Cablegate: Minister Defends Decree 97 in Face of Criticism From Charge,

DE RUEHHI #1274/01 3340508
R 300507Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Minister Defends Decree 97 in Face of Criticism from Charge,
other COMs


1.(SBU) Summary: Charge and COMs from like-minded countries
reiterated their concerns about the harmful impact of Decree 97 on
research and development organizations during a meeting with
Vietnamese Minister of Science and Technology (MoST) Hoang Van
Phong November 6. Phong argued that the Decree did not restrict
the operations of independent research organizations and insisted
that the GVN was committed to maintaining international academic
and research standards. The COMs took issue with Phong's overly
positive interpretation of the Decree and stated it could hinder
Vietnam's efforts to attract support from the international
business, academic and scientific communities. The Ambassador will
reiterate these concerns at the December 3-4 Consultative Group
meeting. End summary.

2. (U) MoST Minister Hoang Van Phong met with Charge and the
Ambassadors of Sweden (representing the EU) and Canada
(representing Switzerland, New Zealand and Norway--the "Group of
Four") on November 6, saying he had been tasked by the Prime
Minister to respond to the Ambassadors' letters of September 11 and
18 expressing concern about the draft degree's effect on civil
society, freedom of expression, R&D, and Vietnam's investment
climate. During a lengthy defense, Phong argued Decree 97 was
consistent with existing Vietnamese law and did not restrict
citizens' right to engage in scientific and technological research,
or publish their results. It requires organizations, but not
individuals, to submit reports to competent State agencies before
publishing them. Phong claimed the GVN based the list of
categories of fields in which individuals are allowed to establish
science and technology organizations, consulted lists produced by
the OECD, UNESCO, and the governments of Singapore, Australia, New
Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia. Acknowledging that the
promulgation of Decree 97 had created ambiguity in Vietnam and
abroad, Phong said MoST would issue a circular providing
implementing guidance.

3. (SBU) However, Minister Phong muddied the waters by noting that
the GVN was working on three separate decrees governing investment
and cooperation with foreign partners, but was unable to answer the
COMs' repeated questions about the decrees. (Note: Although the
Minister said the draft decrees were posted on a government
website, we were unable to find them. On November 27 Post learned
that the Ministries of Education, Science and Technology, and
Health have drafted separate decrees governing investment and
cooperation with foreign partners in their respective sectors. We
have a Vietnamese-language version of the decree governing science
and technology and are analyzing it. In its public comments on the
decree on education, the VBF Education Working Group noted "the
draft Decree is very prescriptive and is somewhat ambiguous.
Potential investors could be deterred by regulations that are
unclear, unnecessarily prescriptive and/or create unreasonably
burdensome reporting requirements. Instances of ambiguity in the
current Draft would add to confusion for potential investors." We
have not yet seen the draft decree on healthcare. End note.)

4. (SBU) The Swedish Ambassador expressed the EU's concern that the
Decree sent disturbing signals to the business community and could
cause investors to reject Vietnam as a potential research site. It
also restricted academic institutions and non-governmental
organizations from engaging in independent research and publishing
their findings. He expressed hope Vietnam would respect
international norms of academic freedom and create a world-class
venue for research and development. The Canadian Ambassador noted
that the Decree restricted research organizations' ability to
register in Vietnam in ways that were not consistent with OECD
guidelines. There also are problems with NGOs not understanding
whether they had to register anew and whether MoST would accept
that registration. She expressed hope the GVN would issue clear
and transparent implementing guidelines and encouraged the GVN to
minimize the negative impact of Decree 97.

5. (SBU) Charge added that Decree 97 represented a step backwards
for Vietnam in its effort to develop its research and development
capability. It was important that all research - even that
involving sensitive areas - be made public and discussed. Charge
cautioned that Decree 97 could force U.S. higher education
institutions and universities to reconsider partnering with

HANOI 00001274 002 OF 002

Vietnam, given its restrictions on academic research. She noted
that restrictions on organizations' ability to publish their
findings not only did not accord with international practice, but
would result in a substantial reduction in public policy inputs
available to the GVN. Recent firings and transfers of editors and
arrests of bloggers and reporters had had a chilling effect on
public discourse and called into question the Minister's assertion
that any individual was free to publish their research. Charge
also commented pointedly on the Decree's chilling effect on civil
society, saying the closure of organizations like the Institute for
Development Studies (IDS) (ref. B), deprived the GVN of important
public policy input that was essential for Vietnam's continuing
economic development.

6. (SBU) Phong repeated that Decision 97 accorded with
international standards, since it allowed individuals to publish
their findings. He argued that scientists can publish their
findings in the MoST magazine, which he described as a source of
information for people and investors. In what appeared to be a
veiled reference to IDS, the Minister cautioned that some
researchers in Vietnam who publish their findings and stir up the
public constitute a "danger." Such information must be "verified"
before being released to the public.

7. (SBU) Comment: Decree 97, together with the latest version of
Decree 88 on associations and the blocking of Facebook (ref. A),
are concerted efforts by the Communist Party and the State to
restrict citizens' rights to information and to express their views
freely. As preparations for the January 2011 Party Congress
intensify, we are likely to see an intensified crackdown on freedom
of expression, including additional restrictions on individuals and
organizations like IDS who are considered threats by the State, but
the effects of regulations such as Decree 97 will persist well
beyond the Party Congress. The Ambassador, along with several
other Ambassadors, will raise these concerns once again - and more
publicly - at the December 3-4 Consultative Group Meeting. End

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