- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2010

HO CHI MINH CITY

Let’s take the really bad news first. Not only did it stink, but the Obama administration, which should lambast this kind of thing, held its nose and instead ramped up its ongoing courtship of Hanoi as a hedge against China.

Last week, at the 65th anniversary of Vietnam’s public security forces, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged the police to continue to crush relentlessly any fledgling political bodies that might threaten the dominance of the ruling communist regime.

He told the massed ranks of the state security services to fight the “cunning plots of hostile forces and to prevent political opposition parties setting up to threaten our government.”

Vietnam’s constitution forbids the creation of any political party except the Communist Party of Vietnam. Keep that in mind when you castigate nearby Burma, which may oppress opposition parties horribly but at least allows them to exist.

Days before Mr. Dung’s odious exhortation, its effects were demonstrated starkly once again when the police arrested professor Pham Minh Hoang, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the Ho Chi Minh City Institute of Technology.

Mr. Hoang was charged with belonging to an opposition group, and during his arrest, the police read out Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code, which bars “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.”

Under this provision, the authorities have detained dozens of pro-democracy activists, teachers, lawyers and independent bloggers and sentenced them to many years in jail.

Last month, the noted lawyer Le Cong Dinh lost his appeal against a five-year sentence for “trying to overthrow the state” and went back to his cell along with his fellow pro-democracy advocates - one of whom was sentenced to 16 years.

These men also were convicted of espousing “peaceful evolution” - the notion that as a country develops economically, there will be a concurrent societal evolution that will permit greater political openness.

This idea, often touted by quislinglike Western governments as they lean over backward to excuse certain “strategically valuable” regimes such as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia, has proved fallacious more often than not.

That certainly has been the case in Vietnam, where economic development has, if anything, been accompanied by more and more draconian moves against any form of political pluralism.

A Canadian diplomat in Hanoi told me that the country was going backward and its brutal crackdown on citizens espousing peaceful evolution made him “despair.”

One of his American diplomatic colleagues informed me that public security officials claimed quite aggressively that political dissidents were criminals. “That is stupid and offensive,” he said.

Yet there was a stunningly muted response from Foggy Bottom and the White House and even from Congress.

Story Continues →