Ðằng Vân:

APEC and Realpolitik

Point of View

Week Ending 19 November 2006


From 17 to 19 November 06, when leaders of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) who are, by the force of article 4 of the constitution, the unchallenged and unchallengeable leaders of the Vietnamese people, welcomed to Hanoi leaders of the 21 countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation founded in 1994, the CPV leaders expected no less than a triple, nay, quadruple whammy:

  1. They had earlier been offered a place as the 150th member of the WTO.
  2. They were playing host to one of the most prestigious international economic forums in the world.
  3. The regime had a few days earlier been removed from the list of countries of particular concerns (CPC) by the US State Department in relation to suppression of religious freedom, and
  4. They had high hopes the US Congress would grant them permanent normalized trades relations (PNTR) status prior to the arrival of the US president George W Bush to Hanoi.

As it turned out, the US administration failed to muster the required majority to grant PNTR status. But this is no big deal as this does not in any way detract Hanoi from joining the WTO. It only disadvantages US and Vietnamese businesses from enjoying the kinds of tax concessions available to other WTO trading partners. The ball is now in the US court, not in the CPV’s.

The Apec summit was a grandiose opportunity par excellence for political grand standing, not only by Hanoi leaders the like of Nguyen Minh Triet, Nguyen Tan Dung and Nong Duc Manh, but also for US president Bush still smarting from a “thumping” mid-term election in which his party lost control of both houses of the US Congress, of Australian Prime Minister John Howard  with an election due next year, of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose secret service style rule of Russia is yet to rival Nguyen Tan Dung’s, of Chinese President Ho Cam Dao whose one-party rule over the entire Chinese population is equally unchallengeable, of Japanese Prime Minister Abe who recently assumed leadership of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, and a host of other world leaders.

In my opinion, these leaders, despite their shared desire for grand standing, could easily be divided into clear winners and losers. The winners were dictators such as Triet, Dung, Manh, Putin, Dao and to a lesser extent Prime Minister Ly Hien Long of Singapore. The losers were George W Bush, John Howard, Abe and leaders of other democratic nations.

The winners won because the losers chose realpolitik over the principles they used to enunciate.

What is realpolitik?

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines it as:

“Politics based on pragmatism or practicality rather than on ethical or theoretical considerations”

In Vietnam, this time around, most democratic world leaders have given up on their ethical stands.

Ah yes, who was that who eloquently declared:

"The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom...[and] America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." ?

Of course these words were delivered by President George W. Bush in his 2005 State of the Union address.

While Vietnamese dissidents inside Vietnam were brutally suppressed by the regime’s security forces including:

“-Disconnecting telephones, scrambling waves, to prevent dissidents from communicating with each other or with the international media.

-Confiscating computers, blocking internet access so that dissidents are prevented from exchanging emails or accessing internet websites.

-Isolating dissidents from foreign journalists by erecting English signs such as “ No Foreigners”, “Restricted Area” or “No trespassing” or creating unrest in areas where dissidents live.

-Surrounding dissidents, by placing police security guarding their residence. No exit or entry is authorized so as to isolate them.

-Resorting to violence, using force to arrest, to assault dissidents such as the case of Dr. Pham Hong Son on 17 November 2006; incarcerating lawyer Bui Kim Thanh in a mental hospital, against her will, to destroy her spirit.” (Appeal signed by 19 dissidents dated 18 November 2006).

Yet during the summit President Bush had nothing but praise for the regime in Vietnam.

While Protestant Pastors and followers, Buddhist monks of the independent United Buddhist Congregation of Vietnam (the latest victims are the Venerables Thich Thien Minh and Thich Chon Tam) are being brutally repressed, their temples confiscated and they expelled from their residences. Yet the US President went to Hanoi carrying a gift to their oppressors: the removal of Vietnam from the CPC list of the State Department.

If the above is not realpolitik, then what is?

Despite all the fanfare orchestrated by Hanoi during the summit, history books will record such summit as a moment in history when democratic leaders lost their integrity and should hang their heads in shame, for having abandoned the hopes and aspirations for democracy and freedom of the entire Vietnamese people.

All in the name of realpolitik skillfully disguised as respect for national sovereignty and national self determination, at the expense of human rights, civil rights and human decency.

The Vietnamese people, through their own efforts, will no doubt achieve freedom and democracy, possibly very soon, since the regime is already rotten to the core, but for the unscrupulous support from unprincipled western leaders.

In this respect the Vietnamese people shall learn another lesson of realpolitik: in the struggle for freedom and democracy, self-reliance and personal sacrifice are absolute requirements. The American people shed their own blood to earn such freedom and democracy. The French people shed theirs even more profusely and so did the British.

Considering the naked ambitions and greed of the current leadership of the CPV, the Vietnamese people shall have no alternative but to shed theirs too.

Ðằng Vân

21 November 2006