Cablegate: Organizational Overview of Vietnam's

Published: Wed 18 Jun 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
1. (U) SUMMARY: A new Prime Ministerial degree in March
2003 reaffirmed the MFA's main diplomatic functions as the
GVN's main foreign affairs agency and also confirmed its
leadership over Vietnam's Border Commission and increasingly
active Committee for Overseas Vietnamese. The new decree is
unlikely to change the substance or style of the MFA's work,
which is divvied up among 28 regional and functional
departments. The MFA continues to attract some of the
brightest young Vietnamese students. MFA careers tend to be
devoted to a single country and/or specialty. The Americas
Department is notably strong, with most officials having
served and/or studied in the U.S. END SUMMARY.
2. (U) Prime Ministerial Decree 21, issued March 10,
confirmed the MFA's lead role as the GVN's main foreign
affairs agency and identified its specific tasks. It
updated and formalized a similar Decree 82 from November 10,
1993 on the MFA's tasks and responsibilities. According to
this revised legal framework, the MFA -- under the
leadership of the Government and Prime Minister -- has
explicit duties, inter alia, to:
-- establish or guide diplomatic and consular relations with
other countries and international organizations;
-- represent the nation and conduct diplomatic relations;
-- manage representative activities in foreign countries and
with international organizations, including the UN and
others, according to international law;
-- make arrangement for high level official visits overseas
as well as receiving high-level foreign visitors;
-- arrange conferences and seminars on international
-- express the official viewpoints and positions of Vietnam
on international issues;
-- monitor foreign press reports regarding Vietnam;
-- oversee the activities of foreign reporters in Vietnam;
-- protect the interests of the nation and the interests and
rights of Vietnamese organizations and citizens overseas
according to Vietnamese and international law.
3. (U) Decree 21 also ratified some new responsibilities
and organizational changes that had been quietly introduced
over the past decade, most notably oversight over Vietnam's
Border Commission and its Committee on Overseas Vietnamese.
(These slipped under MFA control in October 2001 and
November 1995, respectively.) Both organizations have had
more public roles in the past several years due to ongoing
negotiations with both the PRC and Cambodia on border
issues, and as the GVN increasingly reaches out to the Viet
Kieu population, most recently during the U.S. visit of
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Binh Din, who is also head of
the latter Committee.
4. (U) According to Vu Thi Tinh, an expert in the MFA's
Department for Organization and Personnel, Decree 21 should
be viewed as part of the GVN's "administrative reform master
plan," but should have little practical impact on the day-to-
day functioning of the MFA. Tinh noted several key points
in the decree:
--Previously, a minister-equivalent had headed the Border
Commission but now a deputy minister, Le Cong Phung,
oversees its work; and,
-- Decree 21 created a new entity, the Center for External
Economic Information and Informatics. Previously, this had
existed as an office within the Department for Economic
Affairs. Tinh said that the GVN decided to separate out
this Center because MFA diplomatic activities "are more and
more focused on economic cooperation and require more modern
communications efforts."
5. (U) Administratively, the MFA is broken down into 28
units, largely on regional or functional specialties.
The regional Departments, each headed by a Director General
and usually supported by 2-3 Deputy Directors General,
-- Americas: covering the U.S., Canada, Central and South
Americas (its Director General has the concurrent title of
Assistant Foreign Minister). One of its DDGs concurrently
serves as the head of the inter-agency "Vietnam Office for
Seeking Missing Personnel," which is our key interlocutor on
all POW/MIA issues;
-- West Asia - Africa: responsible for about 70 countries--
including Iraq -- although the GVN is without diplomatic
presence in most of these;
-- ASEAN: handling all ASEAN affairs and meetings --
including the ARF and PMC -- but not bilateral relations;
-- Asia I: supervising ties with the PRC, Taiwan, the
Koreas, Japan, and Mongolia;
-- Asia II: overseeing relations with Australia, New
Zealand, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia,
Thailand, Singapore, Burma, Cambodia, and South Asia;
-- Europe I: maintaining relations with Russia, the former
Soviet republics, Eastern Europe, and Yugoslavia; and,
-- Europe II: promoting ties with Western, Northern, and
Southern Europe.
6. (U) Functional components, also usually headed by DGs,
consist of:
-- Department for External Policies (sometimes called the
Policy Planning Department), which performs analyses and
provides advice to help the MFA's leadership, similar to S/P
and/or INR;
-- Department for Economic Affairs, which collects and
analyzes information concerning the world economics and
develops economic policy proposals;
-- Department for Multilateral Economic Cooperation, which
provides analyses and advice on policies concerning
international economic integration. This department also
takes the lead on APEC issues, while the Ministry of Trade,
with MFA participation, handles WTO issues;
-- Department for International Laws and Treaties, which
provides advice on legal matters concerning Vietnam's
treaties and relations with other countries and
international organizations, including the signing of
international conventions (and is our interlocutor on
counter-terrorism conventions, the ICOC, and the ICC);
-- International Organizations, responsible for Vietnam's
participation in more than 60 international organizations,
as well as handling all of our human rights inquiries. The
IO Department is also our interlocutor on the long-standing
negotiations over a Counter-narcotics agreement;
-- Department for Protocol;
-- Department for Culture - UNESCO, which provides advice on
policies in cultural cooperation and relations with
different countries and with UNESCO;
-- Department for Information and Press, which acts as the
MFA's spokesperson and provides press advice concerning
Vietnam's foreign policy. It also deals with resident
foreign press members, issuing their visas and press
credentials as well as requests for meetings and travel;
-- Center for Foreign Press Service, which provides
assistance to visiting foreign journalists. The center can
arrange appointments, set up interviews and provides
-- Department for Organization and Personnel, the equivalent
of State's Bureau of Human Resources;
-- Department for Administration and Accountancy,
responsible for the MFA's finances in Vietnam and overseas;
-- Department for Consular Affairs, which manages consular
relations, including our ongoing bilateral discussions on a
protocol on adoptions. This Department also handled the
2001/2 Montagnard issues, including negotiations with UNHCR
and Cambodia on the short-lived Tripartite Agreement, given
its responsibility for Vietnamese citizens. In addition,
this department, after receiving notification and
documentation from the Protocol Department, issues visas to
foreign diplomatic personnel;
-- the Inspectorate, the MFA's internal auditor. It also
deals with concerned letters of complaints and denunciation
within its diplomatic community in and outside the country;
-- the Executive Office, which coordinates the MFA's
contacts with other ministries as well as diplomatic
missions overseas;
-- Committee for Overseas Vietnamese;
-- Border Commission;
-- Diplomatic Service of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), which
handles the work of foreign consulates general there,
including requests for meetings and travel;
-- Institute for International Relations, a rough equivalent
of NFTAC, although it also offers undergraduate degrees for
would-be diplomats and others interested in international
-- International Affairs Weekly, the MFA's official journal;
-- Center for External Economic Information and Infomatics,
which serves as a link for domestic economic organizations
and foreign counterparts. In addition, the Center manages
computer resources for the MFA; and,
-- Department for Diplomatic Service Corps, which provides
such services as housing and employment of local staff for
the diplomatic community (although its role has diminished
dramatically as most missions nowadays are able directly to
hire and to secure housing). The MFA also runs its own car
rental agency, to handle the needs of visiting delegations.
7. (U) The MFA's Department for Organization and Personnel
is responsible for MFA assignments, both domestic and
foreign. Concerning foreign assignments, Huu Quoc Chinh, an
expert in that department, said that the MFA's senior
leadership gives this issue "a great deal of attention." An
MFA internal committee, chaired by the Department for
Organization and Personnel, reviews applications for
assignments on behalf of the foreign minister or one of his
deputies. According to Chinh, MFA officials are normally
assigned only to the countries covered by the departments in
which they are currently serving. This provides "more
continuity and expertise," Chinh claimed. No one may be
assigned overseas until he/she is beyond the MFA's
probationary period of three to five years. However, in
some "special" cases, the person can apply after one year,
Chinh noted. Personnel from functional departments,
however, have somewhat greater leeway in their overseas
assignments, however.
8. (U) Separately, Tran Viet Tu, senior expert in the West
Asia - Africa Department, pointed out that the GVN views the
background and training in an individual closely before
deciding on an overseas assignment. Similar to the Chinese
system, he noted, Vietnamese diplomats tend to specialize in
one area, building up an expertise in a language as well as
political and cultural issues. Tu noted that, in his case,
"it is unlikely" he would ever be assigned outside the Arab
world, since he has the language and experience in that
9. (U) The MFA continues to attract among the GVN's most
talented and (not surprisingly) internationally savvy
cadres, even in this era of growing private sector
opportunities for the best and the brightest. Many are
second generation diplomats, including most recently the son
of former Ambassador to the U.S. and now Deputy Foreign
Minister Le Van Bang (who has now sought reassignment from
the ASEAN Department to the Americas Department). President
Tran Duc Luong's son is also an MFA official.
10. (U) Our experience with the Americas Department in
particular has been very good. Its North American division
and US/Vietnam division staff appears among the most
impressive within the MFA. Most (apart from AFM and DG
Nguyen Duc Hung) have served previously and/or studied at
the graduate level in the United States, and understand our
culture and political system well. They likely sometimes
find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to
deliver a demarche that they know may well be counter-
productive when dealing with us. The strident official
reactions to irritants like the Vietnam Human Rights Act and
catfish dumping cases likely originate from the senior
leadership and/or the Party's Commission on External
Relations, where the levels of expertise on the U.S. are
less strong and where ideology plays a more central role.
In such cases, the advice of the more knowledgeable Americas
staff may not count heavily enough, unfortunately.
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