Vietnamese courts imprisoned 16 non-violent political activists between October last year and February. In January, 4 pro-democracy activists were sentenced by a court in Ho Chi Minh City to between 5 and 16 years imprisonment, including a prominent US-trained lawyer. Charges of subversion were levelled against the four along with accusations they had sought to end communist rule by publishing articles online and through their associations with groups overseas.
‘While such actions may have demonstrated the party’s authority to the intended domestic audience, such displays of power tend to have wider international consequences,’ says Gavin Greenwood, a regional security analyst with Hong Kong-based Allan & Associates.
He says that because of this, the US government recently put Vietnam on notice, warning that Washington’s concerns over human rights issues could lead to unspecified economic and diplomatic consequences.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Vietnam has an affinity with anniversaries and celebrations. Guests, like the 50,000 people lining Le Duan Boulevard for the 35th parade marking victory over the Americans, are all handpicked. It’s a time to remember past deeds and remind the faithful of their future. It was the same on May Day and back in February when the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) marked its 80th birthday. Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh saw this as an appropriate time to make his own headlines, and warned the CPV’s three million members that Vietnam faced unspecified ‘hostile forces.’
The reality, according to Greenwood, was a message for the entire country, not just the party faithful. But filling in the appropriate ‘hostile force’ was left to Manh’s audience. For some it meant China, to others ‘international capitalism,’ but for many the enemy was far closer to home.
‘Manh was being diplomatic with his phrase “hostile forces” and allowing his audience to fill in the space with their own demons,’ Greenwood said.
Manh has a reputation for conviviality, a congenial smile and a welcoming handshake, and as party secretary he is the undisputed boss of Vietnam. It’s a position he’s held since 2001, and behind his rapid rise perhaps lays one of the great secrets of the Vietnam War—to this day Manh has declined to quash widespread and rampant rumours that he is the son of Ho Chi Minh, father of the Vietnamese revolution.
Love Thy Neighbour
Vietnam marked the 35th anniversary of liberation with a dramatic and colourful re-enactment of North Vietnamese tanks ramming the gates of the Presidential Palace. Thousands found shade under the Tamarind Trees and waved red and gold communist flags along the route, which was adorned with posters of Ho Chi Minh—forever and affectionately known as Uncle Ho—alongside communist banners branded with the hammer and sickle.
Patriotic songs were blended with the odd disco number as war veterans mixed with party cadres and leaders from China, Cuba, Russia, Cambodia and Laos. The streets were blocked off to ordinary citizens. Security was tight and the foreign media spoon fed information as President Nguyen Minh Triet presented Ho Chi Minh City with the nation’s highest honour, a Gold Star.