Bloggers across Vietnam launched an online campaign Tuesday demanding that their authoritarian government keep the people closely informed about national and foreign policies, including its dealings with giant neighbor China whose territorial disputes with Hanoi have led to riots and a sharp deterioration in bilateral relations, Radio Free Asia reports:
Vietnamese activists have become increasingly vocal over what they call China’s aggression in the disputed South China Sea and Hanoi’s reluctance to take a stronger stand against its northern neighbor. The “We Want to Know” campaign was launched by a Vietnamese bloggers’ group early Tuesday and quickly spread on the Internet through Facebook and other social media sites across the one-party communist state, Haiphong-based blogger Pham Thanh Nghien told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “At 12:00 a.m. last night, Vietnam time, the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers began the campaign ‘We Want to Know,’” said Nghien, who was freed from prison in September 2012 after her online writings earned her a four-year term behind bars. “Our network believes that free access to information helps people exercise their rights as citizens of the country,” she said.
Vietnam’s international strategy is shifting in a dramatic fashion, notes one observer. For years, the country hoped that it could manage China’s drive for regional hegemony by showing Beijing sufficient deference. But that strategy has been upended in recent months, analyst David Brown writes for Foreign Affairs:
At the end of July, Vietnam was awash with rumors that the country’s Politburo had voted 9–5 in favor of “standing up to China.” There was also talk that an extraordinary plenum of the 200-member Party Central Committee would convene to review and confirm the Politburo’s new tilt. The rumors may simply reflect the wishful thinking of a public that’s been far more disposed to tangle with China than its leaders have been. Beijing and Hanoi are still pro forma friends; Le Hong Anh, Vietnam’s top cop and a stalwart of the pro-China faction, was correctly welcomed in Beijing in mid-August and doubtless warned against unfriendly moves.
Even so, chances are good that Vietnam will soon take two game-changing step, Brown suggests:
First, Vietnam will likely challenge China in international courts, seeking a verdict that declares Beijing’s assertion of “historic sovereignty” over nearly all of the South China Sea to beillegitimate and its tactics impermissible…..Second, Vietnam is likely to forge a more intimate diplomatic and military relationship with the United States — not a formal alliance but a partnership based on a common interest in preventing Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea.
Hanoi wants the United States to agree to lift its ban on lethal weapons sales, a step that Washington has conditioned on Hanoi’s improving its treatment of political dissidents. For both governments, it’s a matter of principle. There is a yawning gap between the United States’ insistence that the Vietnamese regime respect fundamental political rights and Vietnamese Communist leaders’ belief that tolerating agitation for democracy poses an existential threat to their system.
On this matter of political freedoms, Hanoi, Washington, or both must compromise if they are to move ahead, but neither country has much room for maneuver. Many members of Congress will be wary of embracing Hanoi, even if they acknowledge that forestalling China’s regional hegemony is in both countries’ interest. For its part, the Vietnamese Politburo’s vision of political order has limited its ability to compromise on human rights. And yet, if Hanoi cannot pledge to open up the sphere of political participation, or Washington cannot take a longer view, the long-discussed strategic relationship will still be beyond reach.