Cablegate: Scenesetter for Admiral Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific

Published: Fri 24 Oct 2008 10:12 AM
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1. (SBU) Embassy Hanoi looks forward to welcoming you to Vietnam.
Your visit is well timed to follow up on the recent U.S.-Vietnam
defense dialogue and to highlight a broad area of bilateral defense
and security cooperation that has now begun to gather momentum in
the wake of Vietnamese Prime Minister Dung's June visit to
Washington. Vietnam's economic successes have translated into
greater international clout, reflected in its current seat as a
non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. GVN leaders
understand that the United States plays a direct role in creating
the conditions for their nation's success and are committed to
advancing the bilateral relationship.
2. (SBU) Our strengthening relations are also due to Vietnam's
realization that the United States is an important force in
maintaining a stable geopolitical environment in which even "small"
countries like Vietnam are assured their independence and freedom of
action. As such, Vietnam's leaders speak positively and
optimistically about the future of U.S.-Vietnam ties. Differences
over human rights remain, however, and lingering fears that the
United States supports the overthrow of the current regime continue
to complicate the relationship. China also looms as a factor
coloring Hanoi's reactions to our proposals in the security realm.
The Ministry of Defense is one of the ministries most suspicious of
the United States and of our deepening bilateral ties.
Gradual Progress in Defense Cooperation
3. (SBU) Defense relations have advanced at a measured pace, but
reflect the overall positive shift in the relationship. We conduct
professional military exchanges with the People's Army of Vietnam
(PAVN) and PAVN officers are regular observers at annual Cobra Gold
and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises and
routinely attend U.S. Pacific Command-sponsored multilateral
conferences and courses and seminars at the Asia Pacific Center for
Security Studies. In FY08, IMET expanded mil-mil contacts through a
U.S. mobile training team visit for military medical techniques
training. The GVN also continues to send well-qualified candidates
to English language training and English language instructor
training to the Defense Language Institute. These are constructive
steps, but reaching our full potential for closer cooperation in
defense activities, including multilateral peacekeeping,
humanitarian assistance efforts and attendance at U.S. military
schools, is attainable, but will require persistence and patience.
4. (SBU) One operational issue affecting our ability to charge ahead
with mil-mil programs is the GVN's refusal to grant a visa to our
incoming Defense Attache, Colonel Patrick Reardon. In June, the GVN
acknowledged Colonel Reardon's renunciation of his Vietnamese
citizenship, but ongoing debate between and within the Ministries of
Defense, Public Security and Foreign Affairs appear to have stymied
issuance of his visa or accreditation despite multiple high level
entreaties from the Embassy. Reinforcing the message with your
interlocutors that future development of our bilateral relationship
depends on having an accredited defense attache would be helpful.
Defense and Security Talks
5. (SBU) The first-ever U.S.-Vietnam Political-Defense
Dialogue, held on October 6 in Hanoi, covered a broad range of
issues including common concerns over the role of China in the South
China Sea, Vietnamese participation in peacekeeping, and cooperation
in Search and Rescue, ship visits, and POW/MIA searches. The GVN
raised concern about the Vietnam Human Rights Act recently put
forward by Senator Boxer as "not consistent" with our current level
of cooperation.
Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI)
6. (SBU) Vietnam's current seat on the UN Security Council has given
significant impetus to increased engagement in international
peacekeeping missions, especially those organized under UN auspices.
The Joint Statement from PM Dung's June visit to Washington
highlights Vietnam's agreement to participate in GPOI. Nonetheless,
in order to fully engage in future peacekeeping operations the GVN
will have to do much more to meet significant challenges: the lack
of interoperability, the paucity of English language speakers in the
military, and complications due to funding issues. Their
participation in the GPOI is an important step in this direction.
7. (SBU) A Program Design & Development team from PACOM is expected
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to visit Hanoi to begin crafting a GPOI training plan tailored to
Vietnam's current capabilities and priorities in February 2009 (date
not yet shared with the GVN). While Vietnam's plans to send
observers to the 2009 GPOI exercise, Garuda Shield, in Indonesia, we
should press Vietnam to do more than observe, as they have done for
the last two GPOI exercises. We are encouraging the GVN to send
staff officers to actively participate in the command post exercise
portion of the event and officers to observe/participate alongside
trainers in the field training exercise. This would be a step up
from observation, albeit a small one, and likely to be in the realm
of the possible for the GVN.
Expanding U.S. Naval Ship Visits
8. (SBU) Since 2003, U.S. Navy ships have made six port visits to
Vietnam, including most recently an October 2008 visit by the USS
Mustin at Da Nang port. In June 2008, Vietnam participated in the
Pacific Partnership mission of the USNS Mercy. While we have
regularized our SOP for regular ship visits over recent years, the
GVN remains firm in limiting the frequency of port visits by U.S.
Navy vessels to one a year, pleading lack of capacity to handle
more. This restriction is also frequently cited as being consistent
with GVN laws that regulate visits by foreign warships; however,
some other nations conduct more frequent port visits.
9. (SBU) While it may be unproductive to demand more frequent port
calls, we still seek to persuade the GVN to permit more frequent
access for limited, technical calls (i.e., for refueling and
replenishment). The MOD is also reluctant to take on negotiation of
an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), stating that it
requires more time to study this agreement because of "disparities"
in our two defense systems. Progress on each of these efforts would
support our overall goal of increasing routine access for U.S. naval
vessels at Vietnam's ports, while maintaining the pace of military
contacts at a level comfortable for the GVN.
10. (SBU) We also hope to reverse the PAVN leadership's reluctance
to participate in distinguished visitor fly-outs to U.S. Navy
vessels transiting the South China Sea. To date, these have been
rebuffed due to concerns over the "appearance of Vietnam's
participation in joint exercises with the United States."
Search and Rescue, Humanitarian Assistance
11. (SBU) The MOD has expressed a strong desire to begin
preparations for a joint Search and Rescue exercise, but notes that
information sharing and U.S. observance of Vietnamese SAR exercises
were necessary first steps. Vietnam also seeks information sharing
on storm, earthquake and tsunami prediction, as well as a study on
the impact of rising sea levels. The Pacific Angel program could
also provide medical cooperation similar to Pacific Partnership, but
using aircraft vice ships for transport.
12. (SBU) Vietnam says the right things about the threat of global
terrorism and has participated with us in modest cooperative
activities. The USG funds Vietnamese participation in
counterterrorism-related training at the International Law
Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok, and through
military-to-military exchanges with an emphasis on counterterrorism
themes. Vietnam has signed eight out of thirteen UN terrorism
A Word on the Economy
13. (SBU) Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) program of economic
reform, begun in 1986, has set the country on a successful market
economy path, with an average growth rate of 7.5 percent over the
past decade. The GVN focuses on exports and foreign direct
investment in its drive to achieve middle-income status by 2010.
The United States is currently Vietnam's largest export market and
third largest overall trade partner. U.S. investors tell us the key
challenges they face in Vietnam are underdeveloped infrastructure, a
shortage of skilled workers and managers, and the considerable level
of state participation in the economy. For its part, the GVN is
grappling with issues of corruption, improving the legal
environment, and implementing its WTO commitments. Vietnam's
current turmoil is rooted in high inflation (27.9 percent
year-on-year September), the large current account deficit, and
inefficient allocation of resources, which is particularly obvious
in the disproportionate amount of state resources devoted to
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powerful State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
Human Rights Challenges
14. (SBU) Serious deficiencies related to human rights in Vietnam
include lack of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom
of the press. One of our key objectives is to end the use of
catch-all "national security" provisions for the prosecution of
peaceful dissent. We continue to call for the release of all
prisoners of conscience, but where we see individuals expressing
their political opinions, many of our government interlocutors see
"lawbreakers" trying to destabilize the regime. The recent arrests
and sackings of Vietnamese reporters and editors in the wake of a
corruption scandal reveal the on-going battle within the GVN over
the role of freedom of the press. The continued existence of groups
in the United States that advocate regime change complicates human
rights engagement by providing ammunition to hard-liners who want to
stoke the fading paranoia that we are indeed still "the enemy."
Reassuring the GVN that the USG does not support separatist groups
can assist in building a better human rights dialogue based on
mutual trust.
The China Factor
15. (SBU) While Vietnam's engagement with the United States will
continue to broaden, China necessarily constitutes Vietnam's most
important strategic preoccupation. This is not to say that Vietnam
is "choosing" China over the United States; Vietnam's leadership is
sophisticated enough to realize that relations with China and the
United States do not represent a zero sum game; it is possible to
have good relations with both. Each relationship also creates
challenges, however. While China constitutes a vital and necessary
commercial partner and former ally, it is also perceived as a
significant and frustrating constraint to Vietnam's freedom on
16. (SBU) Chinese bullying of foreign companies in an attempt to
compel them to cease oil and gas exploration efforts in the South
China Sea serves to remind Vietnamese officials that while the
Vietnamese may not approve of all U.S. policies, the same is
certainly true of Chinese actions. While progress has been made in
settling the land border, there is no commonality of views on
sovereignty issues regarding the South China Sea, known as the "East
Sea" to the Vietnamese. Hanoi is also "riding the tiger" with
regard to managing the deep negative views toward China of many
Vietnamese. China is widely disliked and distrusted as a former
colonial master, and Beijing's actions in the Spratlys and Paracels
threaten to inflame those passions. Should Hanoi allow
unconstrained protests against the Chinese, however, it would appear
weak in the face of calls to action that it could not satisfy, as
well as risking Beijing's anger.
Future Prospects
17. (SBU) The GVN recognizes the strategic importance of the United
States in the region and the world, but is not shy about criticizing
U.S. actions it perceives as outside the multilateral system. The
GVN routinely chafes over U.S. criticism of Vietnam's record of
human rights and religious freedom. Nonetheless, Vietnam's leaders
are also pragmatic and recognize that Vietnam's own continued
economic well-being, growth and security are, in large measure,
inexorably tied to its relationship with the United States.
18. (SBU) Vietnam has begun to explore opportunities within regional
organizations to increase joint efforts against terrorism,
narcotics, maritime piracy and other issues of shared concern.
Vietnam has also recently begun joint sea patrols with other
neighbors in the Gulf of Thailand and has established hotlines to
help facilitate coordination along sea boundaries. Nevertheless,
for historic and foreign policy reasons, the GVN is generally
reluctant to speak out against its "traditional friends" such as
North Korea and Iran when they engage in behavior that the rest of
the international community condemns.
What You Can Expect
19. (SBU) You can expect your interlocutors not only to be
articulate and well informed, but also to speak in terms generally
supportive of growth in the bilateral relationship. As noted above,
lingering suspicions still exist among conservatives in leadership
about the development of closer ties with the United States, but the
overall tenor is one of support and interest at a measured pace that
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will not upset the GVN's calibrated attempts to maintain balance
among its other regional partners. Your visit will continue to help
translate those good feelings into measurable accomplishments in the
defense and security relationship.
20. (SBU) We look forward to your visit and stand ready to do
everything we can to make your time in Vietnam as productive as
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