Reflections on Hoang Minh Chinh’s visit

to the United States


By Trần Bình Nam

Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh’s medical treatment trip to America last September 2005 took place within the framework of political calculations by many political factions: from the Movement for Democracy in Vietnam advocated by Messrs. Hoang Minh Chinh and Tran Khue to the government in Hanoi, the US Embassy in Vietnam, and overseas democracy activists such as the People’s Action Party (PAP) led by Mr. Nguyen Si Binh and Dr. Nguyen Xuan Ngai. This organization, which has maintained its relations with Mr Tran Khue for several years, had hoped that Mr Hoang’s visit would help outsourcing the struggle for democracy in Vietnam through his shear personality and unyielding political stance against the monopoly of power of the Vietnam Communist Party (VCP). The US Embassy, however, might have hoped that his trip would signal Hanoi’s first step toward the recognition of political opposition in the country. Hanoi might have carefully weighed both the advantages and disadvantages of the trip in the belief that what Mr. Hoang might say abroad would not bring any more pressure upon the government. He had spoken a lot and had been heard around the world. Besides, Hanoi’s approval of the trip would please the Americans and at the same time help sell its openness and its humane policy toward the dissidents. Lately Hanoi has been working hard to have its name removed from the US list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ and to be admitted to the WTO, which was long overdue. Also the tenth Congress of the VCP is only months ahead, and Hanoi needs to present a clean face of the country to the world.

What about the calculations of the Movement for Democracy? Based on available news reports the Movement was the least prepared, probably assuming that  the Party would not let Mr. Hoang leave for the US. Hanoi’s permission of the trip took the Movement off-guard, inducing it to become overoptimistic and think that Hanoi had been significantly softened by international pressure. Prior to Mr. and Mrs. Hoang’s departure, the VCP made a goodwill gesture by sending an official to their home to see them off, making Mr. Hoang more confident, and thus resulting in miscalculated steps he made abroad..

After more than two months in the US for medical treatment and political maneuvering, on November 12  Mr. Hoang and his wife returned to Vietnam leaving a political vacuum behind and a movement in disarray inside the country due to disagreements among the leading dissidents.

Fortunately, the democracy movement got a chance to regain momentum thanks to Hanoi’s unexpected mistakes. They harassed Mr. and Mrs. Hoang at Tan Son Nhat airport upon arrival, and on November 21 sent agents to their daughter’s house (where Mr. and Mrs. Hoang stayed) to threaten their safety. Again on December 1 when they were about to return to their home in Hanoi after a flight from Saigon, the police sent a mob to meet them at his home. According to reports about the event, particularly the one written by Hoang Tien, one of the dissidents who met Mr. Hoang at the airport, the 3-hour turmoil was so violent that Mr. Hoang Tien had to escape discreetly to safety.

Hanoi police said that the incident was a spontaneous show of the people’s discontent with Mr. Hoang’s statements while abroad which they considered harmful to the country (sic). But such a form of violent protest proved that the VCP had pitifully failed in its basic duty to keep public order. The VCP claimed that its policy was to maintain a harmonious way of living imbued with Vietnamese values among all components of society; however, the disturbances on December 1 in front of Mr. Hoang’s house proved instead that the Party had nourished a culture of violence.

Moreover, nobody believed the disturbance was spontaneous. There were ample indications that the VCP masterminded it in an attempt to terrorize Mr. Hoang because the Party had lost its self-confidence. They did not even have the courage to indict him before a court of law if they really thought that what Mr. Hoang said in the US was a criminal act. A government that cannot use the law to publicly redress its citizens’ wrongdoings and instead must resort to terrorism, is no longer a government of the people.

Other respected dissidents in Vietnam such as Drs. Nguyen Thanh Giang and Ha Sy Phu may not have entirely agreed with what Mr. Hoang said in America; nevertheless, they stood up for his defense. Likewise, the Vietnamese overseas, along with many international NGO organizations have expressed their indignation toward the uncivilized, immoral and unethical behavior of the VCP.

The overwhelming storm of opinion against the government of Vietnam was unraveled. It is more important, however, to focus on the main thing: keep alive the movement for freedom and democracy, especially inside the country.

Disagreements should be set aside to make room for re-evaluations and lessons learned. We have no other choice.

Dec. 8, 2005




Trần Bình Nam