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Communist China and Vietnam's media charm offensive

By John E. Carey - posted Monday, 14 May 2007

Media watchers and human rights advocates often express bemused frustration at the way Communist China, Communist Vietnam and the United States conduct international relations. Before each and every big summit or meeting of heads of state, each of these nations reach for a time-worn playbook.

China and Vietnam typically release some dissidents; offer news reports about freedom of religion; and tell their media to be more free and open. This is a kind of appeasement to the US and the many international Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) like Amnesty International that monitor and publicise activities outside the international norms.

The US often responds to these overtures with talk of reconciliation; the progress being made in China and Vietnam on freedom and human rights; and the hope of all Americans for a new tomorrow. Sometimes the US even offers some incentives, concessions and inducements. These are typically accepted with much gratitude, pomp and ceremony.


As soon as the summit ends and the Communists get what they wanted, the door on human rights in the Communist world slams shut so fast it almost catches Uncle Sam’s red, white and blue coat.

Last July, we at Peace and Freedom began to monitor every international news report that mentioned the word “Vietnam”. We did this because Vietnam was holding many political prisoners without charge. One prisoner in particular came to our attention. Mrs Cuc Foshee an American citizen since 1970 had returned to the land of her birth, Vietnam, to visit relatives. She was arrested by the Communist government and held without charges, trial, or access to a lawyer.

Many other NGOs were developing detailed lists of human rights abuses and other irregularities inside Communist Vietnam. But the results of our international media review of Vietnam that started in July 2006 offered great insight into the workings of the world.

From the state controlled media inside Vietnam, all the news was rosey. Freedom of speech and religion were on the rise, dissidents were set free, the economy was booming, the shrimp were bigger than ever and they even jumped into fishing boats when called.

The free media in the rest of the world could not always see through the smoke and mirrors offered by Communist Vietnam but the NGOs and human rights groups were able to balance the outrageous lies from Vietnam with some factual and frightening stories.

The interest in Vietnam’s human rights record and activities grew in intensity as the year progressed because President George W. Bush had indicated his intention to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in November 2006.


The thought of the President of the United States visiting Hanoi offered the photo opportunity of the decade for Communist Vietnam. The Communists were hoping for something of a Victory Lap to celebrate Vietnam’s progress since Saigon fell to the Communists in 1975.

Vietnam was also seeking some very real goodies. Entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) from the US, which would add fuel to an already burning Vietnamese economy almost ablaze with new investments and opportunities.

The Vietnamese Communists made several concessions and pronouncements of good behaviour in the run-up to the APEC conference. Thankfully, Mrs Foshee and others were set free and came home some after years, others after months, in prison.

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First published in Peace and Freedom on May 6, 2007.

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About the Author

John E. Carey has been a military analyst for 30 years.

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All articles by John E. Carey

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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