Cablegate: The Role of Think Tanks in Foreign Affairs

Published: Wed 2 Apr 2003 03:54 AM
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. 02 Hanoi 2871 B. Hanoi 0362
1. (U) SUMMARY: The GVN supports an extensive network of
research institutes ("think tanks") under the National
Center for Social Sciences and Humanities (NCSSH). Among
its 25 think tanks, five focus on Vietnam's external
relations. While their influence appears modest, the think
tanks provide advice and information to GVN ministries (and
relatively candid opinions to emboffs, unusual in this
system) as part of the policy planning process. Most
research projects are self-generated, but the think tanks
also respond to specific ministry requests; they likely have
more influence in the latter category. Expansion of the
foreign affairs-related think tanks in the foreseeable
future is unlikely due to budget constraints and a lack of
trained personnel. END SUMMARY.
A look at the NCSSH
2. (U) The NCSSH in its present incarnation has existed
since 1993. A predecessor -- "the Department of Literature,
History and Geography" -- began in 1953 and operated
through the war years but on a limited basis. According to
Dr. Nguyen Giang Hai, NCSSH's Acting Director for
International Cooperation, the framework organization now
includes 25 entities and employs about 1,350 permanent
staff, mostly researchers, in its:
-- Center for China Studies;
-- Center for Japan Studies/Koreas Studies (Note: The
Koreas Center is administratively part of the Center for
Japan Studies. End Note);
-- Center for European Studies;
-- Center for North America Studies;
-- Institute of Southeast Asia Studies;
-- Institute of Philosophy;
-- Institute of Sociology;
-- Institute of Economics;
-- Institute of World Economy;
-- Institute of State and Law;
-- Institute of History;
-- Institute of Human Studies;
-- Institute of Archaeology;
-- Institute of Ethnology;
-- Institute of Literature;
-- Institute of Linguistics;
-- Institute of Folklore Studies;
-- Institute of Han Nom Studies (i.e., pre-romanized
Vietnamese script and literature);
-- Institute of Psychology;
-- Institute of Religious Studies;
-- Institute of Social Sciences in Ho Chi Minh City;
-- Center for Human Geography;
-- Center for Family and Women Studies;
-- Museum of Ethnology (which just co-organized the major
Vietnamese exhibition with the American Museum of Natural
History in New York City).
3. (U) Most of the research at the five foreign affairs
think tanks is self-generated, Dr. Hai noted, while adding
that "about 15-20 percent" stems from direct requests from
various ministries (primarily Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
He guessed that this ratio likely varies among the think
tanks, however. Dr. Hai added that most think tanks focus
their efforts in three areas: (1) basic research to assist
the GVN in policy planning; (2) training students for MA and
PhD programs; and, (3) research on various aspects of social
sciences and humanities.
4. (U) Dr. Nguyen Tien Sam, Director of the China Studies
Center, noted that his Center researches subjects relevant
broadly to the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao, but the
bulk of its work focuses on the PRC. Researchers specialize
both in Chinese history as well as modern day conditions and
bilateral relations, including Vietnam/PRC and PRC/US. Dr.
Sam said that, in recent years, the Center had "given
considerable attention" to the PRC's experience in economic
reform and how that experience may apply to Vietnam's own
reform efforts. Other research focuses on predicting policy
trends in the PRC and how such trends might impact Vietnam.
Long and short-term research projects have examined Chinese
culture and society.
5. (U) The Center has also hosted seminars with other
domestic and foreign research institutions (including a
lively half-day session on US-China relations featuring
Ambassador Burghardt in December 2002). Dr. Sam highlighted
a recent seminar on the PRC's 16th Party Congress, which
examined its particular relevance to Vietnam (ref a). Dr.
Sam admitted that the China Studies Center was not immune
from outside pressures, lamenting in particular that a
planned seminar on Vietnam - Taiwan relations, scheduled for
August 2002 in Hanoi, had been postponed due to "strong
objections" from the PRC Embassy in Hanoi (ref b). The
seminar is now planned for April; however, the venue has
been switched to Taipei.
6. (U) Nguyen Thien Son, Director of the North America
Center, said that his Center focuses on Vietnam's political,
economic, cultural, social, and historical relations with
the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The North America
Center views itself as a "bridge" between scholars and
businesspeople in North America and Vietnam, Son noted. To
this end, the Center also produces articles and publications
in English on various North American political and economic
issues, although the bulk of its work remains in Vietnamese.
Dr. Son added that a major ongoing project is to examine
Vietnam - US relations under the present Administration.
7. (U) Dr. Son estimated that "about 15 percent" of his
Center's work results from specific requests from
ministries, especially MFA. There is normally "some
urgency" to these latter requests, he claimed. Two recent
requests included analyses on US society after the September
11 attacks and on US - North Korea relations. Other GVN
"clients" include the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and
the Ministry of Defense (MOD). At the request of MFA, MOD,
and MPS, the Center is currently analyzing "US strategic
goals in Southeast Asia," Son claimed, highlighting the
interest of those two ministries in developing a long-term
strategy to counterbalance US policy. MOD has now
additionally tasked the Center to examine "The Iraq War and
Its Consequences," according to Son.
8. (U) Dr. Tran Khanh, Head of the Institute's Political
Research and International Relations Department, described
its foci as economic, political, historical, and cultural
issues among Southeast Asian countries (especially
bilaterally with Vietnam) as well as their relationships
with world powers, notably the U.S. Dr. Khanh said that the
Institute also examines regional issues such as ASEAN's role
and development. According to Dr. Khanh, the Institute's
main GVN clients are MFA, MOD, the Ministry of Trade, and
the Ministry of Planning and Investment. At the request of
the MFA, the Center is now working on a project to analyze
Vietnam's future links with ASEAN, projecting ahead to 2010.
9. (U) Ngo Xuan Binh, Deputy Director of the Center for
Japan Studies (and concurrently Director of the Center for
Koreas Studies), said that his Center initially focused
mainly on Japanese politics, economy, history, society,
culture, and language. Concerning Vietnam - Japan
relations, the Center has analyzed the bilateral
relationship since the implementation of Vietnam's "doi moi"
(renovation) policy in 1986, as well as changes in Japan's
foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Binh
described his Center's main purpose as assisting GVN policy
10. (U) In addition to research projects, Binh cited other
Center activities, including a seminar on Vietnam - Japan
relations planned for September 2003 to mark the 30th
anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations. Binh added
that the Center also hosted a seminar in March comparing
education in Vietnam and Japan.
11. (U) Not until 1998 did the NCSSH direct the Japan
Center to undertake research on the Koreas, Binh claimed,
and established a small Center for Koreas Studies under the
Japan Center. Since then, the Koreas Center has primarily
looked at South Korea, because there is little information
available about North Korea and because the GVN views the
relationship with South Korea as "having more potential,"
Binh added.
12. (U) Binh noted that a March 2001 Center workshop on
administrative reforms in South Korea had attracted
"considerable interest from several GVN ministries." More
recently, a December 2002 seminar on educational reforms in
South Korea was also "well attended," he added. However,
Binh lamented that, while his Center regularly distributes
its journal and other publications to different government
agencies, "few officials read them."
13. (U) Bui Nhat Quang, Deputy Chief of the Vietnam -
European Union (EU) Research Department of the Center for
European Studies, detailed research efforts on Vietnam's
relations with northern, western, and eastern Europe, the
EU, and Russia. Major foci include EU development trends
and their significance for Vietnam, how to broaden Vietnam's
political and economic relationship with Europe, and
assisting GVN ministries "better to understand Europe."
Quang noted that the Center is working on a three-year
project, funded by the EU, to establish a documentation
center that will provide more information about Europe as
well as improve the Center's research capabilities. The
project also supports EU-related conferences, including a
February 2003 conference on ASEAN - EU relations.
14. (U) Quang added that the Center's primary audience is
the MFA, but the Center also has "close relationships" with
local universities, especially Vietnam National University's
Faculty of International Studies. Quang volunteered only
that his Center "occasionally" implements projects in
response to on specific GVN requests/taskings.
15. (U) According to the NCSSH's Dr. Hai, the foreign
policy think tanks, while tasked "to advise" the GVN, are
not a major component of the decision-making process but
"may have some limited influence." Dr. Hai pointed out that
"one must differentiate between general research and work
performed at a ministry's request." If a request is
"urgent," it is likely to be given more attention and "have
more impact," he claimed. Dr. Hai added that think tank
officials also exert a "certain amount of influence" as
advisors to GVN delegations on overseas missions.
16. (U) According to Nguyen Thanh Huy, a senior expert
from the MFA's ASEAN Department, think tank materials serve
as "useful references, but have a limited audience."
However, he agreed that when a think tank performs an
analysis based on a specific request, "it has more
influence." Separately, Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, Deputy Dean
at Vietnam National University's Faculty of International
Studies, said that her staff and students "do not generally
pay much attention" to think tank materials, while claiming
that her faculty had a "good relationship" with the foreign
affairs think tanks. Thuy added that the amount of "new
research" the think tanks performed was "limited." She
observed that "much of what they publish" was material
translated from foreign sources. Dang Hoang Giang, senior
expert at the MFA's Laws and Treaties Department, said
separately that he and his colleagues pay "little attention"
to think tank material. He could not recall any specific
research requests made by his department recently to any of
the foreign affairs think tanks.
17. (U) According to Tran Thi Lan Anh, Deputy Director of
NCSSH's International Cooperation Department, NCSSH has
requested that the Prime Minister's office authorize
additional research institutes to specialize in the Middle
East and Africa. However, Anh admitted that, while the GVN
"understands the importance of these areas," separate
centers were "unlikely" for the foreseeable future due to
budget constraints and a lack of qualified personnel.
Research and analysis projects are also carried out by the
MFA, especially its Institute for International Relations.
Anh commented that most MFA officers are "too busy" with
other work to perform significant research, however.
18. (U) The GVN spends a surprising amount of its limited
budgetary resources on these research institutes, apparently
to no particularly meaningful purpose apart perhaps from
employment generation among intellectuals. The think tanks
nonetheless seem to have found a somewhat complementary
niche, performing tasks that ministries have neither the
time nor resources to undertake, and increasingly reaching
out to regional and international counterparts. Of most
relevance to the USG, think tankers are among the embassy's
more open, accessible, and knowledgeable interlocutors (even
to the extent sometimes of offering personal views, unusual
in this system), even if their GVN audience is not reading
their reports.
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