Cablegate: A Successful, Multi-Layered Event in Binh Duong

DE RUEHHM #0606/01 2680205
R 250205Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

HO CHI MIN 00000606 001.2 OF 003

Sensitive But Unclassified; please treat accordingly. Not for
Internet distribution.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On September 22, ConGen HCMC and the Binh
Duong provincial government jointly sponsored a day-long series
of events that featured a conference on trade and investment, a
visit to a U.S. high-technology investor, a cultural program, a
presentation on student visas and a reception for 350 guests in
the heart of Binh Duong's planned "new town" development. At a
time when some counterparts appear reluctant to be seen as
cooperating too actively or publicly with the consulate, ConGen
staff were pleasantly surprised on the day of the events to find
banners -- complete with American flags and Consulate Seals --
hanging from light posts beginning several miles from the event
site. The media was well-represented and on the margins
actively questioned presenters and audience members alike, and
the conference was taped in its entirety to be broadcast on Binh
Duong TV. The event was a success on many levels: an important
step toward raising the Consulate's profile outside of HCMC, an
opportunity to promote U.S. exports and make commercial contacts
in what is arguably Vietnam's most economically vibrant region,
an opportunity to showcase the advantages of rapid reform and
transparency, a day-long advertisement for the many advantages
of open U.S.-Vietnam cooperation and -- perhaps most importantly
-- an opportunity to convey the message to other Vietnamese
provinces as well as top GVN/CPV leaders that a willingness to
pursue an open, constructive dialog on all issues, including
sensitive areas in need of reform, is an essential component to
building a vibrant economy. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) On the surface, the Binh Duong event was a trade and
promotion event with Binh Duong authorities primarily interested
in promoting inbound investment while the Consulate focused on
promoting the export of U.S. goods -- machinery, materials,
food, etc. The Consulate and the Peoples Committee both
understood our differing but compatible goals going in and were
more than happy to help the other, with the CG praising Binh
Duong for having created what many view as the most positive
business climate in Vietnam while provincial officials warmly
welcomed American suppliers. Our colleagues from Foreign
Commercial Service (FCS) and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)
were on hand to participate in panel discussions and network
with the more than 300 companies present. Binh Duong's
impressive economic performance (growth consistently averaging
above 15% and Vietnam's third largest destination for FDI), Binh
Duong is also a key market for U.S. products. Beef and wine are
joining cotton, hardwoods and leather as major U.S. agricultural
exports to the province while the trend toward increased
mechanization in factories is opening up new markets for U.S.
leaders such as Rockwell Automation and Gerber Scientific.
American engineering and architectural firms are already well

3. (U) At the same time the CG praised Binh Duong for its many
successes, he pointed out that the province faced many
challenges, such as further streamlining the business
licensing/registration process (the province slid badly in that
area on this year's Provincial Competitiveness Index, or PCI),
improving the rule of law and the operation of the courts,
balancing economic growth with environmental protection and
protecting worker rights. (Note: The PCI uses business surveys
to rank order the provinces in terms of the quality of economic
governance. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and
USAID-funded Vietnam Competitiveness Initiative Project
collaborate to produce this annual report. Binh Duong topped
the PCI since the index was first published 2005, but was edged
out by Danang this year, sliding into the number two position.
End note.) The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) both
praised the great business environment in Binh Duong and called
for significant improvements in key areas such as labor unrest.
People's Committee Chairman Nguyen Hoang Son and other Binh
Duong officials took the criticisms in the constructive vein in
which they were intended and responded with information on plans
already underway for improving the province's performance. One
of the major segments of the conference focused on Binh Duong's
plans to address both human and physical infrastructure
limitations by building a new town center that will combine a
university, hospital and administrative center with higher
quality housing, parks and shopping/entertainment districts so
as to make the province more attractive to both expatriates and
highly qualified Vietnamese employees. (Note: At present,
nearly all expats as well as most senior level Vietnamese staff
working in Binh Duong's industrial parks live in HCMC.) Binh
Duong is already number one on the PCI's ranking of
infrastructure, but provincial leaders were quick to agree that

HO CHI MIN 00000606 002.2 OF 003

much remains to be done, particularly with respect to
connections to air and sea ports.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------
4. (SBU) Faced with frequent difficulties in getting cultural
events, speaker programs and other USG-sponsored activities
approved in HCMC (and elsewhere), we used this event to promote
the mutual advantages of cooperation. For example, while the
Consulate's largest cultural program of the year, the visit of
the triple Grammy winning fusion group Ozomatli, was especially
difficult to arrange in HCMC, Binh Duong provincial leaders
welcomed the event enthusiastically, volunteering to share costs
by providing the My Phuoc Theater free of charge and even
providing buses so that workers at the province's industrial
parks could reach the venue easily. On concert night, top
provincial and party leaders from Binh Duong joined ConGen staff
and about four thousand clearly ecstatic workers attending the
packed concert.

5. (SBU) In addition to highlighting the Ozomatli tour, the
conference and related events highlighted other successful
USG-sponsored programs such as a program led by U.S. Federal
Judge Judith Arterton on increasing the professionalism and
independence of the judiciary, multiple PEPFAR-supported events
aimed at helping reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS among the
province's huge migrant worker population, and other speaker
programs. Recognizing that economic prosperity in Binh Duong
may well translate into parents and students interested in US
study, Vice Consul Jeff Hay gave a presentation for 150 high
school, community college, and university students.
Additionally, the Public Affairs Section offered a presentation
on American Business Culture to support the focus on trade and
investment in the day's activities, and also to foster mutual

6. (SBU) At their core, the day's events were focused as much --
if not more -- on other provinces than on Binh Duong. The
overall sub-plot to the entire day's events was plain: progress
on the economic front is inextricably tied to progress on all
other fronts, including overall good governance, openness to
both criticism and new ideas and cooperation with the USA.
We were particularly pleased with our success on this front
since Binh Duong's leadership stepped up to the plate,
delivering the message more effectively than if it had come from
a USG representative. Rather than leaving it to U.S. officials
to praise the advantages of a huge event such as the Ozomatli
concert, for example, provincial officials flagged it in their
presentation as an example of one of the province's major
successes of this past year. Similarly, it was Binh Duong
officials, and not USG representatives, that first broached
topics such as religious freedom and the importance of
maintaining an open dialog with religious leaders. (Comment:
While not perfect, the religious freedom environment in Binh
Duong is certainly quite good and far in advance of many other
provinces. End Comment.) In contrast to a recent MPS-produced
video that linked programs to increase the independence and
professionalization of the judiciary to "anti-state plots," Binh
Duong officials publicly praised exactly that type of
cooperation in their province. Similarly, the willingness of
Binh Duong officials to accept live, unscripted questions from
the floor concerning topics such as tax collection and business
registration problems provided a wonderful example of dealing
openly and honestly with constructive criticism -- an example we
hope other provinces will follow. When it became clear there
were more questions than time, Binh Duong's External Relations
Office agreed to answer questions submitted in writing on the
provincial website.

7. (SBU) While the day's events were jointly sponsored by the
U.S. Consulate General and the Binh Duong People's Committee
with a target audience of current and potential investors, the
proceedings also attracted participation from several other
consulates, multinational corporations and, perhaps most
importantly, senior GVN officials including members of the
Central Committee of the Communist Party, the National Assembly,
the Office of Government (OOG), MPI and others. Thanks to its
leadership in building a positive business climate that attracts
both foreign and domestic investment, Binh Duong province is
widely recognized as a role model. Provincial Chairmen, Party
Secretaries and economic officials from literally every province
in Vietnam visit Binh Duong to try to learn some of the
province's "economic magic." The events on September 22 helped
spread the message that a big part of that magic is not a
specific set of rules or organizational structure but an
attitude of openness combined with a genuine desire to improve

HO CHI MIN 00000606 003.2 OF 003

8. (SBU) COMMENT: We chose Binh Duong for this event for the
simple reason they provincial leaders there genuinely "get it."
The province is certainly not without problems, as labor strife,
rampant pollution and other issues attest, but these problems
are tempered by the realization that the province is working to
address them. While we do not agree with Binh Duong officials
on every issue; indeed, when planning for this event began we
ran into multiple areas where their vision and ours diverged.
What makes Binh Duong such an encouraging place to work is that
despite our disagreements over such issues as the extent of
audience interaction or having private business representatives
share the stage on a panel with government officials, we simply
worked through them. The end result was a great event that
included bits of American and Vietnamese approaches in a
uniquely effective cross-cultural event. END COMMENT.

9. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

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