The dilemma is because, “ahead is mountains, back is river.” Pursuing immediate benefits – in order to get “guarantee” from authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia to ensure its totalitarian dictatorship – the Communists of Vietnam (CPV) has to side with Russia and vote as China as a cruel destiny. But it is because of that “out-of-species choice” that in the future, if it is abandoned by Russia and China again, like in March 14, 1988 (Russia ignored the Chinese to occupy Gac Ma- South Johnson Reef) or February 17, 1979 (The Chinese attacked six bordermost provinces of Vietnam), it is difficult for any country in the world to give a hand to save Hanoi, after this country has turned its back on the progress of mankind.
On April 21, at a weekly press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said that the ASEAN-US Special Summit on the 45th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations will take place from May 12-13 in Washington DC. Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh accepted the invitation of US President Joe Biden, leading the Vietnamese delegation to attend the conference, visit and work in the US and the United Nations. This will be a very difficult trip for PM Chinh after scandalous events, Hanoi shows that it is no longer hiding its choice of side. After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Vietnam followed the lead of Russia and China, opposing the United States, democratic countries, and the UN international legal system in on the geo-political chessboard both regionally and internationally.
Choose to defend dictatorship
The story of Vietnam’s defense maneuvers with Russia has been buzzing for a few days, showing Hanoi’s awkwardness in relations with Moscow. Russia’s Sputnik news agency on April 19 actively announced this news as the two countries were about to prepare for a joint military exercise. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese state press was silent for many days on this sensitive topic. Spokesperson Hang in a press conference on April 21 only dared to mention in general terms, the “defense cooperation activities” between Vietnam and Russia in order to “strengthen friendship, for peace...” That is, neither admitting nor denying the drill. It was unclear until a week later, on April 24, that the People’s Army newspaper denied the false news released by Russia, acknowledging that there was “a delegation of the Vietnamese Defense Ministry attending the online conference to prepare for the Army Games 2022…” . Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has entered its third month. The whole civilized world is indignant at that cruel war. The autocratic politics of “Great Russia” is that, to show the world, the “new tsar” Russia still has core allies. These are the Communists of Vietnam, Communist China, North Korea, Myanmar…
If the “online conference” was misrepresented by Russia as a “military exercise” as a fake news, then the three “cruel” votes of Vietnam at the UN are the true story. That “greedy” votes may in part be to cover “debts” from the (old) Soviet Union through continuous wars since 1946. But read the statistics of Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Chu to see that the old debts were borrowed and paid fairly. Vietnam’s refusal to condemn Russia’s war has nothing to do with communist ideology. That ideology has been buried in the past by both China and Russia. Hanoi stubbornly clung to Russia, in part because its arsenal of weapons it bought from Russia needed to be maintained. But the more important part is to get Russia’s “back” to protect the autocratic regime. Hanoi is also afraid that Moscow will “go at night” with Beijing, or at least will ignore China causing a “Ukraine” at sea or on land for Vietnam. In fact, in order to deal with these national problems, CPV must choose the people, but in reality, Hanoi’s leadership has decided to choose Russia and China – a position of unprincipled compromise.
But do the people and the majority of the ruling elite today accept the “Chengdu-like stance” as a karma since 1990? Or is it just a personal decision of General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and a very small group around “the dictator is about to retire“? In these critical historical moments, the Vietnamese people would love to know which key players are behind these important decisions? Let’s save the name of that minority of criminals in the history books! It was the son of the late General Secretary Le Duan who told part of the truth. Even during the war, there were leaders who did not support the liberation of the South by violence, some were pro-Soviet, some were pro-China. Within the party, there are always ideological differences. From copying China’s land reform, to the unification of the country and many other important decisions.
A disastrous choice for the nation
Having severely suffered from Covid pandemic, how will the whole country deal with the consequences of the “three votes against the tide of history” at the UN? Paying for money, has begun to smell the “burnt smell” in US-Vietnam relations. Aside from arms purchases or some sort of conceded “defense cooperation,” could U.S. frustration translate into punitive action? On Asia Times, editor David Hutt has just commented: “Vietnam may soon be sanctioned by the United States for continuing to have military relations with Russia at a time when the West is looking for new secondary pressure points to punish. Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine.” Mr. Hutt said that Vietnam can completely be punished by the US under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) passed by the US Congress in 2017. The CAATSA law allows the US to punish economic sanctions on countries that buy weapons from Russia. Vietnam – with more than 80% of weapons and defense equipment purchased from Russia in the past few decades – can completely be punished under that law.
If only PM Chinh’s trip had taken place before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Chinh would still have something to say to US leaders and advocate for a relationship that is “deep, effective, and durable” as desired by both sides, despite the communist’s rogue achievements in human rights, religious repression and strangulation of freedom of expression. But now that the battle line is clear, the just and the unjust are clear and Hanoi has definitely chosen to stand on the “cruel” side of history, Chinh will indeed be very difficult. ASEAN must “respect” Vietnam for not hiding its choice of side. ASEAN countries are always afraid to “pick sides” in the competition between great powers. They rely on the security of the United States in a rules-based world order and enrich their economic ties with China. Therefore, “swing on the rope,” “going second” is the popular diplomacy of Southeast Asia. Now they don’t understand why Vietnam is alone turning in the opposite direction.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is changing the whole world, except for the Communists of Vietnam. Singapore – the most developed country, the highest income of the people in ASEAN – was quick to condemn Russia’s act of war and join the economic sanctions against Russia initiated by the United States and the EU. Cambodia – which is still considered a vassal of China – even voted in favor of Ukraine, condemning Russia in an important UN resolution from the beginning, on March 2. Of course, everyone understands, this choice of Phnom Penh is said to have been directed by Beijing, a reward in the form of a “demo” for dictator Hun Sen. So far, Southeast Asian nations have been conflicted in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or going so far as to engage in international sanctions and other similar measures against the Kremlin. Countries like Indonesia and Thailand are cautious, not wanting to alienate an arms supplier, and for Thailand, a very important source of tourism. Others, like Myanmar, were so dependent and aligned with Russia that the authorities wholeheartedly supported the invasion of Ukraine.
Yet another fierce battle
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the world order, deepening the division in the hearts of people inside and outside Vietnam. Simultaneously with the bloody war, there is another fierce “war” in Vietnamese society today, although no gunfire but no less fierce to determine the leadership’s vision on how. At the current “stratigraphic shift“, does the VCP know how to place the country’s security and development strategy on the evolutionary track of mankind? Or instead of that great national story, they only care about nurturing and releasing “underworld soldiers” with the rank of general and professors full with academic degrees but empty knowledge, cursing all day who condemn Putin’s invasion. Instead of solving problems people are pressing, the government don’t want to give direct answers. To refute fake news, “exercise” with Russia must “soak shrimp” weekly. The fateful votes at the UN also deliberately concealed the people and the press in the country.
At the end of the tunnel, is there any hope from PM Chinh who has tasted the “totalitarian dictatorship” of Ceaușescu in Romania? With the “pro-Russian” stance as analyzed above, how will Chinh answer, first of all, to the Vietnamese people who love justice, freedom, hate aggression, whether from Russia or China? How will the US respond to ASEAN countries? The international community will repeat PM Chinh’s green statement that Vietnam never chooses sides, Vietnam only chooses the right. So where is the “right” of Vietnam? Is war of aggression? Is it massacre of civilians? Is the freedom to apply the policy of genocide as in Ukraine? The US-ASEAN Summit is seen as an opportunity for the Biden government to promote bilateral relations with ASEAN, broadening its vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and restraint Chinese influence. More than anyone else, the Vietnamese PM knows that Vietnam’s economy depends heavily on the US market with a trade surplus of up to $81 billion (and trade deficit from China $54 billion) in 2021. Just the US closing a number of Vietnamese export products, embargoing a number of Vietnamese companies and banks (who are disguised to smuggle Chinese goods to the US), the consequences will be incalculable.