Cablegate: Ambassador's Web Chat On Vietnamnet Provides

Published: Tue 19 Jul 2005 07:43 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
SUBJECT: Ambassador's Web Chat on VietnamNet Provides
Uncensored Forum on Bilateral Issues
1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador participated for the
first time in a web chat with VietnamNet online, reaching
over 100,000 readers with over 300,000 hits the first day.
The one-hour, no holds barred chat covered a wide range of
topics including human rights, religious freedom,
democratic systems, Agent Orange and trade issues. One
highlight was a human rights question posed by a Vietnamese-
American in San Diego who accused GVN leaders of seriously
violating their citizens' basic human rights. The
transcript of the chat was posted in Vietnamese the same
day with virtually no censorship, allowing for unusual
access to the general public through the Communist Party-
controlled media. We suspect VietnamNet officials used the
celebration of the tenth anniversary of normalization of
bilateral relations as the lever to line up Party approval
for the online chat. Time will tell whether we will be
able to parlay this success into more web chats. End
2. (U) On July 13, a day after marking the tenth
anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations
between the United States and Vietnam, the Public Affairs
Section (PAS) arranged for the Ambassador to hold an
unprecedented, live web chat program with VietnamNet, one
of the most popular online newspapers in Vietnam. Due to
the large volume (over 100) and repetition of questions
received via internet, VietnamNet's Editor in Chief, Nguyen
Anh Tuan, and APAO chose a number of questions covering a
broad range of topics during the one-hour session.
3. (U) The Vietnamese transcript of the web chat was
uploaded overnight with virtually no censorship of either
question or answer on the following site: 47/
Highlights from the exchange (not a transcript) in English
were uploaded the following day under VietnamNet's special
section on the tenth anniversary of normalization with the
headline "Communication Important for Better Understanding:
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam" and subheading "Michael Marine,
the United States Ambassador in Vietnam, had an open and
candid talk with VietnamNet readers yesterday afternoon" on
the following site: /468606/
4. (U) The Ambassador noted the positive development of
bilateral relations during this year when we celebrate ten
years of normalization and emphasized that the recent visit
of Prime Minister Phan Van Khai to the United States has
created a momentum for continued expansion and improvement
in the bilateral relationship. Stressing the importance of
mutual understanding through increased interaction, the
Ambassador called for more visits by Vietnamese citizens
and officials to the United States (and vice versa),
including an expanded dialogue with Members of Congress.
5. (U) Many readers asked questions related to China,
with the Editor noting that the Ambassador had served there
prior to coming to Vietnam. Readers probed China's growing
role in the region and the question of the United States as
a "counterweight" to that presence. The Ambassador
responded that there are similarities between Vietnam's
economic reform path and China's, but differences as well.
He stated firmly that the United States wants to have
relations with Vietnam because of the importance of
Vietnam, not because of China.
6. (U) The Ambassador reiterated the USG's strong support
of Vietnam's early accession to the World Trade
Organization (WTO), saying that entry into WTO would set
the stage for more investment from the United States and
other countries to Vietnam, allowing the two countries to
become "constructive trading partners." He advised that
since Vietnam is competing with other countries to attract
investors, it must create a rule of law, ensure
transparency in its regulations and take effective steps
against corruption.
7. (U) Several readers questioned the relevance of human
rights as an issue between the two countries when there are
other "more important issues" to consider. In response,
the Ambassador said that the United States wants to develop
its relationship with Vietnam in many areas, not just in
trade and commerce. He continued that President Bush has
made clear that the way the issue of human rights is
handled between the two countries ultimately has an impact
on the overall relationship and its growth.
8. (U) Another question on human rights came from a
Vietnamese-American in San Diego who inquired as to what
the Ambassador would do to make Vietnamese leaders know
they are "seriously violating" their citizens' basic human
rights. The Ambassador responded that the United States
will continue to engage the Vietnamese Government,
explaining the importance of human rights and the benefits
of respecting people's rights to religious freedom. He
noted that a number of individuals have been released in
the past year through amnesties granted by the Vietnamese
Government and added that we hope to see more released in
the future. He praised steps that the Vietnamese
authorities have taken to create a new policy framework on
religious freedom, which lays a foundation for providing
Vietnamese citizens more opportunities to practice their
beliefs. He stressed that the United States will continue
to work with the GVN on this issue in the hope that Vietnam
eventually will be removed from the list of Countries of
Particular Concern.
9. (U) In response to a question about the USG's views on
"rivaling forces" in and out of Vietnam that interfere with
Vietnam's internal affairs, the Ambassador responded that
the United States fully supports the territorial integrity
of Vietnam and any effort to change this will not receive
U.S. support. However, Americans are free to say what they
think, including expressing objections to the government
policies and even the political system of Vietnam, which
may sometimes be difficult for Vietnamese officials to
10. (U) Regarding the Agent Orange lawsuit, the Ambassador
said he could not comment on a case still pending in
courts, but noted that the American people and government
would continue efforts for humanitarian support to
Vietnamese with all types of disabilities, and that the
United States has already provided 35 million dollars for
programs related to disabilities in Vietnam. He explained
that the issue of Agent Orange should be solved through
constructive efforts on both sides in scientific areas to
better understand the effects of dioxin. He also noted
that use of the issue for propaganda purposes is harmful to
the bilateral relationship. The Editor in Chief closed the
web chat with a message he noted President Bush often uses,
"God Bless America."
11. (SBU) Comment: Established in 2000 and reportedly
receiving over two million hits per month, VietnamNet is
one of the first e-newspapers created in Vietnam and has a
solid reputation of providing timely and broad information,
particularly among young readers and Vietnamese Americans
living abroad. Its main competitor is VN Express, with a
handful of smaller online sites trailing behind because
they lack the ability to post news items immediately.
VietnamNet's Editor-in-Chief, Nguyen Anh Tuan, who
conducted the web chat, is a good PAS contact and the
brother-in-law of the President of the Vietnam Education
Foundation, Kien Pham. We have been told that the Culture
and Ideology Commission paid a visit to Tuan the day after
the webchat. No changes have been made to the website
except for a disclaimer to the question from the San Diego
reader that his views do not reflect those of VietnamNet.
12. (SBU) This is the first time any Mission officer has
held a live web chat with an online newspaper in Vietnam.
The range of topics discussed and questions taken, even
from readers outside Vietnam, was unprecedented and
reflected what was on the minds of VietnamNet's readers.
That sensitive topics such as democracy, corruption, human
rights and religious freedom were all reported with
virtually no censorship is an unusual occurrence. Perhaps
this degree of openness was buoyed by the successful visit
of the Prime Minister to the United States and the ten year
anniversary of normalization. Post will continue to
advocate United States policy and concerns to the general
public, but only time will tell if we will be able to
parlay this success into more web chats. End comment.
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