogma are obsolete
will weaken the Party's legitimacy. The contact would not
speculate about the outcome of the 10th Party Congress, but
observed that the solution to the issue would not come from
internal Party deliberations but the establishment of a solid
basis of rule of law in the country.

6. (SBU) Comment: Kiet's calls for reform reflect ongoing
discussions in the Party about its future in the run-up to the
10th Party Congress. Kiet's call for comprehensive economic
reform and abandoning the bugaboo of "peaceful evolution" appear
designed to buoy reformers, who look to the United States as a
partner that can support their development goals.

7. (SBU) Although Kiet's letters reportedly have caused
consternation in some circles within the Party, Kiet -- the
Party's senior statesman in the South and one of the architects of
Vietnam's "Doi Moi" (economic liberalization) policy -- is
evolutionary, not revolutionary. He urges reform, not
abandonment, of one-Party rule and democratic centralism.
Although his writings leave open the possibility that Vietnam
could transition to a multi-party system, Kiet appears to argue
that any process of democratization in Vietnam must happen
gradually, with the Party firmly in control of the direction and
pace of reform.


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