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Cablegate: Media, Dissidents and the Party: Dilemas and Political

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) Hanoi 2068; B) HCMC 1151

1. (U) This is a joint Hanoi-HCMC cable.

2. (SBU) Summary: Vastly differing media treatment of dissident
Hoang Minh Chinh in Hanoi and HCMC newspapers underscores the
differences between conservatives and reformers within the Party
in advance of the 10th Party Congress. Soon after Chinh made
critical remarks in the United States of Vietnam's human rights
record and Communist ideology, Hanoi media launched a scathing
series of attacks against the dissident. In contrast, HCMC media
avoided the story completely until the Party demanded that they
follow suit. While a senior HCMC media contact believes that
Chinh can return home safely, Ministry of Public Security contacts
in Hanoi are neither optimistic about Chinh's future in Vietnam,
nor about other dissidents that follow suit. End Summary.

Contrasting Media Treatment of Hoang Minh Chinh
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) Soon after dissident Hoang Minh Chinh made a series of
public appearances in the United States in October criticizing
Vietnam's human rights record and Communist ideology, the HCMC
editions of Hanoi-based newspapers launched a campaign attacking
Chinh and defending orthodox Communist Party dogma. Calling Chinh
a "rambling old man," one typical editorial in Nhan Dan -- the
Party mouthpiece -- vigorously defended "the vitality of Marxism,
with its noble, humane ideals, and with dialectical materialism at
its core, [which] has survived the challenge of time." Another
November 4 article in Nhan Dan entitled "Traitor Unmasked,"
attacked Chinh for his support during the Cold War of "peaceful
coexistence" with the United States, for supporting the "enemies
of Marxism-Leninism," and for "embracing the feet of the
invaders." By our count, since mid-October, there have been at
least 17 anti-Chinh articles and editorials appearing in HCMC
emanating from Hanoi-based media outlets. (Per ref A, Chinh, the
former Director of the Marxist-Leninist Institute until 1967,
traveled to the U.S. in early October for medical treatment.)

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4. (SBU) There were no articles in leading HCMC dailies for at
least the first week of the anti-Chinh campaign. Two media
contacts told us that HCMC's leading dailies made a calculated
decision to remain silent. One press contact added that, although
he did not agree with everything Chinh said, there were elements
of his discourse that were reasonable. In any case, the contact
did not think it "unreasonable" that Chinh be allowed to say
whatever he wished to say, so long as he did not encourage
violence. A long-time Embassy contact, Senior Colonel Tran Nhung
(protect) of the Quan Doi Nhan Dan ("People's Army"), said that,
"One has to respect Chinh for maintaining his views in spite of
everything he has been through."

5. (SBU) Another HCMC media contact reported that on or about
October 27, the Party's Central Department for Ideology and
Culture ordered the formation of a special group of columnists to
prepare articles discrediting Chinh and defending Marxism-
Leninism. Immediately thereafter, HCMC's leading dailies Thanh
Nien and Tuoi Tre began running a number articles critical of
Chinh. A Deputy Managing Editor told us that HCMC newspapers were
told that it was "their political duty" to run the Chinh stories.

6. (SBU) In contrast to their Hanoi-based colleagues, HCMC's major
dailies ran only five articles on Chinh. They also were milder in
tone and, in some cases, less prominently placed. Tuoi Tre,
perhaps HCMC's most reform-oriented newspaper, ran only one
article, placed on the penultimate page to the October 30 edition.

Can Chinh Return to Vietnam?

7. (SBU) During a recent meeting, a senior editor of one of HCMC's
newspapers said that tensions and jockeying for position within
the Party ahead of the 10th Party Congress helped explain the
intense campaign against the dissident. Chinh was a target that
conservatives could exploit. Nonetheless, our contact was
optimistic that the Party would not order arrest Chinh should he
return. While this undoubtedly would not have been the case even
a few years ago, today most Party leaders seem to understand that
arresting Chinh would only raise the dissident's profile. They
also appreciate that his arrest would cause unnecessary tension
with the United States. Other Embassy contacts have not been as
optimistic about Chinh's future in Vietnam. "Chinh has broken a
lot of laws over there," one Ministry of Public Security (MPS)
told a Hanoi PolOff at an informal dinner. "It would be better if
he doesn't come back to Vietnam." One of the other MPS officials
at the dinner, after a few glasses of wine, noted that Chinh's
comments (and those of CPV dissident novelist Duong Thu Huong,
whose criticism of the Vietnamese regime while visiting France
made the New York Times' front page) were so public that "if they
return, the GVN will be in a very bad position." The MPS
officials, who are from the office that would likely order such an
arrest if it occurred, said that MPS would be under a great deal
of pressure from conservatives to arrest both dissidents upon
their return to Vietnam. They stopped short, however, of stating
categorically that they would be arrested.


8. (SBU) The MPS officials stressed that they had anticipated
Chinh's high-profile attacks before granting him permission to
travel, but had let him go anyway. "We told the Embassy
explicitly that this would happen," a Senior Colonel told PolOff.
"But we let him go anyway. This should be considered when
evaluating Vietnam's human rights record." After a long and
dramatic pause to light a cigarette, he added, "this is probably
what we should expect if we allow Nguyen Dan Que (another high
profile, dissident) to travel to the United States, isn't it?"
PolOff shrugged. "In that case," the MPS official continued, "if
he goes, he had better not come back." For his part, Que told
Embassy and ConGenOffs in mid-October that he is watching the
outcome of the Chinh case carefully before he decides whether to
pursue his travel plans to the United States.

9. (SBU) Comment: Hoang Minh Chinh and Duong Thu Huong present a
dilemma for the GVN in general and the MPS General Department of
Security (charged with keeping dissidents under control) in
particular: getting them out of Vietnam eliminates a local
headache, but the dissidents' public denunciations of the regime
make it very difficult to allow them back into Vietnam. As the
MPS officials pointed out, Vietnamese law outlaws the
international public criticism these dissidents have engaged in.
To let them return to Vietnam, and not arrest them, would be a
very public decision not to apply these laws. If it were possible
to shield them from arrest and prosecution (in defiance of the
hard-line voices who have been so prolific in recent weeks), it
would then set a precedent that would be hard to overturn. We
would certainly welcome such a development as an enormous
improvement in the climate for freedom of expression in Vietnam,
but we would be surprised to see such a radical change in a
society that is so dedicated to incremental political reform. For
our part, we will continue to urge our GVN interlocutors to
exercise restraint, underlining that the GVN will do itself no
favors internationally by arresting Chinh or forcing him into
exile. End Comment.


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