The Asian Voice

A glimpse of Vietnam's dark side: Yomiuri Shimbun columnist

Trinh Xuan Thanh speaking in a clip aired by Vietnam's state television VTV, in Hanoi.
Trinh Xuan Thanh speaking in a clip aired by Vietnam's state television VTV, in Hanoi.PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A recent incident has given a glimpse of the dark side of the Vietnamese Communist Party's regime.

It is said that the Vietnamese government abducted Trinh Xuan Thanh, former chairman of PetroVietnam Construction JSC, part of the state energy company PetroVietnam, when he was staying in Germany, in late July, and brought him back to Vietnam.

He had been wanted internationally by the Vietnamese government for allegedly causing an enormous loss to the construction company.

The Vietnamese government announced that Thanh voluntarily turned himself in to police authorities in Hanoi. In response to the announcement, the German government determined that he was abducted.

Germany strongly criticised Vietnam, describing the abduction of Thanh as an "unprecedented and blatant violation of German and international law."

The German government ordered a staff member of the Vietnamese Embassy in Germany accused of being included in the abduction to leave Germany.

The abduction site was a high-traffic park adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The former chairman, who was said to have sought asylum in Germany, seemed to have been transferred by an overland route to Eastern Europe after his abduction and then brought back to Vietnam by air. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel described the abduction method as reminiscent of Cold War spy movies.

A Vietnamese human rights activist compared human rights oppression in Vietnam and China, saying that unlike China, Vietnam's oppression takes place slowly and gradually in many cases. Considering the tendency, the activist expressed surprise at the coarseness of the recent method.

According to the activist, Vietnam's suppression of human rights has worsened since U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration. The tendency is likely not unrelated to the Trump administration's stance of being indifferent to other countries' human rights abuses in favour of prioritising U.S. interests.

Reuters reported that as many as 15 activists have been arrested in Vietnam this year, as of early August, the highest tally in recent years.

Vietnam has also tightened control over the internet, a platform where criticism against the party and the government circulates.

The Vietnamese government intends to impose a fine on those who spread "false information."

The fine is tantamount to the average yearly income of a Vietnamese citizen. It is the government itself that will determine what information is "false." Therefore, activists and others believe that the real intent rests in containing criticism against the regime.

Despite such circumstances concerning human rights, many positive voices toward Vietnam can be heard in Japan.

One says, "Relations between the two countries have progressed to their strongest point in recent years." Another says that Vietnam maintains a pro-Japanese stance, while another emphasizes that the country is full of vitality and potential.

There are various contextual reasons for favourable views in Japan regarding Vietnam, including respect for its brilliant history of fighting through the Vietnam War against the U.S. superpower and unifying North and South Vietnam, as well as sympathy for historical wartime damage and bloody tragedies.

Another major factor in recent years is a shared concern over China, which has been strengthening its maritime advances.

However, as shown by the abduction incident, it should not be forgotten that Vietnam, under the one-party rule of the Communist Party, has a political view that is the polar opposite of Japan's, a country with a national policy of democracy.

I was never a good student. But I developed a special feeling for Vietnam as I learned about the country at university more than 20 years ago and experienced life there.

If asked about my favourite Vietnamese expression, I would not hesitate to answer with the words of Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of current Vietnam - "Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom."

As a result, I am very frustrated and sad at the current situation in which Vietnam shows no consideration for human rights and uses force to suppress criticism against the party and the government.

The writer is Yomiuri Shimbun's Hanoi Bureau Chief.